If they wanted to, worship leaders in many churches could get away with a lot in the first song each Sunday. People are coming in late, trying to settle their kids, silencing their phones, checking their phones, wrapping up conversations, or just generally disoriented.
The truth is many of us walk into worship not quite ready to worship. We need a little time to center and focus ourselves. Some of us are frustrated with our kids. Some are disheartened about our work. Some are stressed about the demands of school or the deadlines of our jobs. Others are depressed or apathetic about life. Yet others are fearful, distraught, or mourning. Weekly worship calls us back into a story with the emotional highs and lows of sin and salvation, so we all need to recalibrate.
The beginning of worship is a critical moment when we release everything else demanding our attention into the capable hands of the very One we are preparing to encounter.
Tune My Heart
Some historic hymns seem to run on an endless tank of fuel. No matter how many times we sing them, they speak to us, stir us, and lead us to worship. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is one of those hymns for me.
Come, thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Tune my heart. As a guitarist, that speaks to me. If I place my guitar in its case, or leave it out on a stand, it’s not the same guitar. When I pick it up a few days later and strum it, it’s out of tune. Because of forces inside (wood, tension, aging strings) and forces outside (temperature, humidity), a guitar left alone will always fall out of tune.
The same phenomenon happens in our hearts. Between Sundays, we get knocked around, and the forces inside and outside of us — our sin, others’ sin, and the fallenness of the world — send our hearts in all kinds of directions. When we come back to worship together, and the Holy Spirit begins to strum the strings of our hearts, we hear dissonance. Hearts always require retuning.
Because this kind of calibration is critical, but can be difficult, consider a few tips for how to prepare your hearts well for worship.
1. Worship starts before you enter.
As many have said before, we don’t enter into corporate worship and begin to worship. We come into the space already worshiping. Our hearts have been loving and desiring in all kinds of directions this week. The first step is to simply recognize and confess that fact, praying that the Holy Spirit would increasingly narrow the gap between the worship offered on Sundays and the worship offered Mondays through Saturdays. The worshiper who grows in orienting her heart toward God Monday through Saturday (whole-life worship) will find herself more calibrated for Sundays (gathered worship).
2. Center your heart before worship.
Before a worship service, all of us can do things that make entrance into worship easier. We can meditate on a verse or two in Scripture or pray through a psalm. We can listen to music that stirs and orients our hearts. Perhaps just ten minutes of quiet is what we need. Certainly turning our phone to “do not disturb” (or even off) can be a helpful, intentional practice to calm our frayed, distracted minds.
3. Arrive early.
Few things make it harder to fully engage in worship than arriving just on time or late. Arriving early gives us plenty of time to find a place to sit, and then center our hearts through the word and prayer.
We’ll also have a chance to prepare for worship by greeting others. Some people think the only way to prepare for worship is to quietly pray and ignore everyone else. That’s a one-dimensional way to approach worship. Because worship is both vertical (us and God) and horizontal (one another), greeting the people worshiping next to you is a wonderful way to calibrate your heart for corporate worship.
4. Make the most of the first moments.
Jump into the deep end. Let the call to worship and the opening hymns or songs flood your mind and heart. Sing loudly, breathe deeply, feel passionately. Sometimes, participating physically actually leads our affections to engage spiritually. Recognize that the opening of worship is meant for our calibration, and let it prepare your heart to worship.