We don’t always have the same experience in a worship service. Sometimes, we can have a very meaningful, uplifting, edifying experience that stays with us for hours, days, or maybe even causes lasting spiritual growth. Sometimes, we can have a very flat experience, where we leave the service wondering where the last hour (or more) of our lives went. The temptation is to attribute the value of our worship experience to others: the music choices, the level of excellence of the musical performances, the sermon/message, any creative elements (or lack thereof). However, like many things in life, what we get out of worship often depends on what we put into it. After all, you can control what you do; you can’t control all those elements that were planned and prepared by others. With that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned about what each person can do, to get the most out of one’s worship service experience.
Pray. In Luke 11:1, one of Jesus’ followers said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray;” notice, he didn’t ask Jesus to teach us how to pray. I think this person had noticed that Jesus often prayed, and simply asked to teach us to pray. That is, to understand the importance of prayer in every facet of life. I believe you will get the most out of worship by praying before the service starts – at home before you go to worship, or in the parking lot, or even in your seat just before the service begins. Ask God to prepare your heart and mind for worship; ask God to soften your heart; ask God to speak directly to you, and for the wisdom and discernment to understand what God wants to tell you; ask God to remove all distractions from your mind; pray for the pastor and other worship leaders, that God will speak through them; pray that God would be glorified; take time to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I’ve listed prayer first because it is the most important, most effective, and often most overlooked practice. Like many areas of life, if we start with prayer, the rest will come easier.
Participate. Sing along with the songs and hymns, even if they are not your favorites, and even if you don’t think you sing very well. Speak along with prayers and other elements of the service where the congregation is invited to join. Whether singing or speaking, think about what you are singing and speaking. If a pastor or other worship leader asks a question, don’t be afraid to answer. Bring your Bible (or use a Bible app on your phone) to look up and follow along Scriptures that are referenced or read. The more you actively participate in worship, the more you’ll be able to focus on what is being done in worship, and the more likely you’ll hear from God.
Take notes. During the sermon or message, anticipate that you’ll hear something new, that God will illuminate something that is said that will pertain specifically to you. Then, write down whatever it is: main points, an anecdote that triggers a principle or a memory, something that God brings to mind that may not even directly relate to what was just said. Use your phone’s note-taking app, bring a journal, or find space in the bulletin, if your church is using those. Even better, create a place to collect notes, whether a journal, notepad, or digital file, and transfer your notes to this place when you get home. Writing them again helps to reinforce the concepts in your mind, and it helps to have them in one place for future reference.
Revisit. How often do you forget what the worship service was about by Monday morning? How often do you forget by the time you get home? Satan doesn’t mind us going to a church service, as long as we don’t apply what we learn or let the experience make a difference in our day-to-day lives. So he bombards us with distractions: TV, sports, arguments with family, someone cutting us off on the road (or even the church parking lot!). Try developing a habit of intentionally revisiting the worship service experience. On the way home, ask family members in the car what they remember, what their favorite part was, anything that can spark a conversation to recall what God was up to. Or maybe wait until you’re around the dinner table. Or both! My wife and I pray with our kids every night; we can bring up the main teaching point of that day’s worship in our prayers.
My prayer is that by developing the habits of praying before worship, participating in worship, taking notes during the message or sermon, and revisiting what happened in worship later in the day or week, we will get the most out of our worship experiences, and grow in our Christian walk every week. For the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom!