One thing I often think about on Sunday mornings is how I prepare for worship. I always think of the stories of families that spend Sunday AM bickering and arguing and then show up at church smiling and trying to “worship”. I find myself wondering, “Does that scenario every describe me?”
Different churches approach worship preparation differently. Several churches I have been at ask members to keep talking the sanctuary immediately before the service to a minimum so that those who enter may begin to focus and prepare for worship. Others encourage people to talk and interact because, after-all, “we’re a family and when family gets together they talk.” I don’t think one or the other is right or wrong, but I do believe it’s important to understand that what we do before service (both immediately as well as the entire morning before and even Saturday night) has an impact on our own personal worship. Consider the following thoughts from worship leader David Manner’s blog Worship Evaluation:
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes stresses appropriate and sincere worship with a challenge in chapter five to, “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God” (Eccl 5:1). Wayne Peterson refers to this verse as “the necessity for man to be cautious and sincere in worshiping God.” He offers additional understanding by pointing out that, guarding your steps “expresses the need for discretion and care, both in general conduct and in performing the acts of worship.” Understanding the necessity for worship preparation is radically different than the practice of abdicating that responsibility to worship leaders to create worship through song selection and worship actions. Verse one continues with the encouragement to “draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil” (Eccl 5:1b). Worshipers must prepare for and gather for worship with a listening ear in addition to an abundance of words. A meaningful conversation requires listening and speaking.
3. Pre-service preparation. The short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also a critical period of time. Our interaction with friends reminds us that we are here as part of a body in relationship with others. A short while to quiet our spirits will enable us to leave some distractions behind and center ourselves in God. A time of reflective prayer can open our spirit to engage in conversation with God. Even the visual appearance of the worship space will have an impact on our readiness. How conscious are we of these critical minutes?
Consider the following suggestions for worship preparation from Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell, Resource Development Specialists for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship:
1. Internal preparation of heart. Each worshiper carries responsibility for personal preparation of heart. If God calls us to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must ask questions about the state of our spirit. Yet, how often do we ask ourselves questions about our readiness of heart to worship?
2. Pre-arrival preparation. We may want to call it “pre-Sabbath” preparation. We can learn from the Jews who believe Sabbath begins at sundown. Our activities on the evening before worship will have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship Sunday morning. Also, our personal schedule between rising and the beginning of worship on Sunday morning will have a great deal of influence on our readiness of spirit.
These are excellent thoughts and suggestions, ones I believe we all need to talk to heart. Underlying the entire article is an understanding that worship is not about us but rather about God. Too often we leave a worship service and the conversation focuses on ourselves when it should focus on God. These steps help remind us that worship isn’t for us and that we are not the reason for it or the purpose of it.