How good are you about preparing for corporate worship? Much of corporate worship happens in the privacy of your own home before ever stepping foot inside the building to attend a worship service. Many Christians don’t give much thought to preparation for corporate worship, but really preparation could be the heart of worship. I’m not just speaking about getting a good night sleep the night before, though that’s important. But I’m talking about preparing the mind to listen, the mouth to praise, and the heart to engage.
Solomon wrote, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil,” (Ecclesiastes 5:1, ESV). True, the house of God was the temple and not the church building. But Paul indicates that not only is the individual person a temple of God but, in consequence, so is the local gathering a temple of the Holy Spirit. In other words: the building is not the temple, but the gathering of believers is. Thus, when we go to corporate worship, we are going to the house of God and Solomon says that we are to guard our steps. We are to be careful. We are not to simply be thoughtless as we make our way, but to be thoughtful.
Thoughtful of what? Of what we will hear and what we will say or give. That second part of the verse: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools,” is not simply a trite saying or poetic language. It is referring to those who go and give a sacrifice without giving thought to what they are doing. They are doing it because they’ve always done it, because it is expected, or because they have nothing better going on. Worshiping God is a major part of our lives. It should be done with thoughtfulness. To do so otherwise is evil. To worship without thought is to say that the object of worship is not worthy of our thoughts, concentration, and devotion. In fact, he isn’t worthy of worship at all since true worship must be done in spirit and truth (heart and mind). Otherwise it’s a mockery toward worship and toward the object of worship, and so mindless worship can be nothing other than evil.
Be thoughtful to listen–not just hear,but listen. Be ready to hear from God and His Word so that you can put into action what has been laid upon your heart and mind. The sermon is the Word of God explained (hopefully) so that the person listening can understand it and its aplication, and do what they have heard. They listen to it, being “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” (James 1:22, ESV).
“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few,” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV). As you prepare for worship, think hard about this God whom you worship. Solomon is not prohibiting prayer, but prohibiting (once again) mindless prayer. God is in heaven, thus he is greater than us. As Isaiah wrote, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:9, ESV). Praying and singing (as many songs are simply corporate prayers put to music) are to be done with the understanding that God is greater and higher and more glorious than we could ever imagine. He is holy and righteous and perfect. We are on earth: those whom He has created, those whom He has adopted. Thus the songs we sing ought to make much of Him. When we have prepared our hearts and determined our minds to make much of Him and not so much of ourselves, our words will reflect that as we pray and sing. Seeking to bargain with God or to make much of what we want that may oppose his sovereign will, will dwindle to infinitesimal moments.
Yet, if we do not prepare beforehand, it is easy to allow these moments to grow. Since we are not guarding our steps then we won’t be guarding our thoughts and so not guarding our mouths. Sunday mornings are always rushed. Nothing goes right for families on Sunday mornings it seems. Yet Sundays are so important. Perhaps changes need to be made on Saturdays to prepare for worship on Sundays. More baths, more ironing, earlier bed times on Saturday, and earlier waking times on Sunday mornings so people are not rushed are some thoughts. I know that is pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but I bet if we stick to it, and make it a routine, within a few weeks or months, Sunday mornings will become a time of preparation. After all, the heart of worship is in the prep work.