. . . posts on faith and life
I have gone to a lot of church services in my lifetime. And if I had to try to guess which passage from Scripture I had heard more than any other this would certainly be one of the candidates:
I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” Psalm 122:1
It is a popular refrain that often comes from the stage, whether it is in an opening prayer, before the singing, or in the middle of a sermon. But, as usual, I have a confession to make. Out of the thousands of times that I have stepped into a church building in my lifetime I think that the percentage of times that I could honestly characterize my attitude with Psalm 122:1 would be embarrassingly low.
Jesus told the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John that “…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (v. 23). What often comes to mind when we read this is the question of what it looks like to worship in spirit and truth. Certainly that is an important question to ask ourselves in response to Jesus’ statement. However, there is another simple truth that is given to us in the verse that we sometimes rush past without much thought. That is, God is simply looking for true worshipers.
What is a true worshiper? Perhaps we have tried so hard to define proper worship that we have lost the primary idea behind Jesus’ words. Maybe a true worshiper is simply a person who truly wants to worship. That speaks nothing of the outward form, but speaks volumes of the inward motivations.
Sometimes we have the tendency to act as if worship is dependent more on God, or even on other people around us, than on our own personal choices, attitudes and heart. I have sat in corporate worship many times and waited for God to do something. Yet, when I consider this aspect of true worshipers I realize that during those times God was most likely sitting in our corporate worship waiting for me to do something. Since God is seeking people to worship Him it is up to me to decide to be one of those worshipers that He is seeking.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we find out that the worship services were starting to get disorderly. It is easy to read Paul’s corrections and feel a little critical of the Corinthians, and perhaps a little proud of ourselves. After all, we have become pretty good at ordering our worship services. What was the source of their disorderliness? It was their enthusiasm for worship. Paul noted, “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm” (1 Cor 14:26). The Corinthians were showing up to church ready to worship. They were so eager to contribute that they needed a little help figuring out how to organize things. I am afraid that we have developed the exact opposite problem. We come to church so dependent on how we have organized things that we feel no need to prepare to worship.
When James tells us to draw near to God and He will draw near to us he immediately instructs us to wash our hands and purify our hearts (see James 4:8). When the author of Hebrews tells us to draw near to God with a sincere heart he immediately tells us to have our hearts, conscience, and bodies cleansed (see Hebrews 10:22). Worship is a process of drawing near to God, and that process requires preparation on our part.
This is not something that developed in the New Testament. In the Old Testament when the high priest entered into the Inner Court he washed his hands at the Lavers, gave his sin offering at the Brazen Altar, and washed his entire body at the Molten Sea (Exodus 30:19-21). The pattern of preparation has always been there. Now our high priest is Jesus the Son of God. Therefore we can boldly approach the throne of grace through Him (Hebrews 4:16). So, there is no longer a ritualistic preparation that is required. However, a preparation of the heart remains.
Every individual believer that walks into a church carries a personal responsibility to prepare oneself for worship. Do we take that seriously?
We require the individuals who take part in leading us in worship to prepare. That list of people will look different in various churches depending on the size, style and tradition of the church. But it may include people running sound, lights, cameras and media. It may include a choir, ensemble and small orchestra. It most likely includes a preacher. And may also include some sort of moderator, reader, and officiant. There is a chance that greeters, ushers, shuttle drivers, golf cart drivers and/or others have helped get people into the sanctuary and seated in a pleasant and efficient manner. Someone unlocked the church that morning. Someone may have prepared coffee. Someone cleaned the sanctuary at least once since the week before.
We take all of these things for granted. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves we have pretty high expectations about all of these things. Some areas may be tolerated more than others. But the truth is that if any one of these people came into church grossly unprepared we would be appalled. We would inquire to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. If it became a pattern we would call some sort of really important sounding meeting. And if it was still not resolved we would start thinking about looking for a new church. And I am describing those of us who would take the patient approach. I am not saying that service leaders should stop preparing. But I am saying this, who am I to demand those things from my church and then turn around and not even prepare myself for worship?
I suspect that if I could shout out Psalm 122:1 with congruence things might look differently for me throughout the week. I would probably find myself looking forward to Sunday morning as soon as Monday afternoon. I think that I would be meditating on Scriptures that testify to the goodness of God throughout the week. I believe I would be humble enough to examine myself daily in order to remove any obstacles that stood between me and God. I would probably have my clothes picked out by Friday afternoon and ironed by Friday night. I would be setting out breakfast by Saturday evening and itching to get to bed. I would rise early on Sunday morning excited to take part in the worship service for which I had been praying all week. Is that how our week looks? Is that the attitude we carry into worship? If you can say yes to that I am so grateful for you. But for the rest like me perhaps it is time that we recognize our own hypocrisy.
What would it look like if a church caught such a vision in a unified way? I would love to step into a worship service once in my life where everyone in the room had spent the week preparing for worship. I imagine that if someone stood on the stage in that service and shouted out, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord,” that it would not sound like another churchy cliche. I think it would sound like Heaven coming down to earth. If we took the time to prepare ourselves for worship that might be exactly what happens.