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How to get ready for Sunday before Sunday.
Praying for the Spirit’s grace as we endeavor to better prepare our own hearts for worship.
I, like you, perhaps, have a strict routine to which I adhere every morning when I wake up. My eyelids open to the new morning and I immediately grab my phone from off the charger before groggily stumbling to the restroom. Those are, in all likelihood, the first two tasks I’m sure to accomplish on any given day of the week, without fail. The next few regimented items include some mixture of coffee brewing, book reading, Bible studying, and newsfeed scrolling (not necessarily in that order). There are definitely some mornings (perhaps more than I would care to admit) when the Scriptures are sequestered for a later moment in the day because of the busyness of the morning (a moment which all too frequently never comes). Alas, my self-disciplinary efforts are still vacillating.
One morning, however, I was stopped dead in my tracks during my routine. Sometime during the book reading segment, as I was reading through a sermon on Ecclesiastes by Alexander Maclaren, I came across a paragraph that seemed to reach out and punch me in the gut. It coerced me into seriously reconsidering my morning routines and habits to make them more meaningful. More purposeful. More beneficial. I’ll let Rev. Maclaren have the floor:
Fruitful and acceptable worship begins before it begins. So our passage commences with the demeanour of the worshipper on his way to the house of God. He is to keep his foot; that is, to go deliberately, thoughtfully, with realisation of what he is about to do. He is to “draw near to hear” and to bethink himself, while drawing near, of what his purpose should be. Our forefathers’ Sunday began on Saturday night, and partly for that reason the hallowing influence of it ran over into Monday, at all events. What likelihood is there that much good will come of worship to people who talk politics or scandal right up to the church door? Is reading newspapers in the pews, which they tell us in England is not unknown in America, a good preparation for worshipping God? The heaviest rain runs off parched ground, unless it has been first softened by a gentle fall of moisture. Hearts that have no dew of previous meditation to make them receptive are not likely to drink in much of the showers of blessing which may be falling round them.
No matter how much we frequent the house of God, if we go with unprepared minds and hearts we shall remain ignorant.1
Can you imagine the gall of someone opening a newspaper in the pew while church is going on? Maclaren’s comment sounds like a stand-up’s exaggerated story of what “actually happened.” But, at the same time, it’s not that far-fetched, seeing we do the same thing with our phones all the time. I’m convinced that our lack of engagement in church is due to a more distracted (and addicting) engagement with social media, which is rife with politics and scandal and strife. We are oftentimes filling our minds and our souls with “the latest” right up until we grab hold of the sanctuary doors. We can’t help ourselves. We’re frantically overloaded with news and controversy, all of which seems to scream at us in louder echoes than the good news itself. Perhaps it takes so much and so long to be moved in worship because it takes so much and so long to forget, for even just a moment, all of the “very important photos” and articles through which we spend so much time scrolling.
It’d be far better for you and your soul and your worship — thus, by proxy, your church — if you didn’t check Facebook (or Instagram or TikTok or whatever) while you’re walking through the church doors. That’s not meant to sound as Puritanical as it does. Indeed, I have to check myself on this, too. But we’re stunting ourselves and our faith and our fellowship if we’re seeking digital connection and approval when all the connection and approval we’ll ever need is right in front of us — in the elemental approval of the bread and the cup and the flesh and blood connection of the church family. You’d think that after a year of being forced to find connection and approval in 0s and 1s, in bits and bytes, we’d realize how fragile and futile and flimsy and foolish such an endeavor really is.
Perhaps the answer’s simpler than it seems, though. For some, it might mean taking Puritan-like steps of discipline in order to get out of the habit of checking social media while in the sanctuary. For others, that might even entail getting rid of social media altogether. But that’s not the answer for everyone. Maybe it just means I should replace my phone’s alarm clock with an actual analog alarm clock, prolonging the time between open eyelids and flashing screens. Nonetheless, I am praying for the Spirit’s grace as I endeavor to better prepare my own heart for worship. To enter God’s House not with a heart of parched soil but with a soul “softened by a gentle fall of moisture,” ready for the filling of the Word through Spirit, sermon, and song. Ready to “worship and bow down” and “kneel before the Lord our maker” (Ps. 95:6). Ready to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name” and “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2).
May the Lord be merciful with we who are so often encumbered and enamored by thousands of tiny little things, and may he direct our gaze away from the transient and fix it on the Infinite.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 3:2.351–52.