During the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently watched a worship service that was livestreamed on Facebook. It was at a different time than our service, and mostly out of curiosity, I clicked the link and watched a good portion of it. What struck me was how it started. With a countdown clock reaching the five-minute mark, one of the musicians stepped into view of the camera and greeted everyone. He made the following statement, “Good morning church! We will begin worship in just five minutes, so go grab your favorite beverage and sit back and enjoy!”
What happens just before the worship service begins communicates much about the church’s approach to the worship of God. Are we arriving late on a perpetual basis for worship? Are we overly casual in our approach to worship? Are we uptight and stressed out as we approach the worship of God? As we consider the call to worship God, we should take our approach and preparation for worship seriously.
Guard Against Overly Casual Worship
To be clear, navigating the worship of God during the pandemic has been difficult. Sometimes, with children it’s like herding cats. One Sunday, I turned to my family and announced that our service is about to begin in less than a minute. My youngest daughter had animal crackers on a paper plate in one hand with her Bible in the other as she was approaching the living room. Once we made our way into the living room, just after the call to worship from God’s Word, my youngest son was on the couch rolling off into the floor with a loud thud.
Attempting to maintain some form of consistency in our approach to worship through the pandemic has been a challenge, but from the beginning my wife and I asked our children to get up at the normal time and get dressed and prepare for worship in order to avoid going into the living room with pajamas and disheveled hair without a proper approach to worship. The heart behind our approach to worship matters. R.C. Sproul once wrote the following:
Our church service begins at 10:30 a.m. At 10:20, we turn the lights down and begin the prelude. This is the signal for our people to begin preparing for worship. By contrast, God gave Israel two days to prepare. He required them to be consecrated and to wash their clothes. These preparations were appropriate for what was about to happen. If I told my congregation that in three days God was going to appear visibly and that He wanted them to wash their clothes for the occasion, I am sure they would do it. It would seem to be an insignificant requirement for the awesome privilege of standing in God’s physical presence. 
From a theological foundation, Dr. Sproul pointed his congregation to prepare themselves to worship God. Needless to say, encouraging your church to grab their favorite beverage and sit back and enjoy the worship is to miss the point of worship altogether. We can be far too casual in our approach. Psalm 2:11 reads, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” George Swinnock writes the following:
Cleanly men wash their hands and brush their clothes every day, but when they are to dine with a king they will wash and scour their hands; they will brush their clothes over and over again, that their hands maybe, if possible, clean from the least dirt, and their garments from the least dust. The true Christian is, in all company, and in the whole course of his life, every day careful to keep his soul clean and his conscience clear—nay, to increase his godliness; but when he drawth nigh to God, then he hath more special care and extraordinary caution. 
Casual worship can lead to a careless worship which devalues something very precious and turns worship into something far less than what God expects from his people.
Guard Against Stressful Worship
When preparing to worship God corporately, we must avoid a stress filled worship. Certainly, from a leadership standpoint, a certain amount of stress is to be expected, but we should seek to be so prepared for worship that we are able to avoid the common stresses that plague families as they enter the campus of the church for weekly worship.
There are some practical ways to avoid stressful worship services such as beginning the preparation for Sunday on Saturday. In order to get a family prepared for Sunday, preparing clothes is essential. Laying out the clothes and having an orderly approach to Sunday morning is a great help. It’s also important to prepare the mind and heart for worship on the Lord’s Day. Reading through the text of Scripture that will be preached on the following day and praying for the Lord to teach you and grow you spiritually will make a drastic difference in how you approach worship.
Additionally, if you’re meeting in small groups or Sunday school gatherings before the morning worship service, it would be wise to conclude your study with enough time to properly prepare yourself as you enter the auditorium so that you don’t feel rushed as you enter the room and unprepared to be called to worship from the opening Scripture reading and prayer. Something as simple as arriving ten minutes early will have a dramatic impact on how you approach God in worship. This approach may allow you to pray and mentally prepare yourself for what unique opportunity presents itself as the gathered church worships God on the Lord’s Day.
As we consider the privilege of worship, we are called by God to draw near to the throne of the sovereign God of all creation. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” However, Uzzah failed to understand how to draw near to God appropriately (See 2 Sam. 6). The same thing could be said of Nadab and Abihu. God warned the people following the tragic scene with Nadab and Abihu saying, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3). We must draw near to God in worship, for we are called to worship him, but we must do so with both fear and faith. We must approach God with a fear that causes us to tremble and a faith that causes us to serve God with joy.
When athletes prepare for a big game, they do so with great intentionality. Their approach to play is not casual, so why is our approach to worship often very casual? George Swinnock observes:
When thou hearest, in the fear of God give audience to his word, Acts xiii. 16. Poor peasants must be trembling when this prince is speaking. With meekness receive that word which will damn or save thy soul. 
- R.C. Sproul, “Preparing Your Heart for Worship” [accessed 5/18/20).
- George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, M.A., Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1868), 87.
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