*Update* - This article is part of a series on corporate worship which has been put together into one digital book entitled Corporate Worship: Principles & Elements of Worship at Providence Presbyterian Church, PCA (Midland, TX). It is available for free download in pdf or Kindle format here: http://providencemidland.org/resources/helpful-links (it is the second resource listed on this page).
Dear Church Family,
In last week’s email, I addressed some general principles of corporate worship. This week, I would like to delineate some recommendations in preparing for worship. At the beginning of our corporate worship service, we have a time designated in the order of worship as “Silent Preparation for Worship;” however, there are things that we ought to do during the week before we even arrive at church on Sunday morning in preparation for worship.
Worship as Work
Before taking up some of the practical aspects of preparing for corporate worship, though, it might be good to understand why we should prepare for worship. One of the reasons is because worship is work. That sounds odd to many people, after all, isn’t worship supposed to be something that just naturally and spontaneously happens. Well, the truth of the matter is: worship doesn’t just happen. Even as regenerate, born-again, Christians, there abides still some remnants of corruption in every part of our being (WCF 13:2). Worship doesn’t come naturally to human beings who are by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). When a person is born again, worship has to be learned.
Though it may not be apparent to us, the Scriptures clearly convey the idea that worship is work. At the beginning of the book of Exodus, we are told that “The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them” (Exodus 1:13-14). A word that appears twice in these verses (translated as “labor”) is the same word which the Lord uses in the message that He gives to Moses, which he is supposed to take back to Pharaoh: “You shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness. But behold, you have not listened until now’” (Exodus 7:16).
The point is that the Lord called the people of Israel out of their life of bitter labor in Egypt in order that they would joyfully serve (or worship) Him. So, He delivers them from slavery in Egypt and brings them to Mount Sinai where He teaches them His law and how to serve (or worship) Him (Exodus 19 – Leviticus 27).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul ties the idea of worship and labor together, when he describes the sin of idolatry: “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25). There are many other instances in the New Testament where we could point to this link, and even our English word “liturgy” carries this connotation of labor or work. “Liturgy” is derived from the Latin word leitourgia which refers to a “public service.”
If a group of people were called upon to meet with an earthly king, no doubt that group of people would plan and practice so that they would be best prepared. How much more ought we be ready to meet with the King of kings and Lord of lords. So, it is good, right, biblical, and helpful for us to make preparations to enter into the “public service” of corporate worship each week.
Preparations for Worship
1. Pray. Pray for the pastor during the week and in the time leading up to the service for the Lord to bless his study, preparations, and preaching of God’s Word. Pray for those who will be leading in corporate worship. Pray for the other members of the church and any visitors who will participate. Pray for yourself to have a right attitude and spirit in worship.
2. Be reconciled. If you know of any conflict or unresolved issue between yourself and someone else, seek that person out in an effort to be reconciled.
3. Review. If possible, obtain a copy of the order of worship for the worship service and review the various parts. Go over the various Scriptures and songs that will be a part of that service. Read the words of the songs so that you’re familiar with what you’ll be singing; if you’re able, practice singing the songs so that you may be better prepared to sing with your fellow worshippers.
4. Read. Read the Scripture passage for the sermon. Meditate on it. If possible, talk it over with another person.
5. Plan. Plan to get as much of your necessary preparations for Sunday taken care of the night before. Practical preparations like making sure clothes are ready and getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce the stress of Sunday mornings.
6. Quiet down. For six days, we are engaged with the world and the things of this world. When we gather for corporate worship, we engage in other-worldly activities. So, in the moments leading up the worship service, it is a good idea to quiet yourself before the Lord, pray, meditate, and prepare your heart to meet with your Creator and Redeemer.
These are just a few helpful items to consider in preparing for corporate worship. Really, preparation for the next corporate worship service begins at the conclusion of the previous service and continues until the beginning of the next.
Resources for Worship Preparation
In order to better assist the congregation in preparing for worship, we do a couple of things at our church. Typically, the text and title of the sermon for the next week is listed in the bulletin of the previous week. Also, the order of worship is posted to our website (in the Audio section) – usually on the Wednesday before. It is a good idea to look over the order of worship each week before the service, read the Scriptures, catechism, confessions, and prayers.
To better prepare for singing, it is helpful to have a personal copy of the hymnal and Psalter in your home. If you don’t have one, there are some good resources online that may be of some help:
Trinity Hymnal (revised edition) – this site provides an index of the hymns from the red Trinity Hymnal: Revised Edition that we use in our worship service. Here you will find all of the data (title, author, tune, etc) for each hymn in the hymnal.
Trinity Hymnal Resources – this site contains links where you can access midi or mp3 files (audio recordings) of the hymn tunes (be sure to look under “Revised Trinity Hymnal).
The Cyber Hymnal – this site is one place where you can find the words and text of many hymns, along with audio to hear the tunes.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of any online resources for the Trinity Psalter which we use in our worship service, but many of the tunes are from the hymnal. In preparation to sing from the Psalter, one could always simply read the Psalm in the Scriptures even though the psalter would have different phrasings.
When you look at the order of worship for this coming Sunday, January 19, you will discover that we will be participating in the sacrament of baptism for one of the covenant children of our church. At the end of the order of worship online, you will find the insert for that baptismal service.
Also, you will find that we will be singing a new song (or, at least, a new tune) this Sunday: God Be Merciful to Me (Ps. 51). The words to his song can be found online here, and you can hear a demo recording of the tune here.
May the Lord bless you as you prepare to worship Him well, this Sunday!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch