A couple of weeks ago I was helping set up for a photo shoot at work. The photographer and her two assistants arrived two hours before the scheduled shoot. During the next two hours our time was filled with setting up equipment, testing lights, and taking test shots. All this was done to make sure that everything was set up perfectly for a 15 minute photo session for a national magazine .
It doesn’t surprise us that the photographer put in so much time in prep for shot. She had a job to do and was a participant in the task. When we gather as a church for worship we expect that the worship team and the pastor to have spent as much time preparing to lead as is necessary. After all they’re participants and their leading and preaching are essential components .
But what about us, what kind of preparation do we put into gathering to worship as a church on Sundays? Do we even need to prepare? Are we participants or recipients? If you like me believe that worship is essentially a time of revelation and response, then the answer is simple: we must prepare. We are a participants in the communal play of revelation and response that is carried out weekly. God participates as he reveals himself, the leaders are participants. They both lead us in the reading of scripture, the singing of songs, the praying of prayers, the preaching of the word, and the sharing of communion and like us are fellow participants in responding as God reveals himself.
So are there ways that we can prepare ourselves to be open and aware of God’s presence among us as he reveals himself and his mercy in the cross each week? I have a few suggestions that I hope you find helpful. First start by praying for God to open your heart to hear him as he reveals himself. Maybe this starts on Saturday before you go to sleep and again when you wake on Sunday morning.
We also do two things in church that help us to prepare. One of my favorite elements of communal worship is when we recite a statement of confession and need. These aren’t empty words. They hopefully become a heartfelt prayerful cry to God as we recognize our weakness, our sinfulness and our need for the mercy of Jesus at the cross.
We also start with a time of preparation as the worship team sings. During these times we can prepare as we pray, read scripture or sing along with the worship team. One thing that helps me focus and prepare is that I have several favorite passages of Scripture that I read and pray through.
First is an open cry of confession that I am a sinner in need of the mercy of God. For this I read Luke 18: 9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I start with the cry of the tax collector in verse 13 “Lord be merciful to me the sinner.” It grounds me in the reality of who I am and how much I need the mercy of Christ at the Cross.Then I ask God to reveal my sins to me where I can confess them to him and lay them before him and find mercy and forgiveness in the only place it is available; in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Next I pray through Isaiah 55. It is a great reminder of the provision, promises and mercy of God to redeem and forgive this weak sinful human (v. 1-7). It reminds me of his power to transform me into one who is being cleansed and made right by his Spirit and made to fulfill my calling to live in relationship with him and be a living testimony of his gracious redemption as he uses me to draw others to himself as they see his mercy and power in transformation worked out in my life (12-13). It reminds me of his intention and of the power of his word as it is read, recited and preached to accomplish this work of redemption (8-11).
Then I close this time of preparation by again going to Luke 18 and praising him for the reality that in the gospel alone I like the tax collector go into worship and out as one who has been vindicated by the work of Christ on the cross. If this is helpful please feel free to use it as you prepare for worship. If you have any things that you find helpful please feel free to share them with us.