Set Apart For Worship (In-Person & Online)

For many, worship looks looks very different then it did almost exactly a year ago. Whether that it what we do in private, with our families, or a congregational setting. Each one is an essential part of our worship and discipleship. As a discipline, worship contains both internal and external components. There is a certain way God wants these to be done. We find it in John 4:23-24, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Ultimately, the external does not carry the the same ramifications as the internal when it comes to location in that particular scripture. Yet, we cannot deny the importance God places in Scripture on calling the body to service and holy living.

There are different calls to worship. The Book of Revelation is filled with examples of spontaneous worship where there is simply praise for a present work of God. I really like those times of worship. For us this might come when the Spirit brings a certain thought to our mind or song on our playlist. Maybe the spontaneous praise comes as a reaction to news we recently received. Whatever the cause, the preparation may not be noticeable. However, we can assert even spontaneous worship is proceeded by seekers who must worship in spirit and in truth.

Still, the focus of this post is the consistent discipline of worship, typically done in the congregation, but now may also receive greater emphasis at home with the family and in solidarity. I am by no means arguing which is more important in this article. However, I have wrote on the importance of gathering together for worship and discipleship (Going to Church: Why do we gather). Those same reasons in that older article is still applicable to our situation prior, during, and after this pandemic. However, what I am positing in this post is that both in-person worship with our families and in solitude require preparation the same as there is a level of preparation when going to in-person worship. We need disciplined worship that is done in “decency and order” (1 Cor. 14:40).

An example for the preparations made for worship can be found throughout Scripture. David preparing the people of Israel for worship to bring home the Ark of the Covenant is a wonderful read (1 Chronicles 13-15). There we see of what happens when no preparation is made and then when the preparations are made to set ourselves apart (sanctify) for worship. However, one of my favorite passages on the call to ready oneself for worship is in Exodus 19. Here we see the people preparing their hearts, minds, and bodies for worship.

10 And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, 11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. 12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: 13 There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount. 14 And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives. 16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

Ex. 19:10-18

The people’s hearts were prepared through consecration of self to God’s service (vs. 10, 12, 13, & 14). Their minds were prepared to focus on the invitation to worship (vs. 11 & 15). They also prepared their bodies for obedient service to God (vs. 10, 12, 13, & 14).

Setting apart our heart for worship

Worship in spirit and truth is needed regardless of worship in the congregation or the comforts of home. God calls us into His presence wherever we are and thankfully we can do as Hebrews 4:16 states, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

We can prepare our hearts by:

  • remembering the great salvation the Lord has given to us.
  • repent of sinful ways.
  • pray for God to open our heart for worship and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • Express gratitude for the many blessings

Setting apart our mind for worship

Several of the pieces above apply to also our mind. We could see the soul as both the work of the heart and mind in tandem. However, the mind focuses on the things we think upon. Paul wrote some important ways to welcome God’s presence into our mind in Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

We can prepare our mind by:

  • Planning ahead and not getting in a rush. Think of getting enough sleep on Saturday night before morning worship, setting out clothes, and different obstacles of the next morning we normally face. This also helps in the preparing of our body in the next section.
  • Pray for peace of mind
  • Pray for those serving in worship leadership.
  • Read scripture. If you have a Sunday school lesson you can prepare questions and input. If the sermon text is given before, its a great way to focus your mind for worship. You can also study before hand with your family.
  • Don’t start simply the night before. Preparing the heart and mind for worship means using the entire week. Learn to walk with God each day and moment.

Setting apart our body for worship

Now, this section is where I see complacency. We are a soul with a body and this material form God has given us is reality. What we do with our body certainly effects our heart and body. What we in our our soul directs the actions of our body. Paul wrote about both the setting apart of our body and mind for worship, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

I do want to provide a caveat here. These are things that are bothering me when I look at the state of in-person worship and those who are still utilizing online platforms. There is much more for me to say here as these are complex and sometimes contentious issues. However, as stated earlier, I am not debating which is more important. What I am contending for is that all are done decently, in order, and with consistent discipline. When any of these approaches to worship are done without preparation, the worship will fall into chaos at best and a shallow form of spiritual growth at worst. Again, I assert there is no substitute for worship and discipleship done in the community of believers. Yet, I will state even more agreeably there is no substitute for each one of these. All must be present for a fully-orbed worship experience in the believers life.

In-person

  • See the first point above in preparing the mind for worship.
  • Get to church early and fellowship (stay late and fellowship too).
  • Begin worshipping when you get there. You don’t always need to wait on a certain starting time. Praise God with singing and thanksgiving as your enter the gates and courts.
  • Sit up close and eliminate the distractions of what is happening in front of you.
  • If you have kids, be involved in worship and teach them how to praise God. Encourage their participation. You could have print outs for children to write down sermon notes and other things that happen in the service. There is a point about not allowing electronics (for game playing) during worship for children in the next section.
  • Silence your cell-phone. Whether you use it for a Bible or not. Silence your cell-phone.

At home with family or in solitude.

  • See the first point above in preparing the body for in-person worship.
  • Often I hear the excuse, the kids won’t sit still or it’s just to hard to focus. I wouldn’t expect much different in any house. That is until it becomes a routine or ritual. Dinner at the table makes for a great place of worship and creating this habit and atmosphere of respecting worship time. Worship usually includes three very doable things for families at anytime – singing, praying, and reading scripture.
  • Worship with the family can be very flexible at most other times, but there should be some structure when it comes to participating in online worship because of quarantine or other serious reasons. No excuse reasons is you are late getting up (see the first way to prepare for most sections), or your favorite show is on, or other lame reasonings.
    • Watch the online service when it’s live and not posted later. The purpose for live online service is the desire to replicate community in the comments and sharing. This is why I advocate for each church to have done something with online services or virtual conferencing. Yes, there are worship live streams that are better produced with amazing preachers, but chances are they are not part of your worshipping community or even in your town. You need to worship together even when apart.
    • If it helps, set your room up like a miniature sanctuary to help focus. The idea is our environment can be distracting. Eliminate distractions and pay attention. If you don’t, your church is only producing content and not making disciples. You have to be willing to learn in the at-home setting.
    • If your church doesn’t have something online specific for kids and you want them to participate in the main service online worship. Don’t hand out electronics to children. This goes for in-person worship as well. If they are drawing or playing with toys, they are still listening. But, when the Switch or phone turns on, they are zoned out. Their mind is in a mental box and their body doesn’t respond to what’s going on around them. Besides, you are already using a screen to participate. How many screens need to be going?
    • I grew up in churches that gave “verbal affirmation.” You will be able to participate in the comments. Two things happen when you are consistent here. You help foster that sense of community worship first. Second, you help your church spread to other viewers. You would be amazed at how many people follow a church page but rarely see their live streams or posts simply because of the computer algorithms determining people aren’t watching. By participating you help other people find what they are looking for (this seems to be something applicable here online and elsewhere in the real world).

What other ways have you found to help you prepare your heart, mind, and body for worship in spirit and truth?

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