“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!”
This is the phrase the Dillan Panthers repeat before every game in the easy-to-love TV series Friday Night Lights (yes, you should watch it if you haven’t yet). Pregame rituals, speeches, or other focus-honing traditions have been a well-known part of sporting events for years.
The inspiring (and terrifying) pregame ritual for the New Zealand rugby team is called the Maori Haka War Dance. Watch it! Afterwards they are ready to kill. Would you step on the rugby pitch after that? Yeah right.
In various forms, time is spent directing attention toward the upcoming event so that the numerous pressures and distractions are not able to steal focus. The consistent efforts to focus display a respect for the upcoming event. I would also say preparation time admits a natural struggle to be fully engaged. If it is so necessary to set aside time to get the mind right before regular sporting events, how much more of a priority should it be before the activities that feed our heart and soul?
BUT, do we really need to prepare to sing on Sunday?
Because our life is busy and distractions are multiplying around us, yes. The danger of cares and distractions is described by Jesus in Mark 4:
18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
And yes, because we share a common struggle with the rest of humanity to fully engage in anything without at least a moment devoted to focus. The pursuit of wisdom begins with a call to develop a discipline that involves the mind and heart:
... making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Prov. 2:2-5)
Think about the rapid nature of last week: You had multiple evening events and after school activities for your children. Your job is requiring extra time, you have tough employees, and your family just committed to a new sport that will take up your Saturdays. Fly fishing is back. Your golf swing needs refining. The girls’ trip is vying for planning attention. The year is already filling up so the family vacations need to be put on the calendar. Add all this to normal stresses like the daily juggling act that usually includes keeping children alive, fed, and physically present where they are supposed to be (on repeat every day!).
On top of that, statistics say you are experiencing life and season changes regularly… in your home, career, children, marriage, or community. If that isn’t enough, we are trying to have friends (and rightly so), which requires time, and fit in some r&r, which also requires time.
Now try to drive peacefully to church, where you are asked to engage in singing, be mentally present, and actually be fed and encouraged by God’s Word (or just learn something!).
No one is able to go straight from running 100 mph to parking it for a few moments with a sincerely quiet mind. That is why we should think about preparing our hearts and minds for Sunday.
So how do we prepare?
Follow the biblical model.
Throughout the Psalms we have examples of preparation; Psalms 120-134 are called “Songs of Ascent” and were specifically used on the way to Jerusalem in preparation for Passover. Within this group we have a variety of themes ranging from confession, blessing God’s name, reminders of their own story as God’s people, and collective calls to focus their heart on worshipping God. Check them out.
These songs were sung as individual families as well as part of their corporate worship throughout the week as they prepared for the final Passover meal — the one Jesus fulfilled and repurposed as a meal representing His sacrifice.
Why did they have specific songs to sing before worship? Because the human heart has always needed time and help when preparing to be fully engaged with God. Otherwise, what should be awe-striking and soul-feeding becomes plain and seemingly irrelevant. You and I are no different.
Let me ask you a question (and I would encourage you to actually think about it): Do a majority of your Sunday mornings feel more like a burden than a time of encouragement?
Side note: I admit there are plenty of factors that create this outcome, including unforeseen stresses throughout the week, over the weekend, or even on Sunday morning. There are also seasons when exhaustion feels like your only companion and time at church seems to make things worse. We experience days, weeks, and months of emotional / spiritual desert. That is all true. And preparation is even more necessary in those seasons.
Considering regular busy seasons (a.k.a. normal life), I wonder if there is any time spent during your week or on Saturday night getting your heart in the game, so to speak. This is time where you are prayerfully admitting your struggle with distraction and life’s burdens and actively seeking the Spirit’s help to enter a mental (and emotional) place where your heart is focused and ready to be fed by God on Sunday morning.
Crazy! Is that even possible? That sounds super Puritan to even suggest, right?… the next thing you know, we’re all arriving an hour early to pray together before the service. (Would that be a bad thing?)
We are all familiar with the battle to spread time and energy across work, family, home to-dos, rest, travel, and emergencies, and God knows your burdens even more — enough to give us examples of preparation that set our hearts up to lay down our burdens and be ready to feed on God’s Word, be renewed by His Spirit, and be excited about the task of bringing the hope of the Gospel to our neighbors.
Let’s get practical…
Maybe I have described your life as it pertains to Sunday mornings. Here are five tips for you and your family:
1 - Understand that Worship begins before sitting in your chair on Sunday.
This means you will have to develop a habit of setting aside 10-15 minutes before Sunday morning — put it in your calendar or set a reminder until it becomes a habit. This also means your personal time in prayer and Bible study throughout the week creates a foundation for Worship on Sunday; your priority of regular time with the Lord directly impacts your attitude towards Sunday morning.
2 - Prepare practical needs Saturday night.
Sunday morning is always going to be mayhem when trying to wake, feed, and dress multiple people and expect flawless execution from the family (experience talking!). Lay out clothes. Plan a simple breakfast. Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier to create a buffer.
3 - Read a passage of Scripture.
You could read one Psalm each week from the collection I mentioned above (120-134). You could also read the text for the sermon coming up (we usually post the text on our FaceBook page). This can be done Saturday night. This can also be done as a family Sunday morning during breakfast (this requires no. 2).
4 - Pray simple prayers.
As you read Scripture weave in simple prayers connected to what you are reading. This is when you can include the current burdens, struggles, and stresses that will be drawing your mind and heart away from engaging in Worship. One idea is to use the ride to church — this is what I often do with Carley. We pray for all kinds of things, and it always helps settle my busy mind on the reality of worshipping God.
5 - Remember Who worship is about.
Sunday morning is not first about you. Yes, it is for you; God feeds us, convicts us, and sends us out — and we should expect Jesus to be doing these things (it’s why we are talking about preparing before we come). But having ourselves as first priority in worship is like running a race with our shoes tied together — you will be constanting stumbling through Sunday as long as you worship. It has always been about God. We come because God forgave a debt we could never pay, then gave us life and provided us with true belonging in a community. And the biblical picture of this community is one of corporate gatherings to praise our Savior and Creator—this gathering being one of His main avenues of filling our hearts. We want to prepare to be shaped more into the image of Jesus, and part of that preparation is remembering Who Sunday is primarily about.
If this weekend was an important game, or the big presentation to the corporate office, or a weekend away we would all prepare.
The food our heart needs most is offered on Sunday mornings, so we should make it a priority to come to the feast as prepared as possible.
“Clear eyes, full hearts..” let's pray -- or something like that.