Preparing for the Divine Service

I arrive at church on Sunday morning with many things on my mind. I struggle with how to prepare my heart and mind to receive the good gifts of God. Besides my personal spiritual preparations for the worship services and Bible study, I also have a to-do list of things I want to get done and people I want to visit.

When I became a pastor, a mentor gave me a prayer to say in the sacristy before leading the worship service. The prayer is known as Luther’s Sacristy Prayer.

O, Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am, indeed, unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.

But since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teachings and the instructions, O be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend me, to Thy glory and not to mine or the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may, also, diligently perform it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Thou Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, send Thy Holy Spirit that He may work with me, yea, that He may work in me to will and to do through Thy divine strength according to Thy good pleasure. Amen.

I have found this prayer to be a kind reminder that I am at the worship services to receive from God His good gifts and to share these dear promises of mercy with others.

I am concerned not only with my own preparations but also the preparations you make before the start of the service. There are people to visit and tasks to accomplish, but I encourage you to purposefully prepare for the worship service.

Pastor Mark Birkholz (Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Oak Lawn, Illinois) has prepared a simple guide that he includes with the bulletin from time to time (page references refer to Lutheran Service Book).

On Preparing for Worship: In the Divine Service, the Lord God of heaven and earth comes to meet with you, to speak and to listen to you, to give and receive from you, to bless you and to make you holy. This is a special time, a holy time. Here are a few suggestions for you to make best use of the time before the service to prepares yourself for worship.

Come: It is best if you can find your place a few minutes before the service. When you come late, you may distract those around you who are in the midst of singing or praying the liturgy. When you come early you have time to prepare your heart, mind, and body to meet with the Lord without being rushed.

Pray: Use the first few moments to pray. Pray for yourself, that the Lord would prepare you to meet Him. Think over the week that has past. What sins have you committed to be confessed? What blessings have you received to thank God for? There are suggested prayers in the inside cover of your hymnal. Other prayers begin on page 305. Pray particularly for:

  • Those serving in worship: the pastor, musicians, readers, ushers, and altar guild.
  • Those who may struggle during the service, such as older members who have difficulty seeing and hearing, or those with young children.
  • Those who are unable to join us on Sunday or have been absent for some time.

Meditate: Read slowly and carefully through the texts to be used in the service, especially the readings and the hymns. You may also meditate on the Psalms (front of the hymnal) and the Catechism (p. 321). Especially helpful are the “Christian Questions with Their Answers” for those who will be communing (p. 329).

Rest: Use the music of the prelude to quiet your mind. The house of the Lord is a haven, a place of peace and refreshment from the cares and busyness of the outside world.

Gottesdienst – Divine Service

The word “worship” in America often brings focus on the activities of a person or congregation. The word’s first definition is about the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.

The Lutheran Divine Service does not fit into the first definition of the word worship. The service that gathers Christians together, is not about our feelings or expressions of adoration to our Lord God. The subject of the work in worship is not us. God is the subject. We are the object of his work. God delivers in the Divine Service his love and mercy. We come to the Divine Service as broken and wearied sinners and we receive this good news of the forgiveness of sins through the Word of God that is read, preached, and delivered in the Sacraments. Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers. God does not desire empty of faith outward actions of adoration. God desires our faith that receives from him all that he promises and offers.

A successful service at church on Sunday morning is not evaluated by how the people feel after the service nor is it successful if the actions of the people can be diagrammed for their precision. The rubric for success is if Christ is proclaimed. Without Christ, the service can have no positive impact upon the hearts and lives of the people. If Christ is proclaimed and so therefore the promises of God our offered to the people, then the worship of the people is to have faith in the heart and the fruits of that faith.

Adoration that is a response to the reading of God’s Word, preaching of God’s Word, and distribution of God’s Word in the Lord’s Supper will be adoration rooted in response to God’s gracious good news of rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil. Outward acts of worship apart from faith in Christ are not God-pleasing. Worship of God is not an outward set of rituals. The liturgies of the church are in service to the proclamation of Jesus. The liturgies of the historic church are to be retained because they proclaim Christ, not simply because they are beautiful or traditional.

The call to worship God in our Sunday services is built on the foundation of what God has done for us in the righteousness of Christ. People are called to the services of the church on a Sunday morning to be strengthened by the hearing of God’s work in Christ Jesus.