As you get yourself and your family ready to come to worship services, do you have a routine?
You probably have your Bible reading and class lesson done the night before. Hopefully you wake up refreshed from a good night’s sleep. Perhaps you have breakfast so that you are ready to give the Lord your best attention. You make sure that you and your kids are dressed nicely. If you have a baby, you make sure you have the diaper bag full of supplies. You have your contribution tucked into your pocket. You grab your Bible. You leave in plenty of time to get there before the class starts.
These are all important, but I want to suggest a few deeper things that we might also remember as we prepare our hearts for worship, attend worship, and leave worship. James 1:21-22 could apply to many aspects of life, but I sometimes like to think of it as a three-step process for getting the most out of worship.
Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
Preparing to Worship: Put Aside all Filthiness
Obviously, eliminating sin from our lives is an everyday task. But hands and hearts ready to be lifted to God in praise must not be burdened with sin. Paul said, “I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (1 Tim. 2:8). He wasn’t concerned with the posture of prayer, which is more or less a feature of culture, but with the righteousness that allows undistracted communication.
Sin creates a barrier between us and God when we approach Him in worship. In the book of Isaiah, the people wondered why God hadn’t responded favorably to their fasting and prayers. Isaiah pointed out that at the same time they fast and pray, they remain involved in all kinds of sin behind the scenes.
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull that is cannot hear. Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear (59:1–2).
We might also consider our relationship with other people. It’s difficult to have hatred and strife in one’s heart, and at the same time join in unity to praise God (Matt. 5:23-24). Part of putting aside all filthiness is healing our relationships (Matt. 6:14-15).
While Worshiping: In Humility Receive the Word Implanted
It’s sad, but many think of worship less as a joy, and more as an obligation begrudgingly fulfilled. “O what weariness” they say (Malachi 1:13), inwardly, if not outwardly. They can’t wait to get out and get back to worldly obligations. “When will the new moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade our wheat?” (Amos 8:5).
Shoot for David’s attitude instead: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1).
We should be especially enthusiastic when we open God’s word and learn “wondrous things from your law” (Psa. 119:18). Think of worship as a time to become a better servant by picking up new truths, and by gaining inspiration from old truths. Not a time to be spoonfed or entertained. A time to allow the seed of the gospel to sink its roots more deeply into our lives because you were interacting with God’s word, whether or not the preacher was on his best footing.
After Leaving Worship: Prove Yourselves Doers of the Word
The ultimate test of effectiveness of a Bible class or a sermon is not the number of backslaps, but the number of changed lives. Too many come “to hear a good sermon” without meditating on the meaning. Like a song on the radio, they tap their foot to it, but never truly appreciate the words (Ezek. 33:30-33).
Exit the worship service ready to make an impact on the world around you for your Master, Jesus. If that requires repentance, do it. If that requires rededication, do it. If that requires extra effort, give it (Matt. 7:21-27). —John Guzzetta