How to Prepare for Sunday Worship
In the sports world, it’s said that you earn your starting spot in the offseason, by preparation. The same goes for Sunday worship. We gain the ability to benefit from Sunday by preparing on Saturday – and in fact, throughout the week. Here are three time-tested tips for preparing for Sunday:
- Read the preaching passage before Sunday. We publish Sunday’s preaching passage in our weekly email newsletter so that you can read the passage in advance, pray over it, and ask questions of it. We also publish it that you might pray for the preaching that Sunday. Pray that the preaching would be clear, concise, and compelling; that people would be converted; and that in it all Christ would be clothed for us afresh.
Trust me – you won’t spoil anything by reading and thinking about the passage in advance. In fact, your experience during preaching will only be enhanced.
- Begin your Sabbath on Saturday night. The reason why many do not “get” much out of their church’s worship is because their Sabbath started about 10 minutes into the service, when they first sat in their seats. But if you take a Sabbath, and if it begins Saturday evening – which was the ancient practice – then by the time you get to church, you’re already in a worshiping state of mind.
So first, observe the Sabbath. Yes, there is debate about this, but to me it’s clear – enjoy a Sabbath. It’s built into God’s very plan of redemption. When we enjoy the Sabbath, we do so as those on the other side of the resurrection. That is, with joyful anticipation of the eternal Sabbath to come. Therefore, Saturday night should not be quiet and dour. Make it a celebration – invite people over, and throw party. After all, Christ is risen!
Another reason for observing a Sabbath from evening to evening is that Sunday night is inevitably reserved for getting ready for the rest of the week. With laundry, homework or chores to do, rest is almost impossible on Sunday night.
And lastly, setting a solid Sabbath time has the effect of recasting the rest the meaning and purpose of your week. When you start with the Sabbath, and then work your way backwards through your calendar, the rest of the week is shaped and defined in light of worship, in light of Christ. Now we work harder, knowing that our work ceases at 6 pm Saturday – or whenever you decide. But that work is now performed a little more “unto the Lord.” When we observe the Sabbath, our calendars become more shaped by the cross.
- Come to church early. This allows for three very important tasks. First, it allows an easy-going catch-up with your friends, over a donut and coffee. Secondly, it allows you to sit down at your seat earlier – more on this below. And thirdly, the bathroom is more open. Just sayin’.
Once you’ve caught up with friends, sit at your seat early, in prayer. One of the most constructive habits of my own Christian life has been to take ten minutes before church, in church, and simply think about God and the gospel. This focuses my mind where it should be, over and above the thousand other places it could go. Secondly, it reminds me to confess sin and have the gospel say, “Forgiven” over it afresh. This clears the path for me to come to God freely. And thirdly, I am now more in a listening and receiving frame of mind.
Did you know that receiving is how you glorify God most? He is the Giver; we are the receivers. He glorifies Himself by giving us what we desperately need but do not deserve. He is glorified both by His generosity as well as by His grace. This is what the Psalmist says when he asks how he could ever glorify God for all that He has done (Psalm 116:12)? And the only answer is, essentially, “I will glorify Him by asking Him afresh for yet still more grace” (Psalm 116:13). Thus we glorify Him by preparing to receive from Him in worship.
Now, having said all of this, some will try this for a few weeks, and fail, and then fall off. But remember that perfection is not the point. I’m not setting a law with the above points. They don’t make anyone more spiritual, in and of themselves. I’m more like a physical therapist, teaching stroke patients how to hold a fork and feed themselves more vigorously. For who doesn’t need to eat? We clog up our souls with the world’s follies and experience spiritual strokes more than we care to admit. But in worship we learn how to be human again, even more human than ever before.
Thus preparing for worship is perhaps the most important spiritual discipline you could commit to.