So, every church member wants great worship, right? That can be a little tricky for those of us who plan and lead worship to work out, when everyone in the sanctuary has a slightly different idea of what constitutes “great worship,” and those ideas aren’t exactly compatible with each other. Most of the time we find ways to make it work. But even with all our different ideas and preferences about worship, there still are a number of things that we can all do together toward making our worship experience more soul-satisfying and spiritually nourishing.
Sometimes when we come away from a worship service feeling unmoved, feeling as if the service was confusing, boring, or poorly led, the problem is not actually with the worship service itself or with the people leading it, but instead is a problem within us and our lack of real preparation. And sometimes when the worship service has indeed been poorly planned and led, we can meet God powerfully in it anyway simply because we have prepared ourselves well.
- Get enough sleep in the night or nights before the worship service.
All right, I know this sounds like something that your mother might tell you. But sometimes the old, simple truths rest on a deep, spiritual foundation. One of the great spiritual truths is that human beings are not a collection of parts. We are a single, integrated organism – body, spirit, mind, emotion, perception, psychological make-up. If you mess up one of those aspects of our existence, it will have an impact on other aspects of our lives. And so, that’s why I say that getting enough sleep the night before worship is a very crucial element of being prepared to worship. Sleepiness of body and mind interferes with our ability to perceive God’s presence and to fully engage in worship.
This is so simple and really so easy to do. Go to bed at an early hour on Saturday evening, and you may find that suddenly the Sunday morning worship service has been significantly improved. Obviously, that’s also and especially true for the preacher. So, you try do your part, and I’ll try to do mine. And that may make for a greatly improved worship experience for all of us.
- Pray before worship.
There is an old cliché, yet even though it is a cliché it’s also true. “God loves us just as we are. But God loves us too much to leave us the way we are.” I think that saying is meant to be comforting in general. At least the first half of the saying is meant that way. It’s aiming to assure us that we don’t have to make ourselves perfect before God will love us. But the second have really has a sort of ominous truth in it. It speaks of change. God intends to change us. And we cannot come into his presence without immediately experiencing his transformative power beginning to work on us.
It’s very much like going out into the sun. As soon as a human being goes out into the sun, the sunshine immediately begins to have an effect on us. It causes our skin to react. Our skin begins to produce a pigment called melanin, and we start to tan. If we stay in the sunlight for very much time at all, our skin begins to become inflamed, and we start to develop a sunburn. Also, without our being very much aware of it, our skin begins to manufacture vitamin D and an important brain chemical called serotonin. That’s why getting some sunshine on our skin is good for our health.
But despite these positive effects of sunlight on our health, we have all become much more away of some of the negative changes that sunlight produces on our skin. And so, we’ve learned to cover up to try to avoid being changed by the sunshine.
The presence of God is like that in a spiritual sense. As soon as we intentionally enter God’s presence in worship, God begins to work his transforming effects on us. Now, unlike the effects of the sun on our skin, the effects of God’s presence on our spirits is always and only good. But it is transformation; it is change. And we human beings are never entirely comfortable with change in our lives – even good change. So, we have a tendency to try to cover ourselves up when we sense God’s presence. (See Genesis 3:8 and John 3:19-20)
Unfortunately, when we try to avoid the transforming effects of God’s presence, we also deprive our worship of its power and excitement and richness. Worship, then, becomes bland, routine, and unmoving.
If we want worship that moves us, that is powerful, that is rich and exciting, then we will need to overcome this tendency to cover up in his presence. But that tendency is so deeply ingrained in us – dating back nearly to the very origins of the human race – that we cannot overcome it unless God enables us, empowers us to do it. How can we get that help from God? Well, the simplest answer is: By asking for it. We need to pray.
We can’t come into worship without asking God to enable us to resist our tendency to hide from him. We can’t expect to experience the presence of God without asking him to empower us to uncover ourselves before him and to lay ourselves bare and exposed to his life-giving, life-changing, life-enriching presence and glory.
Now there are sometimes situations in which I’m not entirely sure whether I’m asking God for something that he wants to give me. In those situation, I try to pay special attention to see if God might begin to guide my prayers in a different direction than the one I took at first. But in this matter of asking God to enable us to open up before him in worship, I am absolutely certain that I am asking him for the very thing he most wants to do in my life. When you prepare for worship by asking God to enable you to open yourself up to his transforming presence, you can be absolutely certain that you asking for something that he is extremely eager to do. If you do that consistently week in and week out, I am certain that you will find your worship experience becoming richer, deeper, and more soul-satisfying.
- Deal with your mental distractions.
I have a very busy mind. So do you. We all do. It’s part of what makes us creative and productive beings. But sometimes that mental busyness can really get in the way of prayer and worship.
No doubt, you, like me, have sat down in a pew to enter into worship and found that instead of focusing on God, you mind insists on focusing on something else that’s going on in your life. You become distracted. I’m not talking here so much about external distractions, such as a cell phone ringing a few pews back or a baby crying across the sanctuary. I’m talking here primarily about mental distractions, things that we have on our minds and can’t seem to get off our minds, things that pull our mental attention away from God.
There are mainly two ways of dealing with these distractions, depending on how insistent they are and how truly important they are. Some mental distractions are relatively unimportant and are such that you can’t really do anything about them anyway until later after worship is over. These things can often just be consciously and intentionally pushed aside.
“Did that front tire on the car look a little low, when I got out in the parking lot just now?” “I think I forgot to call and cancel the newspaper for this coming week when we’ll be on vacation.” Etc. You get the idea. If you get enough of these little mental gnats in your head, they will take you mentally right out of the worship service. Don’t tolerate them. Shoo then right away the instance you notice them.
But there are some thing that can weigh on our hearts and minds, that we can’t just shoo away. “What if my husband’s medical test results come back positive for cancer?” “What if my daughter loses her job next week when her company announces it lay off plans?” Etc. You can’t just shoo these kinds of concerns away. These aren’t mental gnats. They are mental rhinoceroses.
You can’t just push these kinds of concerns out of you mind, and more than that, I don’t think you should even try. Instead, I think you should make concerns so important as these into part of your worship. Instead of leaving them outside the sanctuary doors, I believe you should intentionally bring them into worship with you. These are matters that you should purposely carry with you as you come into God’s presence. When you have such matters on your heart and mind, they should become a key part of your worship that day. You must bring these things with you, and “cast your anxieties on God, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
If you come into worship oppressed by anxieties such as these and you spend the whole service casting your fears and anxieties on God over and over right up to the benediction, then I would consider you to have spend your worship time very well indeed.
Worship is an activity. If you are passive, then you are not worshiping. If you are worshiping, then you are not passive. To worship well requires purposeful action on your part before, during, and even after the worship service. Try to incorporate the activities I’ve just been describing into your worship. Let me know how it goes.
© 2009 Gary A. Chorpenning