It is recorded at the beginning of chapter five of Ecclesiastes that we should guard our steps as we go to the house of God and listen instead of offering the sacrifice of fools who don’t even know they are being foolish (Eccl 5:1).
Understanding the necessity of individually preparing for worship is radically different than expecting our worship leaders to generate our worship for us when we get there. We sing our songs as an act of worship, not to create it.
It’s not enough to sing “Your praise will ever be on my lips” on Sunday if I’m not living it on Monday. So if we aren’t prepared on Sunday to respond to God’s countless blessings that occurred all week, how could our worship leaders possibly lead enough songs to prepare us?
Richard Foster wrote, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.”
Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell offer some suggestions to help us prepare for worship. It requires:
- Internal preparation of heart: Each worshiper carries the responsibility for personal preparation of his/her heart. If God calls us to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must constantly ask questions about the state of our spirit and readiness of our hearts.
- Pre-arrival preparation: We can learn from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before. So our Saturday night and Sunday morning activities before we gather have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship.
- Pre-service preparation: That short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also critical. How we interact with others reminds us that we are here as part of a body. Intentionally quieting our spirits before the service begins will also enable us to set distractions aside and again focus our corporate attention on God.
And since worship does not start when we enter the worship service, it should not stop when we leave. So with that understanding, I would recommend a fourth suggestion to add to the previous three.
- Post-service continuation: Worship should continue as we leave the service. It can happen in our homes, at our schools and through our work. It can’t be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. So it doesn’t matter how good our worship is when we gather, it is incomplete until it continues when we scatter. Post-service worship then leads us in a continuous circle back to step 1.
Worship begins in our hearts, not on our lips.
 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978).
 Malefyt, Norma deWaal and Howard Vanderwell, Database online. Available from worship.calvin.edu.