Every journey requires preparation. Where are you going? What will you need? And what should you leave behind? If you’re going to the grocery store, you need money and fuel. If you’re going to the beach, you need a towel, sunblock, and a beach chair.
As Sunday morning approaches, it can be all too easy to give the corporate worship of the church less thought and preparation than that trip to the grocery store. Going to church can sadly become just another weekend activity. But should corporate worship be different? How should we prepare our hearts for the weekly gathering of God’s people? Here are a few suggestions.
Know Your Destination
The journey begins by knowing where you’re going. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes implores his readers to “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). For Christians, the church is the household of God as the Spirit builds us together into his dwelling place (Ephesians 2:19–22). How we approach God in worship reveals what we think of the God that we worship.
We are willing to prepare for things we value. When we value celebrating God and gathering with his people, adequate and purposeful preparation is easy. But when we view the gathered church as merely another Sunday morning option, then we won’t properly prepare for the gathering.
Our weekly gatherings as the church are more than a social club, more than an experience, and more than a place to be recharged for the week. As people united with Christ, we have new priorities, a new family, and a new life. Where are we going? We are going to meet with God, for when God’s people gather, God is there.
Prepare to Love Others
Once you know where you’re going, you must determine what you need to get there. One thing we need to begin the journey is renewed thinking about God. Our view of God shapes our engagement in corporate worship.
God’s Spirit uses our meditation on God’s word to renew our thinking about God. Often, I wake up with a hard heart first thing in the morning. I am not automatically excited about the things of God. This is not necessarily a sign of dead spirituality, but simply the natural disposition of the fallen human heart.
So, what should we do? We should contemplate the incomparable majesty of God that makes angels cover their eyes (Isaiah 6:2), rivers clap their hands, and hills sing for joy (Psalm 98:8). Contemplate God’s infinite love by considering how the God who created everything was so mindful of you that he sent his Son to die in your place. Contemplate the everlasting rest to come for the believer: all exhaustion, cancer, and despair will be forever gone, and we will be in the very presence of the one who is himself the fullness of joy. Contemplate the things we cannot see that await us — like the crown of glory and the full and final satisfaction that will be ours.
Second, we take one another on this journey. A worship service is not exclusively a vertical praising of God. It is also horizontal building up of the body of Christ. As you gather on Sunday morning, consider how you might encourage others. Pray that God would give you words to say, Scriptures to share, and specific encouragement to offer to his people. This was Paul’s expectation of the Corinthian church: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
When we gather with the people of God, we should prepare in order to contribute, to encourage, and to build up others. Think through the individuals in your small group or on the ministry team you serve with, or just pull out your church directory and pray for the people in your local church. Write some thoughts down and share them with particular people you want to encourage. Pray for members of the church throughout the week. Prepare your heart by considering others.
Leave Your Burdens Behind
Whenever my family goes for a trip, my wife and I must determine what we don’t need. On any journey, deciding what we leave behind is as important as what to bring. And just as the capacity of our family van is a scarce resource, the same holds true for my limited mind and affections.
We prepare our hearts for worship by leaving behind worldly distractions and sin (Hebrews 12:1). Sadly, this is rarely a deliberate consideration for many Christians. We don’t evaluate how our Saturday night fun might impact our Sunday morning edification.
On a campground, nobody wants to sleep in a bug-infested tent. So we keep our tents zipped up throughout the day. If we give ourselves to worldly distractions and sinful actions, it is as if we leave our tent open throughout the day, and then when we gather for corporate worship we spend our time swatting at gnats. Instead, we should prepare our hearts for corporate worship by intentionally disengaging from the world.
Thoughtful preparation for corporate worship sets the right trajectory for our journey together. It presents us with an opportunity to warm our affections and soften our hearts, packing what we need and leaving behind what we don’t, as we gather together for God’s glory and our good.