Last week I shared some insights from a sermon preached by Jeremiah Burrough’s titled “The Importance of Preparing for Worship.” In it he impresses upon us the great necessity of heart preparation for public worship and sets before us what a prepared heart looks like. One of the somewhat surprising dimensions of the sermon is its lack of practical application (especially given that the Puritans were known for being eminently and scrupulously practical). It is one thing to recognize heart preparation is necessary, but it is a different thing entirely to know how to cultivate a Godward, repentant, undistracted, watchful, and ready heart as the Lord’s Day approaches. Preparation will look different for each one of us given our circumstances, but I want to offer some broad ideas of how to go about preparing for the weighty service of Sunday worship.
I. Pray for the Spirit’s blessing.
The sacrifices of preaching, prayer, and praise that we offer up as new covenant priests in public worship are spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5). That doesn’t mean they are bodiless sacrifices, but that they are sacrifices offered up as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We simply cannot worship God in a manner befitting of His glory apart from the Spirit enlivening and empowering us. Pray that the Spirit would be filling your pastor as he preaches and leads worship. Pray that the Spirit would be transforming us through the renewing of our minds and hearts as the word is read and preached. Pray that the Spirit would save and sanctify His people and deliver us from the fiery arrows of the evil one (who seeks to sabotage nothing more than the public worship of God). Don’t wait until Saturday night or Sunday morning to pray for this. Pray for it every day of the week!
II. Meditatively work through the order of worship, especially the sermon texts.
One practice I’ve found exceptionally helpful in priming my heart for public worship is to prayerfully work through the liturgy ahead of time. That is the main reason I send it to you earlier in the week. Our family typically discusses the upcoming sermon text on Saturday night at family worship. That gets us talking and thinking about the passage to be preached ahead of time. On Sunday morning I pause my normal Bible reading in private worship and slowly work through the passages from the order of worship. This is a very simple exercise that can be done effectively in 20 minutes. I cannot commend it highly enough! If nothing else, use your private worship on Saturday night or Sunday morning (depending on your natural temperament and providential circumstances) to meditate on the sermon text(s). Ask some simple questions about the text:
- What does this text teach me about God?
- What does this text teach me about myself?
- How does this text relate to Christ and His finished work?
- How does this text encourage or challenge me?
I guarantee if you do this, you will get far more out of the preaching. Familiarize yourself with Sunday’s liturgical terrain.
III. Meditate on the greatness of God and the great privilege of worship.
Take an attribute of God or a choice text revealing the glory of God (you could take any one of the 35 texts we examined in our Knowing God series) and ponder it for a few minutes, seeking to get your heart in the grip of God’s greatness. Think over the nature of true worship as the affectionate, whole-person exaltation of our infinitely valuable God. Consider how worship is God’s supreme aim in creating and redeeming us. Marvel at the awesome privilege of ascending God’s holy hill to enter into a covenantal dialogue with Him. This is a great cure for the lagging heart. For the heart that is not declaring with the psalmist, “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD,” is a heart that is not reckoning with the weighty God and the weighty call of being His priestly worshiper in Christ.
IV. Get to bed early on Saturday and wake up early on Sunday.
All of us have a different notion of what early means. I’m not here to prescribe a bedtime for you. But given the fact that we are not disembodied souls, our bodily frame is intimately connected to our heart. Don’t expect to have a heart primed for worship when you stayed up all night goofing around. How can you worship God with all your heart, mind, and strength if you are ready to curl up in a ball and sleep? Of course, there are providential reasons why we might come to Sunday running on little sleep (e.g., a newborn baby, insomnia, etc.). In those cases, we ought to look to the Lord for strength. But when we willingly neglect sleep on Saturday night, we cannot presume upon the Lord to supernaturally strengthen us on Sunday morning. Along with getting to bed at a decent hour, try to wake up at a decent hour. Sunday morning should not feel rushed. If it does on a regular basis, you are doing something wrong. I’m speaking as a dad with three young boys so I understand the difficulties involved here, but figure out how much time you need to prevent the morning from being a tornado of chaos and give yourself that time by waking up at a sufficient hour.
There is so much that could be said about preparing the heart for public worship, but I’ll leave you with these four for now. I invite you to share with me what you have found helpful in preparing for the Lord’s Day. I certainly haven’t arrived in this department, and I would love to learn from you.
Yours in Christ,