“You get out what you put in.”
I’ve heard this phrase used in relation to worship for years, with the basic idea being that we should never go into worship with a consumer mindset. People who are merely looking for what they can get out of the experience rarely find fulfillment and honestly can’t properly praise God, since He should be the focus.
But that phrase isn’t the end of the discussion. It’s one thing to grasp what it means, it’s another to know how to apply it. How can we apply ourselves in order to have a time of worship that truly glorifies God in a way that engages us fully in both heart and mind? If you’ve ever struggled with this feeling, I suggest adding this seven step routine to your Sundays.
Pray first thing in the morning. As a non-morning person, I generally like to get as much sleep as I can before getting ready. On the other hand, I know parents (especially those with young children) have difficulty finding a spare second as they prepare themselves and their children to get out the door in time. But it makes such a difference each Sunday to make a few extra minutes to pray. Pray for what you’re about to do, pray for focus, pray for the fellowship and that the congregation will be united as one in their worship. There’s no better way to get our minds in the right place than to take a couple short minutes and ask God to bless our day of worship.
Read to prepare for the day’s studies. If you know what text the Bible class is going to cover, read that section. Or, maybe your preacher puts out a verse or a text that he’s going to cover in the sermon via Facebook or Twitter and you can read that section. Or, maybe you don’t know what you’re going to cover that day, but you have a Psalm you like to read to help you focus on God, or a section about Christ’s sacrifice to help you prepare for the Lord’s Supper.
Smile as you arrive and settle in. I don’t mean to suggest we all should force fake smiles. Sometimes we’ve just got too much on our hearts to smile, and that’s alright. But generally speaking, when we come together with our family to praise God, we should be happy. Those around you (your children, visitors, and your fellow Christians) need to see the joy you find in God, and they do so by looking at your face. Each Sunday is a time of rejoicing in God’s love, and there’s no greater reason to smile than that.
Encourage those around you. A general suggestion to encourage is okay, but I hope you’ll go even further and single out a few people for specific encouragement each Sunday. You very well may make their day, and it will strengthen your sense of fellowship as you go into worship. Worship is meant to be experienced together, and the more we’re thinking about others and how to build them up, the more connected we’ll feel.
Think about the hymns you sing. There are many beautiful words in our hymnals (many taken straight from the Scriptures), but it doesn’t do us any good to mindlessly recite them to a tune. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard it thousands of times, there is real power in a song like “Amazing Grace,” for example, and God is praised when our hearts believe and express those words along with our lips.
Listen to the prayers, the communion talk, and the sermon. It’s so easy to let our minds wander to lunch, the football game, that thing going on at work, or whatever else is fighting for our attention, but there will always be time for those things later. However, it takes a dedicated effort to keep our minds engaged, probably more than ever when we consider the shortened attention spans of the digital age. Take notes on the sermon, if necessary. Picture yourself and the whole congregation kneeling before the throne of Isaiah 6 as you’re lead in prayer, if that’s what works for you. Do whatever it takes to fight for your own distractions, because you only have so many minutes each week to experience these important parts of the church’s time of worship.
Review what you learned. I don’t have any official stats, but it seems like there’s a very good chance that many people don’t even remember what the sermon was about by Monday morning (much less what the main points were). It’s hard to blame them, as we do have all of those aforementioned distractions vying for our attention. But if we can take the encouragement we receive on Sunday with us into the week, we’ll remember and be strengthened by those things all the more. This year I’ve started giving a chapter and a memory verse in each sermon so our members can have something to read and something to work on memorizing throughout the week. That way some of the lessons of the sermon will stick with them and they’ll be able to take those things and internalize the Scripture even more. Preachers, if you don’t already, I hope you’ll consider doing something similar. Christians, if your preacher doesn’t do something like this, write down some of the main Scriptures of the sermon for yourself and spend some time with them. That way your day of worship will carry into the week and help you be even more prepared for next Sunday!
Worship should always be about giving God our hearts and our minds, and not just our time and our physical presence. The best way we can do that is to have a game plan for Sunday, knowing how we’re going to give our time to Him each week as we go to worship Him.
By Jack Wilkie
Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact jack@focuspress.org.