“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to approach in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How do you approach worship? Is it something you pretty much just do each week? Or, do you put more into it than that? In a book rife with cynicism about the world as it is, Solomon offers some reflections about the attitude with which we should approach the throne of God that should make us think twice about going to worship anything less than fully prepared for what we might experience there. It is a good reminder of not so much what we are doing as it is before whom we are doing it. Let’s talk for a few minutes this morning about getting worship right.
If going to church is something you’ve done for very long, it’s really easy for it to fall into a pattern. When Sunday morning comes around, you get up, get dressed, and go to church. It’s just what you do. In fact, even if going to church is something you haven’t been doing very long at all, it is still remarkably easy for it to become a pattern. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I tell my congregation on a fairly regular basis that they want for certain elements of the Christian life to becomes the things they do because they are the things they do. That is, things like engaging with the Scriptures and prayer and joining with the Christian community in worship should become such regular parts of the rhythm of a Jesus follower’s life that they happen automatically. We want for pursuing growth in our relationship with God to be the default we relax into when we stop trying rather than something we have to keep pushing ourselves to do because it’s not our foundational norm.
And let’s talk for a minute about the way we talk about God when we think about worship. In the last couple of generations, it has become common for us to speak of God in very personal terms. Jesus should be like a best friend. God is a loving Father. We should be able to share our hearts with Him. We should be able to approach Him with confidence. The general trend here has been to portray God as very approachable and to make approaching Him seem like a very easy, non-threatening thing to do. The thought behind these efforts has been that if we move God off into some distant, high tower by the way we speak about Him, non-Christians aren’t going to really ever feel very drawn to Him. We don’t want people to conjure up images of a high church service presided over by a preacher thundering about a God who is more interested in your obedience than your heart, and so we’ve swung our language pendulum way over in the other direction.
Now, neither of these trends are necessarily a bad thing. Again, churchgoing should be a part of our life’s rhythm, and God very clearly does desire an intimate relationship with us. Correcting errors stemming from leaning in the other direction is a worthwhile endeavor. But in our efforts to find a better balance, we have had a tendency to overcorrect. Worship as a pattern is good. Worship as a rut into which we fall without much thought or engagement is not. Understanding God’s desire for a close, personal relationship is good. Forgetting that God is God, and we are not, is not.
What we need here is a healthy balance. Here’s one suggestion for how. When you go to worship each week as is your habit, take a few minutes before you leave to quietly prepare your heart and mind and spirit for encountering the presence of God. Now, hear me well: I know that’s far easier to say than do. This is especially true if you have kids you’re trying to get ready to go in addition to getting yourself ready. That’s always an adventure that is sometimes a little more combative in its form than at others. If you are in that season of life, you have a golden opportunity to teach your kids to prepare for worship as well. When you get in the car, before you pull out of the driveway, take two extra minutes to remind everybody (including yourself!) that you are about to go join with your church family to collectively seek the presence of the Lord. Pray together (initially you pray and they listen, but eventually start inviting them to pray while you listen) for peace, a calmness of spirit, forgiveness for sins that are currently separating you from God, and an open heart to receive what God has to give to you. Then pull out and go to church. That kind of thing may not seem like much, but I think you’ll be surprised just how much of a difference it can make.
As you sit in worship, delight in the presence of your Lord, but actively remind yourself that friend or not, He is still the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God who created the world and everything in it and could snuff it out of existence with a thought if He so desired. Being in His presence should make you just a little bit nervous. It should leave you wondering a bit in the back of your mind whether or not you can be with Him without being completely overwhelmed by His glorious holiness. This line of thinking should have you running hard into the arms of Christ, throwing yourself on His mercy and grace, and relying wholly on Him to make you fit for the presence of God.
And when you leave, however the service went, you should leave with a spirit of gratitude that you had been in the presence of God and came away unscathed. Then, go back the next week with the same approach and spirit.
None of these things will be a magic bullet for your worship, but they will put you in a place in which it will begin to trend in the direction of being far more meaningful an experience for you than perhaps it is right now. Ultimately, remember why you’re there and before whom it is you are seeking to present yourself, and you’ll be on the right path.