I am not a morning person. My mornings often start like my car engine on the coldest day in January — slow and clunky. That being said, Sunday mornings are especially hard for me.
The problem isn’t that I don’t want to get up and gather with you to worship God, it’s just that I feel so sluggish and dull toward the truths we gather to celebrate. I know I’m not alone.
As a worship leader, I have the great privilege of taking a front row seat to see and hear how God is stirring the affections of our church. At the same time, I also have the advantage of being able to see, or hear, when our church’s strength of praise doesn’t match the greatness we proclaim. Sometimes I wonder if we’re weak in praise because we’ve become over-familiar the songs. Or maybe it’s because we’re just wading through an icy soul. Or maybe, I think this is often the case, we aren’t intentional about engaging with God.
In fact, there is a predictable pattern in corporate gatherings that I’ve noticed over the years. For the first couple of songs, the church is often the quietest, almost absent, and then, as we sing the last few songs, the church seems to come to life. They are robust and moving. I think this has to do with our tendency to feel like we need to “warm-up” before really savoring each lyric, prayer, and word sung or spoken in our services.
While I think that this tendency is innate to our human finitude, there are practical things we can do to press on in maturity towards a deeper, more meaningful engagement in our worship service — even from the first strum of the guitar.
Here are three ways that we can battle the slothfulness of our souls on Sunday morning:
1. Go to bed earlier on Saturday nights.
As I confessed earlier, I am not a morning person, which by default makes me a night owl. For years I saw Saturday nights as the opportune time to have friends over for late-night dessert and board games, catch up on the latest Netflix shows, or do whatever else I wanted until the late hours of the night. Who would have ever thought that my Saturday night habits and activity would have an effect on my Sunday morning capacities to be present in our worship service?
Simple as it seems, it’s taken Hilly and I a while to seriously prioritize our full engagement on Sunday morning by making an intentional effort to go to bed earlier on Saturday night. The time missed on Netflix or another round of Settlers of Catan has paid huge dividends in our ability to listen and think well during the service, to sing passionately, and to gladly connect with our church family.
2. Move your body.
God has not only given us ears, mouths, and vocal chords to praise him with on Sunday mornings, he has also given us hands, arms, legs, and knees that are part of our sincere worship.
Think about the last sports event you attended (or even watched on TV). Being a sports fan is a full-bodied experience. From the announcement of the starting line-ups to the last nail-biting moments, fans rise, sit on the edge of their seats, clap, cry, and cheer. True fans rarely ever just comfortably sit back and watch the clock tick by. While Sunday mornings have a different cadence and feel than the Super Bowl, we want to worship God as holistically as we celebrate the Vikings.
As our services always begin by adoring God and reminding ourselves of his holiness, for starters, we can engage bodily by raising our hands, clapping, moving our feet, or kneeling before him. Often we can think that the Spirit must “lead us” to these more visible of expressions of worship, or we fear being distracting to those around us, but we can take comfort knowing that God has filled the Bible with scenes of his people responding to him by lifting their hands, dancing, or falling upon their knees (check out Nehemiah 8.6; 1 Kings 8.22, 38, 54; Ezra 9.5; Psalm 28.2; 44.20; 63.4; 88.9; 119.48; 134.2; 141.2).
Surely, there are times when our bodies follow our hearts and we raise our hands or fall to our knees without even thinking about it, but the inverse is also true. It’s often true that intentionally or thoughtfully engaging our bodies assists in engaging our minds and hearts. Since we have a biblical foundation for several different postures of worship, we don’t need a subjective leading of the Spirit to engage, nor do we need to fear the judgment of those around us. While it is very true that the goal of our service is not simply every hand raised and knee bowed, raising our hands and bowing our knees often does serve our goal of being sold-out worshippers of Jesus who love to delight ourselves in him.
3. Commune with Jesus before the corporate gathering.
Ironically, I have always found Sunday to be the most difficult day of the week to spend time in private communion and worship with God. I often feel as if there is so much to do before getting out the door and going to the service that I don’t have time to open my Bible and meet with God there. I often excuse this by thinking that the whole point of going to the service is to meet with God, and therefore my personal time with him is just an added bonus if I conveniently have time.
I have found, though, that meeting with God in the morning, dwelling on his grace in the gospel, and being reminded of his fresh mercy to wake me up again and keep me as his child, energizes and excites me all the more to gather with the church.
If I’ve made time to commune with God in the morning, I find that the pump has already been primed for me to participate fully in the worship service and engage with the songs, sermon, and people, and make it so that I’m not needing the first half of the service to “warm-up.”
My hope is not to add more tedious to-do’s to your Sunday morning list, but to offer these three things as suggestions to help us all go deeper in our weekly corporate worship. Together, let’s go to war against our dullness on Sunday mornings. Together, let’s engage God and one another in all the grace that he supplies.