After attending church one Sunday, a little boy knelt beside his bed that night and prayed, “Dear God, we had a great time at church today, I wish You had been there.”
There is nothing in all of creation as wonderful as God’s church. There is nothing as glorious as people like you and me, who were lost, undone, unworthy, unrighteous, blind, hardened, and dead in our trespasses and sins, who have been made alive, made a new creation in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit for help in this life and hope for eternity with our Savior, and that is glorious! Ephesians 3:21, “To Him be glory in the church by Christ by Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, amen.”
Why do people go to church?
Some go just to please mom and dad, husband-wife or children. I’ve actually heard people say, “My grandmother would turn over in her grave if I didn’t go to church.”
Some just go on special days. Dr. Combs, the pastor who led me to Christ called them “C” and “E” Christians…Christmas and Easter. He would wish people Merry Christmas as they were leaving from the Easter service. I read about a church in the Midwest that had an attendance of about 40 people, but they were famous for their once-a-year chicken-noodle dinners, when more than 500 attended. The next Sunday they were back down to 40.
Some go to ridicule. When I was a boy, my friends and I used to go to this full-gospel church and laugh, be disruptive and in general make fun of everything. The church had an orphanage, so there were girls! Need I say more?
Some young people, needing a preacher to perform their marriage ceremony, will go to church until after the wedding.
Some have gone to church as spies, taking down every word preached, so they may find something with which to charge the pastor. This is going to be happening more frequently in the “politically correct” world of today.
But anyone who comes near to the fire of the word of God, even with bad intentions, may find themselves overcome by its heat!
Hugh Latimore, 19th century preacher, tells the story of a woman who couldn’t sleep for many nights, even through the use of drugs. She asked to be taken to church, because she had often enjoyed a quiet slumber during the sermon. He went on to say, “Even if people came to a sermon to sleep, it is better than not coming at all, for they might be caught napping.”
When people come to where gospel arrows are being shot, they will more than likely be hit by them. There are countless illustrations of people who were within the sound of the gospel and became believers. One of my former seminary students told me that when I was preaching in college chapel years ago an electrician, working in the building heard the message and accepted Christ.
In my own personal experience, Marlena took me to a rather liberal church, where I heard preaching, but I didn’t hear the gospel. Then when we went to the Olivet Baptist church in Lynwood, California, Dr. Combs preached the word, eventually resulting in my salvation. The truth is the very first time I heard the gospel, I was saved, shortly thereafter.
Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…”
Hebrews 4:12 MSG, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”
But as believers we don’t just come to church to be shot at random. We bring our cups to be filled. We come as empty vessels to God’s well. We come as parched earth looking for God’s rain. We come as hungry beggars to God’s banquet table. We come as paupers to receive God’s riches. We come as half-naked, ragged urchins to God’s orphanage. We come as helpless, hopeless, defeated, unarmed soldiers to God’s armory. We come as needy, bankrupt people, so it is very important that we come prepared to get something from God.
Every time you open you Bible and begin to read, God is speaking to you. Every time you go to Bible study at church, God is speaking to you! Every time your pastor opens God’s word and begins to declare the gospel, God is speaking to you.
“Any time you feel you are not learning anything from a sermon or a Bible teacher, you should check your attitude, especially for pride, because God can speak through even the most boring teacher when you are humble and receptive. James advises, ‘In a humble (gentle, modest) spirit, receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted [in your hearts] contains the power to save your souls.’ (James 1:21b AMP).” –Pastor Rick Warren
James 1:21,22: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Please allow me to be very practical with you, as we prepare ourselves for a trip to church.
The first thing we do is “lay aside”: Verse 21a: “…Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness…”
1 Peter 2:1,2, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…”
There must be some preparation of the heart before coming to worship. We come to meet with God. When Moses met God at the burning bush, he needed some preparation, “God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground” (Exodus 3:1-5 MSG).
What preparation do we make when we come to worship the Awesome Power of the Universe?
Do we come half-asleep, with idle thoughts roaming through our heads? Do we come with the cares of life on our shoulders? Are we already wondering what we will do for Sunday dinner? Are we worrying if we are going to get out early enough to beat the other churches to the buffet? Are we thinking about work, about decisions and deadlines we have to meet on Monday?
“Lay aside” is to cease doing something by throwing it of and being done with it. The metaphor for this negative duty is putting off like dirty clothes. James says our filthy, wicked vices are like to soiled garments which are to be set aside once for all. Using another analogy, it is as if James saw the human heart as a garden. If left to itself, the soil of our wicked hearts inherited from Adam would produce only weeds. James as a good spiritual horticulturist urges us to pull out the weeds and prepare the soil to receive the “implanted Word of God.”
“The idea is that of confessing, repenting of, and eliminating every vestige and semblance of evil that corrupts our lives, reduces our hunger for the Word, and clouds our understanding of it. When that is done, we can indeed ‘receive the word of God…not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in [us] who believe.’” –John MacArthur
“The soil of the heart must be prepared to receive the Word. If we have unconfessed sin in our hearts, and bitterness against God because of our trials, then we cannot receive the Word and be blessed by it.” –Wiersbe
Verse 21b: “…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
This pictures the disciple putting out the welcome mat for God’s word of truth as one would a good friend or guest, inviting them to come into your house.
1 Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
Acts 17:11, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Practical suggestions for preparing for church. Moses prepared the people for the presence of God. God wanted the people of Israel to get ready to come near to Him, to prepare themselves for an encounter with Him.
Exodus 19:10-11, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
Ecclesiastes 5:1 tells to, “Watch your step when you enter God’s house.” We are to proceed with reverence, with care and caution, and with dignity and respect. We approach God with the same care as Moses when he encountered God in a burning bush and took off his shoes. He was on holy ground, and he knew it.
“Let me encourage you to come to worship prepared to worship. Pray before you come so you will be ready to pray when you arrive. Sleep before you come so you will stay alert when you arrive. Read the Word before you come so your heart will be soft when you worship. Come hungry. Come willing. Come expecting God to speak. Come anticipating a memorable experience with the Creator of the universe.” –Rick Ezell, lifeway.com
God lives in the midst of the praises of His people.
Psalm 22:3, “You are holy! Who inhabits the praises of Israel.” One translation reads, “You are enthroned upon the praises of Your people.” Every time we praise Him we put Him on the throne of our lives. Psalm 149:1, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of saints.”
1 Chronicles 16:23-31, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is also to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and gladness are in His place. Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. The world also is firmly established, it shall not be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
Make your worship time a joy for you and your family! Psalm 122:1. “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
Dr. John Hall was asked to describe the kind of hearer he prefers. Here's his response:
•One who has prayed for the preacher in his home, and for the Holy Spirit’s influence on all the congregation.
•One who is punctually in his place, with his family by his side.
•One who has a good Bible and who devoutly follows the reading of Scripture as God speaking to him.
•One who joins in the singing as earnestly as the leader of praise.
•One who follows and in his heart joins the prayers.
•One who bears himself with reverence.
•On who looks for the divine impress in the sermon, and not for rhetoric, elocution or startling statements.
•One who keeps his eyes on the preacher.
•One who takes the message to himself, and looks for God’s blessings through it.
•One who has a word of Christian greeting and courtesy for those near him after the close of the sermon.
1) All week: Begin on Monday to pray for next Sunday’s services.
•Pray that you will be spiritually prepared to receive the word.
•Pray for members of your family, and your church family, especially for your pastor and church leaders.
•Pray that God will lead your pastor in his preparation to receive exactly what God gives him to give to his parishioners.
•If you are a teacher or church officer, pray for your ministry for those for whom you are responsible.
•Pray for those who will be ministering to children and teens, that they might come to real knowledge of God, even to the giving of themselves for ministry.
•Pray for the worship leader and the worship team, that they will be well-prepared to bring people into the presence of God. Remember, they, the worship leaders are the prompters, we, the congregation are the actors, but God is the audience.
2) Friday night and Saturday:
•Phone people to invite them to come to worship with you. Turn your car into a Sunday school bus, and fill it with needy souls to hear then word of God.
•Phone others in the body. Reminding them to pray for pastor and for Sunday’s services.
•Inquire if there is anything you can do to help to make Sunday a great and glorious day. Offer your services!
•In general prepare your heart with an expectation of God’s blessings on Sunday. Perhaps God may send a revival to you and your church as He observes your fire.
One man recalled his Saturday night ritual as a boy…He polished his shoes, took a bath, laid out his Sunday clothes, studied his Sunday School lesson, then prayed for his pastor and the services.
Robert Burns describes for us a peasant family’s preparation: They were convinced that preparation for the Lord’s Day meant, most importantly preparing their heart before entering the Lord’s house. The Puritans made much of Saturday night, calling it “the vigil.” They used the imagery of warming the oven of one’s heart on Saturday night by reflecting on the majesty of God. So that upon arising on Sunday, the oven could easily be kindled to devotion.
3) Sunday morning: Does this look like your typical Sunday morning? Get up late, rush around shouting at your family to hurry, get mad, can’t find anything to wear, get madder, wash and iron your Sunday clothes, really mad now, in a rage you threaten to leave without someone, finally get in the car, drive like a madman so you won’t be late, you are totally uncontrollable now, forgot your Bible, forgot your offering envelope, almost forgot the kids, then you arrive with a smile and a friendly attitude, so no one will know how mad and frustrated your are. You’re so stressed out that you fall asleep during worship. You just forgot what church was all about! It is about worshiping the awesome God of the universe. No! No! No!
If you were to have an appointment for an audience with the Queen of England or the President of the Unite States this morning, you would have visited the barber/beauty shop during the week, mom would have had her nails done, a new dress and a new suit, plus new clothes for the family would be a priority. You probably would have a hard time sleeping, and would be up at the crack of dawn to begin your preparation. You would rehearse what you were going to say, the children would be under threat of severe discipline if they did not act properly…All of that for just a person! Think about it! Today you are coming for an audience with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Should He prepare any less for Him than we would for a mere man?
Get up early! Leave yourself plenty of time to get ready, both physically and spiritually! Sunday mornings area great time to spend quality time with your family. Remind your children that “this is the day that the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Pray that God will touch you and your family on this day! Pray for pastor and services.
Get to church early! Even 15 minutes will give you an opportunity to fellowship with others. Have a cup of coffee or see if there is anything you can do to help prepare for the services. One couple in our church would arrive very early and pray over every seat in the Worship Center.
Get the kids to their classes early, it’s embarrassing for a child to walk in late and have everyone look at them.’
Sit down in the pew, take a moment to ask God to bless all who enter this place of worship today. Pray that pastor’s message will be exactly what you need, and will reach many hurting people today.
Get rid of as many distractions as possible. The children are safe in Children’s Church, You are guarding them, and teaching them.
Get rid of as many outside thoughts as possible: Money, job, sports, business, worries of any kind should be surrendered to God. Get rid of any guilt feelings about how you acted this morning when everything seemed to go wrong.
Here’s a good prayer for you: “Lord, You know me, and You know that I may not feel like worshiping today, but You want me to come into Your very presence. Take away every distraction, clear my mind to concentrate on You. Warm my heart to sing Your praises, capture my thoughts so that I can hear You. Help me remember, Psalm 73:25,26, “Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire You more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.”
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold, the King of Glory waits;
The King of Kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here!
Fling wide the portals of your heart; make it a temple, set apart
From earthly use for heaven's employ, adorned with prayer and love and joy.
Redeemer, come, with us abide; our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us Thy inner presence feel; Thy grace and love in us reveal.
Thy Holy Spirit lead us on until our glorious goal is won;
Eternal praise, eternal fame be offered, Savior, to Thy name!
–Georg Weissel (1642)–
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).