Very little of our time is spent each week in public worship. Two Sunday services make up 1.5 per cent of the whole, which suggests that work, family or leisure are all more important areas of Christian experience and activity. That they are vitally important is undeniable, but you can't determine spiritual experience mathematically.
The Sabbath is only one day in seven, but it sets the tone for every other day. In percentage terms, Christ's time on earth was infinitesimal, but never were there years more transcendental in the history of mankind. A couple of hours on a Sunday may not seem much, but they bring us face to face with God and are central to all we are as Christians.
How do we get more out of worship? How do we put more into worship? We must begin before we ever get to the place of worship, taking our cue from the phrase in The Directory of Public Worship of the Westminster Assembly: "having prepared their hearts thereunto".
We worship God because he has commanded us to do so. He has said that we should "not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing" (Hebrews 10:25). Paul describes how "the whole church comes together" (1 Corinthians 14:23), while the Lord Jesus Christ promises us that "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).
Every time we go to church, we should remind ourselves that God has called us to worship him. Whenever we find ourselves in danger of falling into a mere Sunday routine, we should deliberately remind ourselves that public worship is God's command and that he himself will be there. You may have found some church services lifeless and boring, but that doesn't matter as far as going the next time is concerned. Tell yourself: "I rejoiced with those who said to me: 'Let us go to the house of the Lord' (Psalm 122:1). Or again: 'How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord' (Psalm 84:1). If you expect nothing, you are likely to get it.
It's also good to remind yourself constantly how privileged you are. Think of many people too ill or disabled to attend public worship. Yet you can! What about millions of fellow-Christians forbidden to gather for worship, or who do so in fear of their liberty or even their lives? And you're free to go twice every Sunday! What a privilege not to be missed!
Prayer before Worship
Psalm 81:10 expresses a fundamental principle of the Christian life: "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it". Or in New Testament language: "You do not have because you do not ask God" (James 4:2). We can't expect regular blessing from our public worship if we don't pray regularly for it. That means taking time for much prayer, especially on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.
Pray for yourself. Pray that no sin in you will prevent God's blessing reaching you. Pray that you will have a receptive heart to all God wants to say to you. Pray that you will contribute to the spiritual quality of the church service by your own awareness of God and your desire to listen to him and obey him.
Pray for your fellow-worshippers. Pray for these in special need, that God will graciously meet with them and help them. Pray for those who will be unavoidably absent, that God will create a true spiritual bond between them and you. Pray for those whose unconfessed sin proves a hindrance to God's full blessing on the congregation, that they will be convicted of sin and brought to repentance. Pray for unbelievers, that they will be brought to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Pray for the precentor, that he may skillfully and attractively lead the praise of God's people. And pray earnestly for the minister. He's just a man, as subject to discouragement as you are. You may be blessed in having a minister of great knowledge, wisdom and eloquence. But it's far more likely that his preaching is not as good as you would wish. But remember he's only an instrument in God's hands, unlikely to be an effective instrument unless he is faithfully upheld in prayer by those to whom he preaches. Pray like the early church: "Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness" (Acts 4:29). Listen to Paul: "Pray for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me" (Philippians 4:19).
True worship springs from the heart and does not depend on buildings and other outward circumstances. But we are physical beings too, and public worship has to take place somewhere. So we need to do everything we can to ensure that our congregation's building is as conducive as possible to public worship. That means we should gladly contribute to its being reasonably warm and comfortable. We should encourage, where necessary, the installation of public address systems. We should make sure there is good access for wheelchair worshippers. We should be supportive of every initiative that aims at making our buildings more appropriate for worship — perhaps converting a huge building into a more compact place of worship, or making a dismal building more attractive, or creating facilities that will help foster fellowship among a worshipping people.
We should play our part in making visitors feel welcome to our services. Bible and Psalm books should be easily available, and we should be ready during the service to guide visitors unfamiliar with their use. People unnecessarily ill at ease will not benefit from the service as they should and may distract other worshippers.
A prepared building, a prepared people, a prepared precentor, a prepared preacher — and the promise of the Holy Spirit's presence and power!