Part 9 in a series on the church’s “liturgy”
OK, I admit that what happens “prior” to Sunday worship isn’t actually part of the liturgy itself. But, since I’ve spent two months writing about what we do on Sundays at 11am, it seemed good to me to remind you of what we can be doing on Sundays at 8am, or on Saturday at 8pm, to make sure we get the most out of the liturgy that lies ahead.
It is true that a person may simply stumble in off the street and be magnificently blessed by what happens at church on Sunday morning. No doubt heaven will be filled with people who were converted to Christ on just such disheveled Sunday mornings. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And, for those of us who know the Lord, it seems to me that far more benefit usually comes on those Sunday mornings when we arrive at church ready and eager, than on the weeks when we tumble in at the last minute, flying by the seat of our pants.
Surely this is part of what Solomon means when he says, in Ecclesiastes 5.1: “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God.” Don’t just wander in, unprepared. “Guard your steps.” Be careful and thoughtful as you come to worship. How so, in our context? Here are a few suggestions:
Pray. Do you take time, perhaps on Saturday night or Sunday morning, to pray for what goes on in this building? Do you ask the Lord to warm your heart in the singing? Do you ask the Lord, specifically, to help you concentrate, and believe, and apply what you are going to hear? Do you plead His blessing over your Sunday School teacher and pastor? Charles Spurgeon preached to thousands upon thousands of people in the 1800’s … and people were brought to Christ every week under the sound of his voice. Asked the secret of his great fruitfulness, his simple reply was: “My people pray for me.” Would you give 5-10 minutes to this, each week? What a difference it might make!
Sleep. It’s a little bit disingenuous to ask the Lord to help you concentrate on the Sunday sermon if you are unwilling to go to bed at a decent hour on Saturday night! Frankly, this is a significant problem for many church-goers (perhaps some reading these words). When we stay up too late – and either miss church, or doze through parts of it – we are dishonoring the Lord, and doing a great disservice to ourselves.
Be on time. In fact, be a few minutes early. Rushing in at the last minute means that, while you are gathering your thoughts, dropping off your kids, taking off your coat, finding your seat, pulling out your Bible, and so on … you likely miss whatever blessing there is to be garnered in the first few minutes of worship. And, like the folks who inevitably sidestep their way to their seats (right in front of your sight lines) just as the football game is kicking off, latecomers inevitably distract others sitting around them from the very portions of worship they themselves are missing.
Leave other things for other days. What a wet blanket can be thrown over your Sunday morning if your family argues on the way to church, or if you ride in listening to ESPN or WLW, or if you spend your Sunday morning fretting about some business or personal matter that, however much you fret, you can do nothing about until tomorrow. I know these things by experience! So make a habit, when you get up on Sunday morning, to simply set certain things aside for another day. Get your heart in a heavenly frame by taking your mind off of earthly business.
My hope, in this series of articles on the church’s “liturgy”, has been to fill our weekly worship routine – the praying and preaching, the singing and silence, and so on – with a little more clarity and meaning. But, if each of us will do the four simple things suggested in this final article … I think we will be surprised at how well we will not only understand what is taking place on Sundays at 11, but enjoy and benefit from it, as well!