Preparing for Worship

Last Saturday I participated in the ordination service for Scott McDermand and then on Sunday I attended the church he pastors and was able to participate in the first worship service led by Pastor McDermand. The pew I was sitting in was almost completely full and I was right in the middle. To my right was Scott’s sister and then his dad and then his wife. To my left was a family I had dinner with on Friday. To my immediate left was the daughter, in her twenties, and next to her was her boyfriend. She and her boyfriend trickled in late, just after the first hymn. But it was her posture during worship that got my attention. Every time we were seated she was hunched over on her boyfriend, head on his shoulder. She was obviously tired. I don’t know why. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she stayed out too late the night before. I didn’t ask. At one point I almost poked her and told her to sit up in church—the father in me coming out. But I didn’t. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt—there may have been things going on about which I was unaware—and I didn’t want to somehow have something like that affect the way Scott was viewed.

Later it got me thinking about the way we prepare for worship generally and prepare ourselves to be engaged in worship specifically. The young lady next to me didn’t seem engaged. Maybe she was, but perception is 9/10 of reality—at least that’s what I tell my kids.

In many ways worship is the place we engage in spiritual battle.

Usually in life preparation is as important as the thing we are preparing for. We train for a race so we will be able to finish. We plan out every aspect of the war so that we can execute those plans at a high level. We hire an architect and have plans drawn up before we build the house.  We familiarize ourselves with the documents before we go into the meeting. In every area of life, we recognize the importance of preparation.

The divines – that’s what the drafters of our Westminster Confession were called—recognized the need for this when it comes to worship. Rounding out the chapter on the Sabbath, the last paragraph notes,

This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (WCF 21.8)

Before we engage in worship our fathers suggest we should prepare our hearts for it and order our affairs so that we can execute it and participate in it. Preparing for worship is, on the one hand, profoundly spiritual, and, on the other, ordinary and worldly. It involves prayer and Bible reading, thoughtful meditation, but also our calendars and alarm clocks.

In many ways worship is the place we engage in spiritual battle. It’s the most important vocation of our lives. As such it requires careful preparation. There are many ways to do this and there are probably some common ways to all of us—prayer, for example—and one’s unique to each of us. Whatever they are, find ways to become spiritually engaged in this most holy calling we call worship.