Called to Worship – Issue #22
By Phil Mershon
Does Sunday worship catch you off guard? Or do you find yourself looking forward to gathering in God’s presence all week?
Last week we looked at 3 ways not to prepare for worship. This week I’d like to offer 7 ways to prepare in the form of the acronym PREPARE. These are not exhaustive and they certainly aren’t meant to become a ritual. Instead, think of this like a coat rack of ideas to spur your spiritual growth in worship. (NOTE: in future weeks I plan to expand on some of these ideas).
PREPARE to Worship God in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24)
1. Pray a Psalm
I encourage you to pray a psalm on Saturday night (or early Sunday morning). First read through it slowly (maybe out loud, if feasible). Then read through it again—line by line—offering prayers for yourself, your pastor, your family, your friends and your community.
2. Reflect on the Gospel
Joyful worship cannot be rooted in shallow emotions and empty platitudes. The source of lasting joy is the good news that Jesus Christ died for my sins (and yours). This truth is so simple you can explain it to a 4-year old, but it’s so profound that theologians cannot plummet its depths.
If you review the last week, I doubt it will take long to find examples of how your heart is “prone to wander.” Use your recent failings as new illustrations of why you need a savior. Allow the good news that he paid for these sins to wash away the guilt and condemnation that can flood your conscience.
3. Expect God to Meet You
I’ve planned at least 1,000 worship services—probably a lot more, but I don’t try to count. But I could tell you stories of only 20 services or so where I saw God profoundly meet us in life-changing ways. I’m not talking about hearing an emotionally inspiring song or a thought-provoking message. I mean when we walk away and say, “Surely God was in this place.”
Make it a practice to pray expectantly, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We certainly await his triumphant return, but he also promises to show up whenever two or three are gathered in his name. I’m afraid too many worship services would continue just fine if Jesus never came (I’ve planned and led my share of these). We shouldn’t be satisfied to just talk and sing about Jesus. Imagine what would happen if He physically walked into the room this Sunday. What would change?
Listen to Bryan Duncan’s prayerful rendition of the classic Gaither chorus Come, Holy Spirit as you pray for God to make His presence known.
4. Pause from your work and diversions.
Our culture has blurred the priority of Sabbath and reduced it to a few hours (if that) on Sunday morning—or Saturday night, in some cases. God gave us the Sabbath not as a rule to keep, but as a gift to restore our minds, bodies and souls.
I encourage you to try one of the following this Saturday as you prepare for worship: 1) Turn off the TV for at least an hour to read and pray; 2) Unplug your electronic devices starting on Saturday night; 3) Take a Saturday afternoon nap so you’re rested on Sunday; 4) Spend an hour in family worship on Saturday.
5. Associate with other worshippers
Last summer I met a college football player who chose to be a camp counselor instead of practicing with his college team. In spite of his daily workouts, I can understand his coach’s frustration because you cannot become part of a team if you’re not practicing with the team.
It’s similar for worshippers. If you spend your entire week associating with greedy businessmen, lustful bachelors or gossiping housewives, it will be difficult to turn a switch when you gather for worship. God has called us to reach a lost and dying world with the gospel. But he has also called us to be part of a community—his Church. To reach the world we must also be deeply rooted in a worshipping local fellowship so they might see our love for one another (see John 13:34-35 and John 17:23).
Michael Card summarizes well the call to serve in the context of community his song The Basin and the Towel.
6. Read the scripture and songs for Sunday’s service
Not all churches make this possible, but if you can, I encourage you to study the passage your pastor will preach this week. If the worship leader makes the song selections available, sing through the songs and hymns. This will enable your mind to be more prepared so that your heart can engage with the passion and meaning of the songs and message.
7. Engage with your community
The prophet Micah asks in Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before the Lord?” The Lord tells him that what is required is to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
When I worked for Harbor Presbyterian in San Diego, one of the pastors liked to say, “We aim to be more committed to ministries of justice and mercy than most liberal churches and more committed to evangelism and the spread of the Gospel than most Evangelical churches.”
True worshippers seek justice for the impoverished and enslaved. They also show mercy and kindness to the spiritually distraught and dying. Real worship leads to daily submission to God.
Keith and Kristyn Getty provide a great reminder to show God’s compassion to the world through their new hymn called The Compassion Hymn.
Do these things regularly—leading to a lifestyle of worship
All these points lead to an important notion: Worship is more than a weekly event—it is a lifestyle. The weekly event should rightly be transformational and the highlight of every week, but it reminds us to worship him every day in spirit and truth.
How do you prepare for worship?
Do you have experiences with any of these pointers? Any additional comments?