Making the Most of Sunday
Corporate worship on the Lord’s day is precious to the people of God. We are invited to gather together for fellowship with God and one another through both word and sacrament, prayer and song. This gathering is perhaps the most beautiful, earthly picture we have of the church as we, of differing backgrounds and interests, unite together in Jesus Christ. Edmund Clowney put it so well when he wrote:
“Above all, we must prize the blessing of corporate worship. The church of the Lord, gathered for worship, marks the pinnacle of our fellowship with the Lord and with one another. The church is the people of God, the new humanity, the beginning of the new creation, a colony of heaven… In corporate worship we experience the meaning of union with Christ.”1
Yet, Sundays can be trying. We are busy and tired from a week of labor and activities. For those families with children just getting out the door on time can be a challenge--if not a battle! And when we finally sit down in church we are assaulted with distractions emerging from our own hearts and minds.
I want to encourage you to make the most of corporate worship, not just this weekend, but every weekend. As we look forward to what God will do among us as we gather let’s remember that there are three ways to get the most out of your Sundays with the church: prepare, participate, and reflect.
The significance of corporate worship must not be missed. We are not gathered to observe a show, or attending a lecture. We gather to worship the living God, drawing near to him through Jesus Christ, feasting on his word, repenting of sin, and rejoicing in his salvation. Getting the most out of worship is greatly helped by preparing our hearts to meet with God the night before.
Prayer is the primary means by which we prepare our hearts for worship. We should be in prayer for those who will lead as well as all who attend, asking God to draw men to the Son, to revive the lukewarm by his Spirit, and to penetrate hearts with the word.
And of course you must pray for your own soul; confessing your sin, trusting in the pardon only the Father gives in Jesus. We ought to be asking God to show us any hurtful ways in our hearts, and to speak to our fears and needs when we gather in the assembly. In his outstanding little book, The Christian's Daily Walk, Henry Scudder explained the place of prayer in preparation for worship when he wrote:
“Then pray for yourself, and for the minister, that God would give him a mouth to speak, and you a heart to hear, as you both ought to do. All this, before you shall assemble for public worship.”2
It is also helpful to read and meditate on the passage that your pastor will preaching from on Sunday. Early on in my first church plant a man named Mark called my cell phone, which at the time was also the church’s official phone line. He told me he was in town with his son and would be joining us for worship the next day. He wanted to know what passage I was preaching from so he and his son could read it and pray through it together that night. The next day Mark and his son showed up to our little church plant prepared to worship our risen Savior. I had no idea the night before I was speaking on the phone with Pastor Mark Dever of Capital Hill Baptist Church! His example is one we would all do well to follow.
Another means of preparation is rest. The hectic (and often times unnecessary) pace of our lives can make transitioning to worship on the Lord’s Day difficult. Be sure to get enough sleep the night before. Fatigue can be a great hindrance to worship, so let’s not give it any room to distract us. On Sunday morning be sure to get up early enough to not be rushed. And when you arrive be ready to respond to what the Lord will do.
Getting the most out of corporate worship requires you to do more than show up. You must participate in the act of worship in all of its forms. You are not an observer, but a worshipper. The only Observers the Lord himself who receives our offering with delight through his Son Jesus Christ.
Get there early. Sometimes, in God’s providence, we arrive late, but our habit should be to arrive early. Getting there before worship begins allows us to not only be part of the whole gathering, but also gives opportunity to see and serve others. The Call to Worship that formally begins the assembly is not a bell that merely announces the beginning of an event, and is an invitation to draw our hearts upward toward our triune God. The first verses of Scripture that are read are put in place through careful planning and God’s providence. Arriving late means you are missing something good God has for you to hear.
Hear the word with eagerness. The reading of Scripture in worship is the voice of God, and we must be ready to hear him. Here the Lord speaks to his people collectively, and to you individually. Distractions will abound, so we must consciously lay them aside to give God our full attention. Whenever the word of God is read it is an “audible conference of the Almighty with your soul. A distraction lets him talk unto the walls.”3
Sing with your heart to the Lord and to those present. Scripture commands us to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Eph 5:19) It is painfully obvious that in many churches today much of the congregation lip-syncs along with the band on stage. Even if the entire body was to sing aloud it is often impossible to hear them over the vocalists and musicians. But the Lord calls us to sing to him and to one another. This is a form of worship God has specifically prescribed for us. Yes, we sing with our hearts, but such songs are to be amplified by faith and run through our mouths. Here is where the real volume should come in. We should be turned up as far as we can go.
There may be songs you are not fond of. If the melody isn’t to your liking focus on the words, assuming they are reflect the truth of God and the gospel. Do not allow your preferences to short-circuit worship. This gathering is not set to meet your tastes but the taste of almighty God.
Pray with those who lead in prayer. It is easy to tune out when someone else is leading in prayer. So keep in mind this is not the time for one person to pray, but for all God’s people to pray. Push distractions out of your mind to give attention to what is being offered up by the one, and echo those prayers in your own heart, adding to them as you and the rest of the church entreat the Lord together. “Prayer is a pouring out the heart unto the Lord; by a distraction you pour it aside."4
Follow the preacher. When the preacher stands to deliver the sermon work hard to follow him closely, bible in hand, ready to receive the message not as man’s word, but God’s word (1 Thess 1:6; 2:13) If you have a hard time following the preacher, keep your Bible open and prayerfully search it. When you read the word of God it is read it is a “perusing of God's heart in black and white, where you may believe every letter to be written in blood.”5
Let the various parts of corporate worship draw you to our triune God. In our weakness, or sometimes in the weakness of a particular element in worship, we may not experience much grace in the moment. But If the songs do not enflame your heart, perhaps the sermon will. Or if the sermon is difficult for you to digest, perhaps the prayers will lift your head in adoration. God is at work in each element of worship, so each component has the ability to challenge and change you, including the call to worship, the songs, the prayers, the preaching, the Lord’s Supper, the offering, and the benediction.
Go as one who is sent. As worship concludes and you return home, remember that you are not simply leaving, but are sent by God to believe his word, walk in the Spirit, and testify to the reality of Jesus Christ in all of life.
Finally, when the assembly has been sent out, and you are alone or with family or friends, reflect on what was heralded and heard. Return to the word that was preached, discuss it with others, and ask God to continue working in you what he said that day.
There is much to be gained in corporate worship, but I find that we easily miss out when we are not prepared for it, participating in it, or reflecting on it. Again Scudder noted:
Do all this the rather, because there is not a clearer sign to distinguish you from one that is pro fane, than this, of conscientiously keeping holy the Lord's day. Neither is there any ordinary means of gaining strength and growth of grace in the in ward man like this, of due observing the sabbath. For this is God's great mart or fair-day for the soul, on which you may buy of Christ wine, milk, bread, marrow and fatness, gold, white raiment, eye salve, — even all things which are necessary, and which will satisfy, and cause the soul to live. It is the special day of proclaiming and sealing of pardons to penitent sinners. It is God's special day of publishing and sealing your patent of eternal life. It is a blessed day, sanctified for all these blessed purposes.6