Many unusual additional physical factors are needed to make socially distanced worship work. It’s essential for controlling the spread of the virus. And it requires a lot of preparation. But we also need to focus on preparing our hearts in the midst of this and any other potential distractions that clamour for our attention. Anything that is important requires preparation, much more so in spiritual things. As Jeremiah Burroughs put it: “Make preparation for holy duties and you shall have success in holy duties.” What can we focus on to help prepare our hearts?
The Westminster Assembly described the way in which a service of worship should take place following biblical patterns. But one important phrase that we might miss in their Directory for Public Worship is that the congregation should come to church “having before prepared their hearts”. Let our concerns with whatever we think is lacking in public worship begin by addressing this question, how have we prepared our own hearts?
Jeremiah was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. The quotation above is from a sermon he preached on Leviticus 10:3 about the importance of preparing for worship.
He points out that the worship of God is the greatest thing we do in this world. Our hearts are also naturally unprepared for this activity. How then do we prepare our hearts for worship? His guidance is practical:
- Engage your heart with the greatness of who God is
- Withdraw your heart from every sinful way
- Disentangle your heart from the things of the world
- Watch over your heart and pray for help
- Have your heart in tune, with all graces ready to be exercised
David Dickson mentions similar things in expounding the second part of Psalm 57. Perhaps during this crisis our thoughts have been drawn to Psalm 57:1-2, seeking refuge in God until these calamities have passed over. In the second part of the psalm David engages in thanksgiving and we need this spirit also.
Verse 7 begins the thanksgiving: “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise”. It shows how when our heart is fixed or prepared we are able to truly praise and worship God. This updated extract from David Dickson focuses on this theme in relation to these verses.
1. Meditating on God’s Favour Prepares Our Heart for Worship
Renewed sense of God’s favour, and fresh experience of His mercy towards His children, and of His justice against His and their enemies, greatly refreshes, quietens, and settles the hearts of His people. It confirms their faith; “My heart is fixed”.
2. Thankfulness to God Prepares Our Heart for Worship
One aspect of our thanksgiving to God is to acknowledge the fruit of His gracious working for us. This is especially when it is felt on our spirits and whenever our hearts are cheered up by him after any sorrowful trial. “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed”.
3. Preparation Prepares Our Heart for Worship
It is necessary to expend labour on the heart, that it may be fitted and prepared, fixed and inclined for God’s worship. This is especially true for the work of praise to which we are naturally most sluggish and disinclined. If we labour to prepare our heart, the work of praise will proceed more cheerfully: “My heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise”.
4. Concern for Others Prepares Our Heart for Worship
We show the extent to which we consider the praise of God seriously when (according to our place) we strive to make others know God also in the way that we know Him. David says that he will praise God “among the people” (v9).
5. Meditating on Covenant MercY Prepares Our Heart for Worship
The goodness of God is the basis of the joy of the saints and their sweetest songs. His goodness has decreed and promised the mercies they receive. The faithfulness of God accomplishes His gracious purpose and promises to them. David says that God’s mercy and truth are great.
It is impossible to comprehend the greatness of God’s mercy and truth. They reach so far that our sight cannot surpass them. God’s mercy is “great unto the heavens” where mortal eyes cannot come to see what is there. His truth reaches to “the clouds”, through which our eye cannot pierce.
6. Meditating on God’s Glory Prepares Our Heart for Worship
David acknowledges that the excellency of the glory of God transcends his reach and capacity. He can follow it no further than by desiring the Lord to glorify Himself. Since the Lord’s glory is greater than heaven or earth can contain only God himself can manifest His own glory. When we have said all that we can to glorify God, our duty is to implore Him to glorify Himself. He can make it apparent to all that His glory is greater than heaven or earth can contain. His glory is “above the heavens” and “above all the earth”.
To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article How to Walk Into Church. Going into Church easily can be a matter of routine, but it shouldn’t be. The Bible tells us that we need to exercise great care in meeting with God in public worship. Read more to find out how.
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