[The sermon associated with this entry is "Is It Waste or Is It Worship?" Click on the title to listen to the audio.]
In Mark 14:1-11, we read an account of what set out to be an ordinary dinner party. However, things changed when a woman's purse opened, and an alabaster flask full of expensive perfume was pulled out. The crash of the breaking flask gave away to the overwhelming scent of its contents. It had not slipped out of the woman's hand...she had not been bumped by a fellow guest. No, she brought the flask on purpose, and she broke the flask on purpose. She had done all of this because she was overwhelmed with love and devotion for One who was in attendance that night. She came prepared to worship the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we think about this woman's action, we find an example of how we should prepare for our weekly gatherings of worship. Is setting an alarm clock and ironing clothes your idea of what it means to prepare for Sunday morning worship? Is there anything more we could do to prepare this important time in our week? Is a corporate worship service meant to be an event at which we show up wondering if the people on stage will be able to coax us into "deep worship"...whatever that means? Or is corporate worship the intentional gathering of God's people to hear God's Word proclaimed, picture the gospel through baptism and the Lord's Supper, sing His praises, express dependence on Him through prayer, and honor God's place as Provider of all things through giving?
If this last question best represents what corporate worship is, then it seems that the word "intentional" should indicate some level of preparation on the part of all those involved. Of course, the one preaching will prepare. Those leading in music will prepare. The ones reading Scripture or praying publicly will prepare. Even the logistics of those serving the Lord's Supper, baptizing new believers, or collecting the offering are prepared. What about the rest of us? How are we to prepare for a Sunday morning worship service? Well, here are a few suggestions:
1. Take in the Bible regularly. Regularly taking in the Bible through reading, meditating, and studying are not just good for the soul. It will also prepare you to worship on Sunday. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us. It shows us the glorious attributes of God...His justice, mercy, grace, love, faithfulness, patience, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. When we arrive at corporate worship with a week's worth of reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible in our hearts, then we are more apt to come to God correctly...humbly...with a sense of awe regarding the One in whose presence we gather. If we are regularly setting our minds on things above (Col. 3:2), then our hearts are fueled by God's truth as we gather to sing God's praises.
2. Pray daily. One thing is for certain...if we are to worship God as He deserves, we must worship in the strength He supplies. We need God to give us the holy passion needed to sing His praises with gusto. We need God's grace to enable our cheerful giving. We need God to give clarity and power to the man who preaches His Word, and then we need God to teach us as we hear His Word proclaimed. All of this is needed if our corporate worship is to be pleasing to God, and all of this is only possible if God is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure. So, we must call on the Lord in prayer. We must pray for God's intervention with our preachers, our musicians, and mostly, ourselves.
3. Think seriously about Sunday morning. Many things could be said here. In our congregation, we make an effort to send out a tool every week so that our members and regular attenders can know what we will be singing and studying on the coming Sunday morning. This may not happen at your church, but if your pastor is preaching through a book of the Bible, you can probably deduce what his next text might be. If so, read that text during the week, study it for yourself, and meditate on it. If your pastor doesn't preach through books of the Bible, then ask him if he would mind sending you an email once he chooses a text, and let him know what you're doing. It is encouraging for any pastor to know that he's not the only one seriously preparing for the sermon on Sunday morning.
Also, if we are to think seriously about Sunday morning, we should consider Saturday night. What do we plan for Saturday evening? Do we plan late activities that could possibly lead to a tiring battle on Sunday morning? Do we try to get to bed at a reasonable hour so that our minds are sharp on Sunday morning? I'm not trying to set your bedtime, but I am saying that we should all be mindful that exhaust effects what we do...whether it's at our job, in school, or in a Sunday morning service.
I hope none of these are new thoughts to you, but it is helpful to be reminded of the importance of what we do each Lord's day as a church. On that note, let me finish with a story. Each Thursday morning, I usually find my way to a local Starbucks, where I will drink coffee and read a lot of material pertaining to my Sunday morning sermon. Recently, I sat in a corner reading away, and I could not help but hear a man sitting near me talking on his phone. I couldn't help it because he was speaking so loudly. By the content of his conversation, I could tell he was deeply involved in a fantasy football league. For those who don't know, a fantasy football league is where a bunch of football fans pick certain offensive players, a defense, etc., at the beginning of the year. They do this as if they were running their own team. Each fantasy owner's players will earn him/her points based on their performance in real NFL games. The owner with the most points at the end of the year wins.
Anyway, back to my story. The man talking on his cell phone was speaking of injuries to key players. He talked about trades he made the week before. He was making predictions about the coming week. I won't bore you with any more specific details, but needless to say, this man's conversation went on for about an hour and a half! Yes...you read that correctly....an hour and a half. He was obviously deeply committed to fantasy football. He had spent hours on the internet and on the phone. He spent a lot of time thinking about his team, making trades, and positioning himself for the best Sunday possible. He aimed his whole week at those Sunday afternoon games.
I recall this story to encourage us all to consider how our services might be different if we spent as much time preparing for Sunday morning as this man does preparing for Sunday afternoon. The content of the service may not necessarily change, but I think our hearts would be more engaged and affected if we took our preparation seriously. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Now, let's start getting ready for Sunday.