You know how it happens. You have every intention of being with the church on Sunday. In your mind it is all planned out. Then, you wake up late. Or, your baby has a last-minute blow out. Or, streets are closed. Maybe you arrive on time, but you’re distracted. She took my seat. Is that guy sleeping? Did I wear this outfit last week too? Where is my pen? Is that a new family? Was I supposed to be in Kids Crossing today? Or, maybe you’re regularly tired and find it hard to listen. Or, maybe you’re inconsistent and wonder whether others notice. Or, maybe you show up every week yet remember little and apply even less. You’re not alone. Unfortunately, our typical Sunday "experience" is often some combination of these – but it doesn’t have to be.
God has given us numerous means of grace, or spiritual disciplines, to help stoke our affections, deepen our trust, fuel perseverance, instill courage and anchor our hope. These means of grace include personal reading of the scriptures, prayer, silence, solitude, community, fasting, and more. None of these earn us favor with, or more love from God. Rather they remind us of the favor and love we already have from Him through Jesus. While all means of grace are important, and serve different purposes, the most important means of grace in the life of every follower of Jesus is consistently gathering with Jesus’ people. Regularly gathering with the church, as the church, to sing, confess, pray, laugh, experience conviction and fresh grace, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and sit under the preaching of God’s word are indispensable and irreplaceable. We miss out on much of what God has for us when we are inconsistent in, or unprepared for, gathering together corporately.
Given the importance of the corporate gathering it is only wise to consider how to prepare. We shouldn’t expect to have a meaningful experience Sunday-after-Sunday if we do not prepare our hearts beforehand. God is gracious, so it can happen, but that’s not usually how it works. Too often we view the church gathering like a concert. All you have to do is show up, be entertained and sing along. However, one thing I’ve noticed repeatedly is that those who get the most out of gathering worship are those who do some measure of preparation. In light of that, the following are a number of ways to help redeem your Sundays and get more out of your time with Jesus’ people.
Every Sunday is meant to be a great day. If we don’t expect anything particularly special to happen when we gather with Jesus’ people, we probably won’t see it even if it does. If we expect things to be routine, they probably will be. If we don’t expect to learn, we typically won’t. In other words, what we get out of the corporate gathering is directly related to the posture of our heart towards it. What is the posture of your heart?
An important part of our preparation is anticipating what God has in store every week. Every week, approach Sunday with a sense of eager expectation and anticipation. Don’t allow your view of the corporate gathering to degenerate into a mere mindless habit. Ask Jesus to give you a soft, receptive heart. Ask Him to point out people He wants you to love, serve and listen to. Ask Him to shock you out of apathy, to bring new conviction and fresh applications of His grace. Ask Him to help you not take Sunday for granted.
It’s been said that a great Sunday begins on Saturday. Get to bed on time so you can wake up early. Turn off the TV. Consider spending time with the Lord before you sleep. Review the passage the church will be studying together the next day. Pray for folks that you’re going to see. Ask Jesus to prepare your heart for what He has in store. Keep in mind that whatever you put into your mind on Saturday night will still be in your head on Sunday morning. If you’re a parent, get all of your kids’ clothes ready the night before. Start preparing for Sunday on Saturday.
“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch – and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity. If you really want to hear the Word of God the way He means to be heard in truth and joy and power, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8). Then watch your heart un-shrivel and begin to hunger for God.” - John Piper
Wake up early enough to get some unhurried time in God’s Word and prayer. Listen to some stirring music. Confess sin to the Lord. Preach the gospel to yourself and be reminded of all that God is for you, in Jesus. Ask God to help you focus, to listen well and receive His Word. Make your heart happy in Him before you arrive so the gathered worship is just an extension of your personal worship.
Serving is a great way to meet others, discover your gifts, honor Jesus, and be reminded of the beautifully varied diversity of God’s people. Serving reminds us, in small part, of how we’ve been sacrificially served by Jesus. Serving reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Serving reminds us that we have been redeemed to seek the good of as many people as possible. There are lots of ways to get involved: hospitality, Kids Crossing, and worship team.
Try to arrive on time – even early. We all know what it is like to arrive ten minutes late. It’s a little frustrating. Consider developing a habit of arriving early. Give yourself ample time to find a parking spot (park at the north end of the lot to give priority parking to guests), to chat with others, check-in your kids, and find your seat. Try to enter into the gathered worship with an unhurried heart. Arriving early will help with that. If you’re a parent, leave the house 30 minutes earlier than you think you need to leave so you’re not rushed and you have time for the unexpected.
As you sit down, remind yourself of the spiritual significance of what you’re doing. This isn’t just any group of people you’re gathering with, but Jesus’ blood-bought people – His church. Ask God to give you a heart prepared to listen, receive, repent and apply. Bring your Bible. Ask Him to pierce through any tiredness and make you humble, eager and prepared for what He has in store. Bring a journal. Take notes. Don’t worry about what you’re wearing. Don’t worry about whether you like the music. Don’t worry about whether others are critiquing your singing. Focus on the Who you’re there for. Remind yourself that when the Bible is preached, God is speaking through His Word – to you. Remind yourself that you are not there to be entertained, but to actively participate in relationship, prayer, scripture reading, singing, learning and more.
Following the sermon, consider at least one thing that God wants you to apply to your life immediately. Confess sin? Change of life? Seek reconciliation? Something else? It is too easy to just move on to the next thing and give little thought to how we should respond to God in light of the text at hand. If you’re not sure, take some time to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help. Write down anything that comes to mind and then review and apply it throughout the week. Consider taking Monday morning to pull out your notes and review the passage that was studied on Sunday with the church. Share what you’re learning with your friends, spouse, kids, and Missional Community.
Following the gathering, be on the lookout for God and people. If you have the time, try not to rush out the door but stay to talk and meet others. Who crosses your path? Who is sitting near by? Is anyone new? Does anyone look lonely or isolated? Consider going out to lunch or inviting others over to your home for lunch. Offer to pray for people on the spot. Introduce those who are new to others that you know. Invite people to join you in community. No matter your personality, whether introvert or extrovert, you have something to offer to those God has providentially placed around you – every Sunday.
Gathering with Jesus’ people is unlike any other gathering we are a part of throughout the week. When we come together we serve as a small picture of the great gathering of God’s redeemed people, in Jesus, in the age to come. In that day there will be a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10) Our gathering every Sunday points to that Great Gathering. Profound, isn’t it? That alone makes it worthy of our intentional preparation and thoughtful participation.
Comments for this post have been disabled