How Does One Get Ready for the God of the Universe?

by Mike McKinniss

"Quiet and Calm" by nate2b used under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Quiet and Calm” by nate2b used under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7a).

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been advised, as part of a congregation, “to prepare my heart for worship.” In most instances, this came to mean something like, “Everybody quiet for, like, 15 seconds, at least. This is church and its supposed to be serious business, you know.”

We would all dutifully bow our heads and observe a moment of silence, not unlike we used to do in grade school after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment designed, I suspected, to give the teacher a moment of peace. Then, because you can’t lead with a downer, the worship band would rip into a full-blast up-tempo chorus to get us all moving and shaking in the Spirit.

The juxtaposition was jarring, and I began to wonder what this “preparation” was all about. Or, at least, I wanted to be able to prepare rightly. What did it mean to come to worship? And how does one get ready for that?

I decided to take on for myself a little experiment. Barring a catastrophe, I made every effort to get into the church sanctuary five to ten minutes before the service started. Often enough, this meant eschewing pre-church conversations with good friends and finding my seat quickly upon arrival. Once seated, with the hum of people still exiting the early service (to arrive early to the first service would have been too much), with the buzz of others still coming in, with the purposeful commotion of musicians up front getting their gear situated, I would quiet myself.

My goal was to focus on one thing. I had come to church that morning not for great sounding worship, nor for a positive and inspiring message, though I liked both of those things. I was not there to see friends, though we would likely go to lunch afterward and enjoy one another’s company. I was there, rather, to meet with the living God, who raised Jesus from the grave and promises to do the same for me, as a son in his family. I was there to encounter the Lord of creation, who is making all things new. I was there to be with Jesus, who is actively working to put all God’s enemies under his feet, even and especially death.

I found I needed this preparation. Why? Because it was so easy to sing along with everyone else, and think about whether the guitar is out of tune, or I am. Because it was so easy to listen to another sermon, critiquing the style and delivery, or, frequently, to not listen at all. Because there are literally hundreds of other people around me who have interesting faces and clothes and hair. Because it is too easy to come to church and miss the thing I need most there.

So I would prepare by asking the Lord to send his Spirit into the room. I would invite God to come to church and do whatever he wanted to do. And I would say to him, “Please, God, don’t let me miss it.”

Invariably, I discovered I was indeed prepared. I knew why I was there in the sanctuary with hundreds of other worshippers. I was confident and expectant that the Lord had heard my prayers and that he would show himself that morning.

And then, most times, having been duly prepared, God would go and do something completely unexpected and surprise us all.