by Ken Puls
Those involved in leading gathered worship know that much planning and preparation go into each service. The time we spend worshipping God together as His church is valuable. So time is invested praying and preparing the message, selecting and rehearsing the music, checking the sound and media, cleaning and making ready the building. When we arrive, we expect all to be ready. We assume that our leaders and those serving in various ministries will be in place.
But what of the church family? What should be expected of us? What are our role and responsibilities in gathered worship as a congregation?
This is the first in a series of posts in which I hope to probe these questions. How can we best prepare for, participate in and respond to corporate worship? We begin with preparing. The first thing we must do to prepare for worship may seem obvious, but is the most important.
We must come to Christ.
If we are to come to God and worship God, we must have Christ! Jesus said in John 14:6 that He alone is the Way, the Truth and Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Our greatest need, as we prepare for worship, is knowing and loving and being in Christ.
In John 4 Jesus enters into a discussion with a Samaritan woman at the well. He asks her for a drink and then tells her in verse 10:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
He then explains to her that He is the source of living water. Verses 13-14:
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
As the conversation continues, Jesus confronts the woman with her sin in verse 18 by asking her to call her husband. She responds by changing the subject and asking Jesus a question about worship in verses 19-20.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
She was asking about the place of worship, but what she needed most to know was the Person to worship. Notice how Jesus answers her question. He tells her in verses 21-24:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
She needed the Spirit of God to quicken her spirit that she might receive truth and know and recognize and come to Christ. Her reply in verse 25 indicates that God was indeed opening her eyes. She says to Jesus:
“I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
Jesus then tells her plainly in verse 26: “I who speak to you am he.”
What the woman does next is marvelous. She has found Christ. And now she is no longer curious about this mountain or that mountain. She leaves her water pot, goes into the town, speaks with people she may have otherwise avoided, and tells them in verse 29:
“Come, see a Man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
This is our great need as well. If we are to worship God, we must first “come see a Man.” We need our eyes and hearts opened that we might see and know and come to Jesus. We need this certainly when God first rescues us from our sin and draws us to Himself. But we need it continually. We need always to look to Christ and stay anchored in the hope of gospel (Hebrews 12:2).
So, as you prepare for worship, keep your eyes on Jesus. It is only because of Him that you can come into the presence of God and fear no condemnation. It is only because of Him that God receives you and delights in your worship. You can come into the gathered worship of the church and enjoy great fellowship, sing favorite songs, hear the reading of God’s Word and the prayers of His people, learn right answers to good questions—but if you miss Christ, you will miss worship.