This article, written by Derek Thomas, originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Reformation 21. It is used here by permission.

10 Things to Do as You Gather for Public Worship

Corporate worship doesn’t just happen. We need to prepare our hearts for it. Our forbears knew this better than we do and gained more profit from worship. We tend to say: “I didn’t get much out of that,” when we should have asked, “Lord, what would you have me put into this?” Preparation for Sunday worship begins on Monday morning! Praying for the forthcoming services of the Lord’s Day is something that should be a part of our daily worship. If we really did this, we would ensure that we are physically and spiritually ready for worship. For maximum benefit, establish a policy thinking of Saturday evening as a time to prepare for the Lord’s Day. Tired bodies make worship dull.

Ten things, then, we should do every time we worship corporately on the Lord’s Day.

1. Before you leave your home, MONITOR YOUR HEART. Motivating desires come first for they set the sail of our lives. If we desire nothing, we’ll get nothing. True religion is about the heart: “I will give you a new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). “I will give them a heart to know Me” (Jeremiah 24:7). We will need to pray about our hearts something like this: “Lord, make my heart such that it longs to know you, longs to be with you, wants to serve you, longs for your ways rather than mine.”

2. LEAVE 10 MINUTES EARLIER FOR CHURCH THAN THE TIME YOU CALCULATED YOU SHOULD LEAVE. Some people arrive late for church, consistently! There are always reasons why this is sometimes the case, but some folk seem to take pride in arriving five or ten minutes late (and some regularly leave five or ten minutes early). It is a mark of what we think worship is: meeting with God. You would never be late for a meeting with the President. Why be late for meeting with God? It is not a form of fashionableness to be late for public worship.

3. As you enter, GREET THOSE YOU SEE. Nothing spoils worship more than sour faces and grumbling spirits before the worship has even begun. Early Christians greeted one another with “a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet 5:14)—but they were Mediterranean! However we may contextualize this, friendliness is what it’s about and the church ought to be friendliest place on earth. But we are about to worship and therefore we need to be friendly but not in such a way as to distract from the purpose ahead (to meet with God!).

4. When you take your seat, READ SOME SCRIPTURE AND PRAY. Bring your Bible with you to church and get to know it. It is a letter from God addressed to you. Treasure it always. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psa. 119:103). Read a few verses as you take your seat. Don’t let entertainment (football, TV) cloud your thoughts now or you’ll never get them out in time for when worship starts. Make this hour different and begin by cleansing your mind by repeating some Scripture to yourself. If you have highlighted favorite passages, us these to help you get ready for worship. Give thanks to God that you live in a country where you can gather free from the threat of persecution.

5. BE STILL IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psa 46:10). The devil will seek to distract you now because he knows the value of worship! Turn off all cell phones and pagers!

6. ANTICIPATE! Most folk who get nothing from a worship service have asked for nothing. It’s not always true, but cold, stubborn hearts bent on criticism will find the worship dull and flat even if Gabriel himself led it. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psa. 130:5).

7. REMEMBER THAT AS YOU SING, JESUS SINGS WITH YOU. “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Heb. 2:12 citing Psa. 22:22, 25). The author of Hebrews imagines Jesus singing with us when we sing the praises of God! Can anything be wonderful than the thought that Jesus gathers for worship with us and sings from the same hymn book! So, think about what you sing: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). Read the words of the hymn (or Psalm) carefully and make them your own. Imagine that you were saying to God. Don’t turn around and watch others, or check who is present and who is not! You are singing to the Lord.

8. GET ALL THE PROFIT YOU CAN FROM THE WORD READ AND PREACHED. In your Bible, underline, highlight, and make marginal notes that might help you later. Take fuller notes on the sermon if necessary but not if that distracts you. Taking notes helps us remember later in week, something we heard and thought particularly important or relevant to our condition.

9. DON’T LEAVE BEFORE THE BENEDICTION! The desire to be first out of church and avoid the lines in the car park betrays a consumer mentality to worship. The benediction is God’s word of blessing upon all that he has promised in the gospel. The entire worship service (and not just a part of it) has been planned with you in mind. Whisper in your heart a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the service and long to be back again.

10. Before the Lord’s Day is over, PRAY THAT GOD WOULD SEAL HIS WORD TO OUR HEARTS. Ask him to show you what things need to be learned, changed, made right, repented of, introduced as a result of what we have heard that day. Remember the devil is waiting to snatch the word away as soon as he can (Matt. 13:19. Pray for fruit to appear (Matt. 13:23). And anticipate gathering again—as soon as you are able.