When Eastern Orthodox Christians begin their worship service, the Divine Liturgy, the priest loudly proclaims, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages!” This is a way to remind everyone who is gathered that they have stepped out of the regular world, and at that moment, when they are all gathered together in the Name of God, they are truly in the Kingdom.
When Roman Catholic Christians begin their worship service, the Mass, the priest loudly proclaims, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!” This is a way to remind everyone there that they are gathered to interact with the Triune God who comes to them in love and grace.
When many Protestant Christians begin their worship service, the leader loudly proclaims, “Good morning!”
The Protestant calls to worship may not evoke much by way of Christian life or theology, but when Christians who attend a Divine Liturgy or Mass make it a perfunctory duty rather than an opportunity to step out of everyday life and encounter the divine, their greetings have as much meaning as “Good morning.”
Whether we are Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox (or Anglican, for those who do not like to be lumped in with Protestants), worship is hard work. Perhaps this is why it is liturgy is called the work of the people. It takes a significant amount of effort and energy to remain focused on the reality of our relationship with God as evidenced in a worship service. It is too easy to be distracted by the praise band, the choir robes, the stained glass, the icons, the incense, the new chairs, or the people gathered around us. Worship is hard work.
Truth be told, many of our congregations (or fellowships or whatever the current name for the gathered people of God is) make it even more difficult to worship. This is because we spend so much time trying to make the service relevant to the people. The people who may or may not attend become the focus of the planning and implementing of the service. This is evangelism, not worship. Worship is God-focused. Evangelism is people-focused. Churches that confuse the two do neither well.
What, then, are Christians to do in order to truly worship as Jesus says, in Spirit and truth? We must prepare our own hearts and souls to worship even before we arrive to worship. We need to spend time in prayer and reflection before church. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to keep us open and receptive to his leading in the service. We must ask God to prepare us to hear the Word of the Lord in our ears and in our souls.
This kind of spiritual preparation can come in many forms. For those who have quiet households, prayer on Saturday night before bed, and then continuing on Sunday morning before services can be wonderful. For those who have a bit more hectic households, listening to meaningful Christian music on the way to services can work just as well. Devotional reading can put some people in the proper mindset to allow their souls to be touched by God. Others like to read how God has been at work in the life of the Church down through the ages in the stories of ordinary Christians who were empowered to do extraordinary things. Some connect with God through music, and some through nature. No matter which way each of us finds to open our hearts, souls, minds, and strength to the presence of the Living God, we need to do it. Quantity of time in preparation is not the key, quality is.
In this way, we can all be prepared to encounter the grace, love, and communion of God in the Kingdom here and now, and it will truly be a good morning.