The little boy gazed upward while the preacher delivered his message. The lad’s focus wasn’t on Heaven, though – it was on the ceiling tiles. By the end of the service he knew exactly how many there were, though I doubt he had much idea what the preacher had said. Have you ever, so to speak, counted ceiling tiles in church while waiting for the service to end? I have. No question – church can be boring. Same songs. Same rituals. Every pastor is not a gifted speaker, and even gifted speakers can become predictable after the three hundredth sermon. And we’re often tired before we even walk through the door. Furthermore, there’s no way that most local churches can compete with the media. Mrs. Jones does not sing like Adele. Bill, who gives the announcements is a snooze compared to Jimmy Fallon.
Nevertheless, our worship time with other believers is a valuable part of staying connected with God and fellow believers. And I convey good news this morning – what you and I bring with us as we walk through the church doors can make all the difference in our weekly worship experience. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that if you come well-prepared almost any worship service can be a vital experience, even those that are not especially well-executed. On the other hand, even a superb worship service will fail to have much impact if we come poorly prepared. This leads to our question of the day:
How can I bring my “A” game to the worship service?
1. I bring my “A” game to the worship service when I’ve worked all week at growing my love relationship with God
It makes all the difference if I’ve come to worship my best friend versus coming to worship some abstract spiritual figure. If Jesus and I have travelled many miles of the week together, Sunday morning will just be one more loving conversation. Every verse that’s read, every song that’s sung every truth that’s shared reminds us of the God we cherish. We’re like a tinder dry forest needing just one tiny spark to set it ablaze. If I’ve devoted little time to Jesus, however, worship will be like trying to light a rain-soaked log.
2. I bring my “A” game to the worship service when I’ve worshiped all week
I’ve discovered that it’s possible to love God and still struggle to worship on Sunday morning. Why? For me it’s because certain parts of my relationship with God come easier. I love to talk to God. I tell him all about my life. I ask him for help. I pray for others. But when I try to stop all this for a moment and just focus on God, just enjoy Him and exalt Him, my mind goes bananas. It doesn’t want to slow down and focus just on God. Do you ever struggle with that?
It helps me to practice worshiping. I learn to control my jack-rabbit mind, learn to sing with feeling, learn to imagine and to feel. There are many ways to do this. Some involve music, but try taking a walk in the forest and just exulting in God’s gorgeous creativity or savoring Him through other people you love.
3. I bring my “A” game to the worship service when I prepare so that I can be at my best on Sunday morning
Olympic athletes deliberately train so that they will be at their physical and mental best during the competition – so that they will “peak”. They try not to over-train, or stay up all night, or cram themselves with bad food. They want to make the most of their few minutes of potential glory.
A bit of thoughtful preparation can also enhance our ability to give God our best on Sunday. Come well-rested. Allow extra time to get there. Do Sunday School preparations before Sunday morning. Have some quiet time before you come. Enter with a positive, expectant attitude. In other words, treat Sunday morning as really important rather than just cramming it in alongside everything else.
4. I bring my “A” game to the worship service when I try my best to leave self-consciousness behind
One of the toughest obstacles to whole-hearted worship is self-consciousness. When we’re too worried about what others might think then it’s hard to lose ourselves in worship. What if I sing a wrong note? What if I talk too loud? What if I start crying and people look at me weird? What if I make a mistake?
I understand self-consciousness. No one wants to look odd. But let me offer a challenge – it’s not about us. The goal in worship, whether at home or at church, is to gradually forget about ourselves and become lost in our enjoyment of God. A while back I saw a little sign in a gift shop that said: “Dance like no one’s watching”. That captures the idea. I’m not suggesting that we overdo this and do crazy, distracting stuff, just that we learn to be transparently caught up in our love for Jesus without being too worried about what others might think.
5. I bring my “A” game to worship when I direct my focus primarily toward God
One of my problems in a worship service is that I tend to focus too much on others things – the quality of the production, how well I’m singing, what that other person next to me is doing, how I feel, and so on.
It’s normal to be aware of these things, but worship really flows when they fade into the background. Worship is about releasing our worries and distractions and focusing on God. It’s all about Him. We want Him to be exalted. We want Him to be the center of attention. Worship is about us giving back to God.
A successful worship service is not measured by whether or not I come away spiritually pumped. That can be nice, but it’s not the main purpose. A successful worship service occurs when God has received a generous gift of gratitude and praise from His people. So the main question is not: did the music go well, or did the preacher do a good job, or did it feel good to me? The main question is: Were we able to lift God up?
I find this sort of focus requires me to grow spiritually. It requires practice. But what’s exciting is that when, even for a few moments, I focus more on God than on myself, worship becomes so much better. He is exalted and when He is exalted my heart draws nearer to Him. I too am blessed when I focus on blessing God.