PREPARATION | MARCH 22, 2001
The Bible speaks of a kind of worship that is acceptable and a kind that is unacceptable to God. In Psalm 20:1-3 David writes that help is found in the sanctuary, meaning the presence of the Lord was in the place. He goes on to say in verse 3, "May He remember all your meal offerings, and find your burnt offering acceptable." This implies that worship of God can sometimes be unacceptable. Of course this does not mean God is concerned that we sing on key or be professional musicians or dress extravagantly for the occasion. Rather Psalm 24 says,
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD
What God is concerned with is that we be prepared to worship. There is a preparation that involves our heart. There is a preparation that involves our willingness to come to God honestly. Such preparation for worship brings blessing. Such preparation for worship is easily recognizable. Psalm 33:1-3 adds,
Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
Notice there is joy in worship. There are instruments and singing. There is exuberance and excitement with shouts of joy. To play skillfully implies preparation on the part of those leading.
Would you consider your worship experience at CCC to be joyful? Have you considered that how you prepare for worship can determine whether your worship is acceptable to God and therefore a joyful experience? The above passages give us some insight that the essential preparations are related to matters of the heart. There must be willingness for each of us to approach worship with a sense of accountability before God.
One of the great strengths of Christ Community Church is that we can "come as we are" when we worship. We often refer to this as being casual. Churches even refer to specific "casual worship services." Being casual in this sense is often reflected in that people do not feel like they have to dress to the nines to come to church. I like this quality at CCC. If being casual means we are real with one another and people don't have to feel they must be something they are not or that they must fit within some external code to be accepted then being casual is a good thing. However, if casual means we can approach worship without any preparation or that we can cavalierly approach worship without regard to God and others around us then such casualness becomes a detriment to our spiritual health.
Consider some very practical applications.
Prepare spiritually Pray beforehand for the church, the musicians, and the teachers. You can do this the night before as a family or at the breakfast table on Sunday morning. You can also pray at the Sunday 8:15 AM prayer time at church to prepare your heart.
In anticipation of the message consider reading the passage of scripture for the sermon ahead of time. Allow God to begin to prepare your heart and create an added appetite for the message. I have seen little children listen well and receive great blessing from the worship service. Some parents even have toddlers mark how many times key words are given during the sermon, such as God, grace, love, etc. This helps the little children, who in their early development are not as cognitive, to learn to appreciate, value, and listen to the Word of God.
Prepare physically Make the physical preparations necessary to be alert Consider not staying out as late on Saturday evening and getting a good nights rest. I will try to do my part to deliver something worthwhile without boredom and you can try to do your part and come expectant and alert.
If you have children I can empathize with the challenges of getting to church on time. Janet and I had four children age three or under and it wasn't easy on Sunday mornings. However, there are some very simple things that can help. Bathing, eating, and dressing can be planned the night before to make preparations for worship. Even still interruptions occur. On our way out the door for church one Sunday morning one of our children had a bodily explosion that exited the diaper and was deposited on our front porch. I had to get out of the car and hose down the porch, while Janet did a redressing of the guilty party. Interruptions aside, we will find making preparations can help make the worship experience less stressful.
Prepare Relationally Matthew 5:23-24 clearly instructs us to make sure we not hold bitterness or unforgiveness in our hearts, especially in the context of worship. We must keep short accounts with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The scriptures say, "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." If ever there were a time our worship was unacceptable it would be when we are harboring ill-will toward another member of the body of Christ. Could it be that for some their lack of joy in worship is an offense they are holding against a brother or sister in Christ? I Peter 3:7 is even more specific in telling husbands when they mistreat their wives their prayers are hindered. God seems to be saying that He does not play games with our relationship to Him. How can we stand and sing "Lord make me holy" while we are harboring ill-will toward another person? God does not accept such worship or bless us with such insincerity. We cannot play dodge ball in our hearts with God and then seek to approach God in worship. There may be times when God impresses on your heart something that must be resolved with another brother or sister in Christ. If need be, get up out of your seat, go that person if they are present and make it right. Such displays are a welcome commodity to worship and honoring to God. God is after integrity in our hearts. He already knows what is going on with us. May we relate to Him and one another with integrity. May we extend grace to others in the same fashion God has expressed grace to us.
When we approach worship with integrity and prepare ourselves then our worship will be marked by joy. I can think of no greater attraction to a hurting heart that visits our congregation than a group of people marked by integrity, touched by grace, and wholly sold out to worshipping God with joy.
-- Kevin Short, Senior Pastor