Our daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at Disney World. After months of planning and days of travel, the final preparations for and anticipation of the first day at Magic Kingdom were almost too much excitement for her to contain.
She selected and laid out her clothes the night before for a quick change the next morning. Sleep eluded her with the anticipation of what was to come. She awakened early, quickly dressed and inhaled breakfast so she would be ready to depart hours before the park even opened.
All conversation traveling from our resort to the park entrance centered on what she would observe, experience, eat, participate in, enjoy and then take home at the end of the day.
As we pushed through the turnstiles of the park entrance … she saw it … the icon of Magic Kingdom … Cinderella’s Castle. She, along with thousands of other children dragged their parents by the hands and screamed, “C’mon mommy, C’mon daddy” as we all stormed the castle like medieval knights.
What if our preparation for and anticipation of our worship gatherings exuded a similar excitement that could not be contained? Understanding the necessity for personal worship preparation is radically different than abdicating that responsibility to our worship leaders to create worship through song selections and worship actions.
Consider the following three suggestions for worship preparation from Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell, Resource Development Specialists for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship:
1. Internal preparation of heart. Each worshiper carries the responsibility for personal preparation of his/her heart. If God calls us to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must ask questions about the state of our spirit. Yet, how often do we ask ourselves questions about our readiness of our hearts for worship?
2. Pre-arrival preparation. We may want to call it “pre-Sabbath” preparation. We can learn from the Jews who believe Sabbath begins at sundown. Our activities on the evening before worship will have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship on Sunday morning. Also, our personal schedule between rising and the beginning of worship on Sunday morning will have a great deal of influence on our readiness of spirit.
3. Pre-service preparation. The short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also a critical period of time. Our interaction with friends reminds us that we are here as part of a body in relationship with others.
A short while to quiet our spirits will enable us to leave some distractions behind and center ourselves in God. A time of reflective prayer can open our spirit to engage in conversation with God. Even the visual appearance of the worship space will have an impact on our readiness. How conscious are we of these critical minutes?
Since worship does not start when we enter the worship service, it should not stop when we leave. With that understanding I would recommend a fourth suggestion to their previous list:
4. Post-service continuation. Worship continues as we leave the worship service. It continues in our homes, at our schools and through our work. This final step leads the worshiper in a continuous circle back to step one. Harold Best calls it “unceasing worship.”
An old proverb states, “We only prepare for what we think is important.”