Spiritual growth is an important aspect in your personal life. Your attendance at worship has one primary purpose – to provide you with opportunity for spiritual growth. Are you using that opportunity to its fullest? Do you sometimes leave church feeling good and happy to see your friends, but only later discover you don't remember the message God sent you that day through the preaching of the pastor?
We all feel that way from time to time. But how do we change that? How do we get the most out of God’s message on any given Sunday? Well, it takes some work on our part. It takes getting to church on time, getting into the chapel early enough to allow yourself time to wind down from the run-around of daily life and getting prepared to hear God's Word. It's something like going on vacation. You can just pick up and go on vacation and have a good time. But when you plan it out and make good preparations, you really have a memorable time. The same goes for church. When you put in the time and effort to prepare properly, you get so much more out of it.
Here are some ideas to help you prepare:
1. Arrive early enough to visit with your friends and say hello and still have time to get into the chapel 5 to 10 minutes before the service begins. The organist is there playing worshipful music to make this a quiet time for everyone to unwind and begin to prepare to hear God's Word.
2. Start with prayer. Ask your Lord for his help and guidance in what you are about to hear. The bulletin has a suggested hymn to read. There are also suitable prayers found on pages 10-11 in the front part of our hymnal, Christian Worship.
3. Read the bulletin ahead of time. Read through readings and the Bible study questions at the end of the bulletin. Read through the Messenger regarding coming events and the weekly schedule. If you don't have time to read through the Messenger before the service begins, don't read it during the sermon. Take it home instead.
4. Get your hymnal ready. Find and mark the pages you’ll need, such as the “The Psalm of the Day,” or “The Prayer of the Church.” Taking a quick look at the hymns will give you some idea of the subject for the service. It’s amazing how much more meaning you can get out of a hymn when you read through the words first and then sing it later during the service.
5. Read the text and think about the sermon theme. That will give you an idea about what to expect. And as the sermon is delivered the life giving message will begin to take form and have even greater meaning.
6. If it is Communion Sunday, make final preparations to receive the Sacrament. Psalm 51a (page 86, CW), or Psalm 130 (page 114, CW) are good ones to use to prepare for reception of the Lord’s body and blood. You may also want to turn to “Private Confession” (p. 154-155) or “Personal Preparation for Holy Communion,” (p. 156) as you prepare. Ask yourself certain questions such as: Do I realize I am a sinner? Am I truly sorry for my sins? Do I believe that I will receive Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins? Do I want to change my sinful life?
Following preparation, execution is the next most important aspect of getting the most out of the service.
It is our intent to make the service as edifying as possible for everyone. Once the service begins we would appreciate if talking and other distractions be kept to a minimum. There are two major reasons: Out of respect for seriousness of the situation (God and his people are talking!) and so that our conduct is not a distraction to others who are trying to hear, study, and learn from this time in God’s house.
There is another area of execution that’s important: Concentration. Researchers tell us that it takes 10% of our brain to process the information we receive through hearing. That leaves 90% to do the other stuff and still be able to understand what is being said. Our nature is to let that 90% think about home, work, the whole list of things you have to do whenever there is time, and a whole multitude of other things. The trick is to focus as much of that 90% as you can on hearing and understanding what is said. That's tough, but honestly, it is worth it. Force yourself to not look at every little movement within your field of vision. Focus your eyesight, your hearing, and as much of your mental capacity as possible on the pastor and fully process his every word.
Someone explained this process as imagining you are looking at the minister through one of those cardboard tubes that wrapping paper comes on. All other distractions are blocked out by the tube and your total attention is on the face of God’s messenger speaking God's Word. (Some people like to sit near the front so that they have a closer view with fewer distractions.) Heartily sing all the hymns and musical parts of the service. And don’t forget to help a visitor to follow along in the bulletin and find the right pages in the hymnal.
Beyond preparation and execution there is only one other area: Conduct. If you conduct yourself in a manner that eliminates distractions for others, it will also eliminate a source of distraction for you. Comfortable clothing and making stops at the restroom and bubbler before the service are usually helpful. This is especially true for youngsters.
We trust these ideas and suggestions will be received in the spirit they are given, as an opportunity to learn and grow from the life giving Word we seek every Sunday. May your understanding of God’s message be ever greater and may you continue to grow spiritually.
Something special should happen when people come to God's house for worship
because something special is happening in our worship!