Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God

Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God

Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
15 Jul, 2020

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”.

Further Help

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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Learning to Pronounce the Psalms

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
31 Dec, 2019

Curiously, ‘how to pronounce Psalm’ was in the Top 4 most Googled terms this year in the UK. Sadly, the reason for this was not a renewed interest in Scripture, it was the name of a baby born to a celebrity couple. It reveals, of course, the extent of biblical illiteracy in the land. But when we turn to the Church, we may know the pronunciation of the word but how much are the psalms pronounced in our services? Are they heard? Do they have a pronounced role? The clear, repeated biblical instruction “sing psalms” is quietly ignored. What do we lose by this and how can we learn to pronounce them better?

When we learn to pronounce the Psalms in sung praise to God we are making use of words that God’s people have cherished for this purpose for 3,000 years. Not just this, they are the Word of God. These are Gods own songs (1 Chronicles 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 137:4). 

The command to sing psalms is not just in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 105:2) it is in the New Testament also (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15; James 5:13). Christ sang them with his disciples (Matthew 26:30). Paul and Silas praised God with psalms in prison (Acts 16:25). The Psalms are the book of the Old Testament most quoted by the apostles. Thomas Ford expands on this important point in the following updated extracts.

1. Learning to Pronounce the Psalms in Song 

We may and must read the psalms but why not sing also? It is more useful and helps to more sweetness in meditation. Singing will affect us more than reading, as praying with the voice (audibly) affects us more when we pray. Lifting up the voice is a great help to enlarge the heart when it is well affected.

You read these psalms, and you think you read them with profit, and why may you not sing them with profit? Sing with sweet meditation on the content, for your admonition, comfort and instruction. We read the history of the Bible for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. What God did then He does now, the people of God are as they were then. They have the same afflictions and temptations, are in the same conditions, hated and persecuted in the world, and have the same experience of God’s goodness. All Scripture concerns us as much as it concerned the people of God in those times. Every Christian that has wisdom and grace may use them for the edification of their own souls.

 

2. Learning to Pronounce the Psalms Together 

Colossians 3:16 mentions speaking to yourselves and teaching one another out of the psalms. David’s psalms are a choice part of Scripture, and Christians may and must teach one another out of them, as well as out of other Scriptures, since they are all written for our learning, (Romans 15:4). Christians in singing psalms together, should teach and admonish one another, and speak to one another for mutual edifying as they do by joining in prayer, or similar duties. So when Paul and Silas sang together (Acts 16:25) they spoke to themselves for their mutual encouragement and comfort. When Christians sing a psalm together it is an excellent way of speaking to themselves and one another.

3. Learning to Pronounce the Fulness of the Psalms

It is true that the Psalms were written at a particular time and relate to the needs of God’s people then. Yet this is the same with the rest of Scripture. It relates just as much to us now as it did to the people of God when first written. In Hezekiah’s time, the Levites were to praise God with the words of David (2 Chronicles 29:30). This shows that the Psalms were to be used by God’s people in praise after the time that they were written. This would include all kinds of circumstances.

What circumstances do God’s people have now, have ever had or can have for which David’s Psalms are not suitable? They are better than any songs composed by an ordinary poetic gift. What glorious things are spoken of Christ’s Kingdom and His great work of redemption! Who can admire and adore the infinite perfections of God in better phrases and words than the Holy Spirit has given us in David’s Psalms? Where can we find more heavenly meditations to refresh our spirits or prepare them for spiritual duties? If we want to magnify the power, wisdom and goodness of God for any mercy we receive–how can we do it better than in the words of David? If we do not find them suitable, the fault is our own.

William Perkins said that the Psalms remain relevant because the faith of believers in the Church in all ages is always one and the same. All who lay hold of God’s promises are like each other in grace. Their meditations, inclinations, affections, desires, spiritual needs in enduring trials are the same. Their moral duties to God and man are the same. The same Psalms are equally suitable for the Church in these days. When they are sung they yield the same benefit for the Church in these days as when they were written.

If we reject David’s Psalms because they were written for God’s people in the past must we not discard the rest of Scripture for the same reason? There is no condition in which the people of God either are or can be that the Holy Spirit could not foresee. He has prepared and recorded Scripture Psalms suitable for it. When these Psalms are sung with new hearts by God’s people in new circumstances they will always be new songs. Someone has said that words of eternal truth are ever new and never old. Daily and hourly mercies are new mercies to renewed hearts (Lamentations 3:23). When they praise the Lord for those mercies, there’s a new song of praise put into their mouths. God has provided us with Psalms, songs made by His own Spirit for this purpose. Surely it is shameful ignorance and irreverence if we fail to make use of them.

 

4. Learning to Pronounce Christ in the Psalms

How can you better admire and adore the attributes and perfections of God and His Christ than in singing David’s Psalms? Do you wish to admire the work of God in exalting Jesus Christ to be a Prince and a Saviour? Sing Psalms 8, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99. Do Christ’s sufferings and their saving benefits belong to you? You can sing Psalm 22 (see Matthew 27:35, 39, 43, 46).

What a vivid description of Christ’s death and resurrection we have in Psalm 16 (see Acts 2:25-28)! In singing that Psalm Christians rejoice with triumph in the glorious conquest of Christ over death and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55). Psalm 21 helps us admire the glory of Christ’s kingdom which is great through God’s salvation. The passages in David’s Psalms that relate to his rule and government point forward to the kingdom of Christ.

In Psalm 45, we can behold the King (Jesus Christ) in His beauty. We also see the Church, His royal bride beautifully adorned with the perfections which He has bestowed. Most glorious things are spoken of Christ and the Church. Thus, Christians may sing that Psalm in holy rejoicing and thanksgiving.

 

5. Learning to Pronounce Our Experience in the Psalms

Do you experience God’s support, supply, protection and direction? Then you may sing the 23rd psalm along with many others. Should we not admire the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in the works of creation and providence? Why should we not sing the first part of the 19th psalm and the whole of the 104th psalm? Do you have any affection to the Word of God due to your experience of its power on your soul? Why should you not sing the latter part of the 19th psalm and any part of the 119th psalm? Are you conscious of sin and wrath due to it? Sing the 6th and 38th psalms.

 

The Songs the Holy Spirit Wants You to Sing

This leaflet is an updated extract from Thomas Ford on this subject. The songs that the Holy Spirit commands us to sing are Psalms (Psalm 105:2; James 5:13). These are His songs (1 Chronicles 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 137:4).

You can download a free PDF of the leaflet or order hard copies here.

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How to Walk into Church

How to Walk into Church

How to Walk into Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
18 Mar, 2016

Going into Church easily can be a matter of routine, but it shouldn’t be. We do a lot of everyday things without thinking, but going to Church isn’t an everyday thing. We might well drive the car on autopilot because we’re so familiar with the route, but our minds should be on the vital encounter ahead of us. The Bible tells us that we need to exercise great care in meeting with God in public worship.

Alexander Nisbet draws on Ecclesiastes 5:1 to make this point (the following is an updated extract). It speaks about carefulness in going to public worship, which at that time was in the temple.  He says that we need to keep our hearts free from sinful disorder, which mars communion with God in His ordinances. We also need to receive the declaration of God’s mind sincerely and with affection. We should be “ready to hear” or literally “draw near to hear” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).  We hear not only the voice of ministers but the Lord Himself speaking to us.  We must depend on Him for His blessing on the truth.

If we want to have communion with the Lord in His ordinances and so peace and quietness of spirit, we must keep a strict watch over our affections. Nothing in public worship can be acceptable to God or of comfort to us unless we give careful attention to receiving the Word readily. This involves:

  • humbly expecting practical truths for our lives and a blessing with them (Acts 10:33)
  • eager desire after the Word as the soul’s necessary food (1 Peter 2:2).
  • applying it to ourselves sincerely by faith (Hebrews 4:2).
  • applying it to ourselves in order to practice and obey it (Psalm 119:11).

If we are only interested in outward actions rather than inward exercise, our worship is “the sacrifice of fools” according to Ecclesiastes 5:1. Such do not concern themselves with the state of their hearts and therefore as the verse goes on to say “they consider not that they do evil”. It is foolish thing to offer external worship to God while our hearts are estranged from Him and His Word is not received in faith and love. Men are fools if they think they can please God who is a Spirit with merely external service.

 

12 Ways Not to Walk into Church

James Durham also warns of the ways we may fall into sinful negligence in going into Church. Obviously, they teach us how we should enter Church as well as how we should not. We only have to turn around the negative into positives. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached.

  1. Not praying for the speaker.
  2. Not praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word.
  3. Not preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such a work.
  4. Not being watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. Not ordering things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.
  5. Not seeking to have the right estimation of the Word.
  6. Not blessing God for His Word or for any good received beforehand by it.
  7. Not coming with hunger and thirst as new born babes. Not having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).
  8. Not renouncing our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.
  9. Not bearing in mind that when we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances.
  10. Going to hear with prejudice.
  11. Going to hear without any expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him.
  12. Not going to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Not going to hear out of conscience but through custom and for appearance’s sake.

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How to Walk Out of Church

How to Walk Out of Church

How to Walk Out of Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
11 Mar, 2016

Obviously we’re not speaking about storming out of church or even primarily the way in which we walk. The question is how we respond to what we have heard. Out of all that we have heard, what stays with us? Scientists believe that walking through a doorway makes us forget things. The church door is probably the most important doorway through which we walk.  Even when we do remember what we have heard we must respond in the right way. That means meditating on it and living according to it.

The Larger Catechism says we need to hear with “diligence, preparation, and prayer” (Q160).  We must also examine what we hear “by the scriptures”. While hearing it we need to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God”. But the same answer (Q160) speaks about what happens after we have listened to a sermon.

We must “meditate” on it. The Word will not yield its benefit if we only receive it in our minds during the time of the sermon. We must spend time going over it in our minds and applying it to ourselves. Another way of doing this is in company. We should “confer of it [discuss it together]”. Usually others have remembered things that we did not. Things struck them which did not make the same impression with us. These things water and fertilise the good seed of the Word. We must also “hide” the Word sown in our “hearts” so that we “bring forth the fruit of it” in our “lives”. Like any seed, it is intended to be fruitful. If the Word is not bearing fruit in our lives we have little evidence of a genuine profession.

It is such a vital means of grace that we must not lose such a precious opportunity. The seed will be snatched away easily or choked from getting root in our hearts. We must not sin through failure to respond to the Word in the right way. How many thousands of sermons have we heard? What have we done with all of them in terms of impacting how we live? The Lord Jesus Christ gives much instruction about this in the parable of the sower. He also said that we must take heed how we hear (Luke 8:18).  Do we? James Durham speaks in a searching way about how we need to respond to the Word after hearing it. The following is an updated extract from his exposition of the Ten Commandments.

 

1. Remember the Word with Meditation and Prayer

  • We must not forget what we have heard.
  • It is sinful to have little delight in remembering it.
  • We must beware of letting our hearts return unnecessarily to other things and other thoughts.
  • We must not fail to meditate on what has been heard.
  • We must compare what we have heard with the rest of the Scriptures.
  • We must not neglect to follow the Word with prayer for it to be watered.

 

2. Profitable Discussion after Church

  • We must avoid needlessly discussing things other than the sermon immediately after the hearing of the Word.
  • We should avoid murmuring at or complaining about some things that have been spoken.
  • We also need to avoid spreading around our criticisms of the sermon afterwards.
  • When discussing the sermon we should not simply commend what was preached or the preacher and stop with that as if that was everything.
  • Clearly, we must also avoid irreverently abusing the words of Scripture or phrases that were used in preaching in common conversation.  It is even worse when they are blasphemously mixed up with disrespectful or careless language and joking.

 

3. Submit to the Word

  • We must not seek ways to evade or avoid the instruction or challenges of the Word.
  • We must avoid applying these challenges to others rather than to ourselves.
  • We must not put a wrong interpretation on the intention behind the minister urging those points.
  • We must likewise avoid misinterpreting, misreporting or misrepresenting his words.

 

4. Put it into Practice

  • Entirely neglecting to put the Word preached into practice is condemned by Scripture (Psalm 50:16-23; see James 1:21-25).
  • We must following hearing the Word with self-searching prayer. Endeavouring to practise what is required by so that we may bring forth appropriate fruits.
  • We must not fail to tremble at the threatenings of the Word. We must cease doing that which it forbids.
  • It is also sinful to fail to help others make use of the Word preached.
  • Our failure to repent of faults committed during the time of hearing the sermon is also sinful. We should be troubled and repent for our fruitlessness in hearing and having made no use of it. This is like being as a stone without sense or feeling in relation to the Word.
  • We must never depend on merely hearing the Word, as though having been in Church produced holiness even though there was no fruit follow on from it.

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