There’s an old hymn that says, ‘Sometimes a light surprises a Christian while he sings’. The word ‘sometimes’ needs to be highlighted. The hymn-writer is being honest in using the word. The truth is that, more often than not, church services are a ho-hum experience. Sermons are not infrequently uninspiring. The music is never to everyone’s taste. The public prayers are longwinded, abstract, and difficult to follow. Thus it is truly a ‘surprise’ when a jolt of joy rocks the heart on a Sunday morning. Such experiences are special and occasional gifts of the Holy Spirit. We ought to rejoice when worship thrills the heart, but we cannot expect every Sunday to be a Mount Tabor experience.
Yet, if we cannot manufacture joy, there are ways of being more engaged with a worship service. Too many people step into a church building on Sunday thinking that their role in what is about to happen is little more than that of a spectator. They are the audience, the pastor is the performer. When we adopt this mindset, we set ourselves up for distraction and boredom. A better approach to gathered worship is to view ourselves as having a critical role in a drama about to unfold. The more we view ourselves as a participant in an interactive event – one that involves human beings, angels, and most importantly, God – the more immersive and interpersonal our act of worship will be.
But what does this look like in practice? Here are four tips for making the most of a Sunday morning worship service.
1 – If You Struggle to Pay Attention, Don’t Sit on the Back Row
As a child, I always tried to get a desk at the back of a classroom. My motive was not admirable. I was more interested in doodling than taking notes.
We all know from experience that paying attention increases in difficulty the further we sit from a speaker. Some of us would benefit from making use of this wisdom. Do you struggle with being distracted during worship? If so, take a seat nearer the front of the congregation. There is a helpful pressure to pay attention when you feel as if the teacher – or pastor – can see you.
2 – Sing As If the Angels Are Listening
We often think that our enjoyment of praise is totally dependent upon the music. If we like the tune of a song, our soul ignites in worship; if the music is not to taste, the flame never catches.
Yet, if we are honest, there is another reason why praise often feels flat. A lot of us hold back from singing. We murmur the words under our breath because we are afraid lest someone should hear us.
Now if we want praise to be enthralling, we need to take a different approach. Rather than trying to keep our voice from being heard, we need to lift our voices so that – not just the angels – but the Lord Jesus can hear them. We all need to know the following principle of corporate worship: The more liberated the tongue is to sing loudly to Jesus, the more liberated the heart will be to experience the joy of communion with God.
3 – Imagine the Throne of Grace during Public Prayer
Let me be completely honest: it’s difficult to follow a public prayer. Most of us lose concentration at the first word of such a prayer. As soon as the pastor says, ‘Let’s bow our heads to pray’, the mind is off like a hound chasing a rabbit in the bushes.
How can we avoid this? Here is a tip: At the start of a public prayer, pause for a moment and reflect on the marvel of what is about to happen. For the next few minutes, 100 or more hearts are going to be knitted together in a spirit of devotion and petition before the Throne of Grace. As you shut your eyes and clasp your hands, picture the veil between the congregation and the glorious throne of God being removed. Awareness of divine glory changes the entire atmosphere of public prayer. Instead of feeling as if you are listening to a soliloquy, you will feel as if you are awaiting the answer of a heavenly Father.
4 – Bring a Bible and Keep It Open during the Sermon
If you take a tour at a museum, the tour guide will say a lot of interesting things about various artifacts of history and of art. Yet, imagine how strange it would be to listen to all of the commentary without ever looking at the objects that are being described. Strangely, this is the approach of a lot of Christians on Sunday mornings. They spend the entire sermon looking up at the preacher without ever looking down at their Bibles. This mindset is flawed. The purpose of the sermon is not ultimately to listen to the commentary of man, but to understand and appreciate the Word of God. In light of this, the best way to listen to a sermon is with an open Bible and an active mind. Mentally, be asking questions while the preacher is preaching: ‘Why are you telling me this?’ ‘Where is this found in the text?’ ‘What are the implications of this truth for my life?’ The more actively we listen, the more engaged we will be.