Getting Ready for Church
When I was in high school, a friend of mine constantly emphasized the importance of stretching before exercise. This friend told me to imagine that my muscles were dry spaghetti noodles. They’re stiff, so if I move them too much, they’ll get damaged. Stretching is the equivalent of “cooking” those dry noodles. It floods muscles with oxygen and blood so that they become flexible and less susceptible to injury.
I don’t know how accurate this analogy is when it comes to physical health, but it certainly stuck with me. In fact, I’ve been thinking of it as a helpful analogy for worship.
We all know what it’s like to show up at church without any preparation whatsoever. We’re stressed about being late. Frustrated that the kids aren’t listening. Still tired from a late Saturday night. When we finally walk into the sanctuary and the music is playing and the congregation is singing, we find ourselves feeling . . . nothing. When the pastor starts preaching, we’re either bored, falling asleep, or both. We are like those who honour God with their lips but their hearts are far from him (Matthew 15:8).
Showing up at church like that is the equivalent of trying to exercise without stretching. You’re just not ready for it. You could even hurt your relationship with God. Perhaps you start blaming the worship team for choosing songs that you don’t like or the pastor for not being a better communicator. Maybe you start feeling that God has abandoned you. You may even start to think that this is just what the ordinary Christian life is like. It isn’t.
Let’s look at three things you can do before Sunday to help you prepare your heart. Think of them as three “stretching exercises” that can flood your soul with faith so that you come ready to worship.
Stretch 1 – Worship at Home
The Christian life is meant to be characterized by singing, not just when we are together, but all the time. The Psalmists wrote about singing to the Lord in the morning. “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice” (Psalm 5:3). “I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning” (Psalm 59:16). The Apostle Paul described the Spirit-filled life as “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
This doesn’t mean that we’re all going to sound like Chris Tomlin. But it does mean that we’re all meant to sing as an expression of our love for God, not to make much of ourselves, but to make much of our Saviour.
Find ways to sing praise to the Lord regularly at home. A friend of mine sings on his own as part of his daily devotions. I sing with my family at dinner and at bedtime. Neither of us use instruments. We just keep it simple and use our voices. The point is that the more we sing at home, the more prepared to blend our voices with the rest of the body of Christ at church.
Stretch 2 – Show Up Early
If church starts at 10 AM, and you plan to arrive at 10 AM, then in the best-case scenario, you will arrive at 10 AM, just in time for the 10 AM service to begin. But how often does the “best case scenario” actually unfold? If you’re anything like me, it happens quite rarely.
That means that your anxiety or frustration will rise with every extra red light on the way to church or with every extra minute your wife takes to pack up her things or with your kids who are still such slow shoe-tiers or with every extra step you have to take because you parked farther from the front doors than you anticipated.
You can avoid all this anxiety and frustration by planning to arrive fifteen minutes before the service starts. This gives you extra time for contingencies, extra time to wait for your family, and extra time to prepare your heart before the service begins.
Stretch 3 – Pray for Yourself
What do you do with that extra fifteen minutes? Spend a few of those minutes in prayer.
You can pray for your pastor as he prepares to preach. For your family and for anyone present who’s discouraged or lost. But don’t forget that it’s just as important to pray for yourself.
This is because it is possible for us to become “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). We become like those who have ears that do not hear (Matthew 11:15). We can have hearts that are so full of worldly weeds that the seed of God’s Word is choked out (Luke 8:14).
We need to pray as we approach God’s throne for worship. We need to pray that God’s Spirit would work powerfully through God’s Word as it is proclaimed to God’s people. We need to pray that our hearts would be fertile soil for the gospel so that it would bear its fruit.
This is stretching before coming to church on Sunday. This is how we prepare our hearts and minds for worship, so that when the music starts, and the pastor opens up the Bible, our hearts will be ready to respond with joy.