Preparing Hearts And Homes For Sunday
Karen Burton Mains
Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of pottage. A steamy bowl of thick soup to fill a hungry stomach might be a good bargain under certain conditions; but to cavalierly yield the rights of the firstborn, the spiritual authority invested in such a position, the opportunity to be included among the catalog of patriarchs reiterated throughout the ages . . . Abraham, Isaac, and Esau—that was a bitter exchange no matter how savory the lentil stew! The loss was unredeemable; forever after the roll of patriarchal names would be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
What about we Christians today? Are we trading our spiritual birthright?
Psalm 105 says, “Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually! “; Psalm 95, “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving”; Psalm 16, “in thy presence there is fullness of joy. ” This magnificent privilege, knowing the presence of God in church each Sunday morning—which is by rights that of the believer—should not be bartered for appetizers with empty calories; but many Christians today are exchanging this spiritual birthright for the meager fare of lesser treats.
SET ASIDE THINGS THAT DISTRACT
Often families are not spiritually prepared to experience Christ’s presence in church because they have sated their hunger with whatever is featured on the TV menu on Saturday night. Please don’t misunderstand. These people don’t skip church on Sunday morning because they watched TV into the wee hours. No, they were in church—at least, their bodies were—and they listened politely, even if passively. However, there was no sense of anticipation regarding the service, no excitement that Christ would speak to them, no talking about the service afterward with friends and family.
A vital question we need to ask ourselves regarding our Sunday observance is: Do I really experience the presence of Christ in church?
One of the reasons for our spiritual dehydration on Sundays—one of the reasons the Lord’s Day seems routine, involving nothing supernatural—is that we often have a difficult time focusing on the subject at hand. For many, this means their minds keep flashing back to scenes from the movie they watched the night before (whether G- or R-rated), or to a Saturday night TV program (network or cable, squeaky clean or filthy dirty), or to the interesting book they stayed up to read. Still others have their minds on some sports event they attended on Saturday night. Instead of meditating on the Cross, or Communion, or Scripture, their brains are plugged into the events of the previous night.
And Christians rarely feel guilt or sorrow over such intrusive thoughts, hardly realizing that hymns and prayer and Communion have become a cultural experience rather than a spiritual encounter or that a spiritual infidelity is being committed. Many have become more like Esau than they realize. They are trading spiritual priorities for a bowl of soup. Hebrews 12:16 says that Esau was immoral and irreligious because he “sold his birthright for a single meal.” When week after week we are cheated in similar barters, will not God accuse us of the same?
What am I saying? Is it wrong to watch TV on Saturday night, or go to a ball game, spend three or four hours reading a novel, or just have a good time socializing Saturday night with friends? No. But it might be advisable to choose other times for these activities if they interfere with your ability to experience the presence of Christ in His church on Sunday morning.
Answer this question as honestly as possible: Do you experience Christ’s presence in church Sunday after Sunday?
Accounting for human variables, I know it’s hard for me to concentrate on Christ with spiritual sensitivity on Sunday if my mind hasn’t been prepared properly on Saturday evening. In quiet and prayer, I focus my thoughts on going to church as a highlight for me, one of the best of times. I dare not miss it. I think of the many Christians in this world who do not have the privilege of church attendance. I resolve to go to church rested, early and in a spirit of excited anticipation. The living Lord will be there, and through adoration, through inner communion, through the sacraments or symbols of the Last Supper, we will establish a deep union.
Don’t Spoil Your Appetite!
A few years ago, we printed thousands of cards that read “Pre-empted for spiritual prime-time” for those who listen to our national radio ministry. At one end there’s a hole in the middle so it can fit over a TV knob. (It can also be slipped into a book as a place marker.) For many, it serves as an effective reminder to at least experiment with setting aside prime-time for spiritual preparation.
This card is simply a Saturday evening reminder that something far better than this tasty TV stew is being offered in the morning. Hanging on the knob of the television set, it says: “Don’t spoil your appetite for spiritual feasting by gorging on junk food with no comparative nutritional value.”
Preparation is the key if we are to restore Sunday to the kind of day God intends for it to be. Proper Saturday evening preparation readies one for the magnificent privilege of experiencing Christ’s presence each Sunday morning. Therefore, we must be cautious with what we nourish our minds and spirits if we are to be spiritually active, attentive and receptive the next day.
Drying Up Spiritually
When Christians consistently fail to experience the presence of Christ on Sunday, they dry up spiritually. They dehydrate.
One of the most dreaded diseases throughout time has been the deadly cholera. Highly contagious, cholera bacteria are transmitted in food and water and by flies. John Masters writes about a cholera epidemic in 1856 in a novel about Bengal:
They came in, carried or supported by their relatives and lay down . . . they voided their bowels where they lay . . . they gulped thirstily and, a minute later, would vomit up what they had drunk. They shrank as the substance was drawn from every part of the body. Noses became pointed . . .
skin wrinkled and had no resilience. When those signs came, they had neither fear of death nor will to live.
Strangely enough, the cholera victim doesn’t die so much from the general body poisoning caused by the disease as much as from the shock of drastic dehydration. Dehydration has been a killer throughout the centuries. Hundreds of thousands have died as their bodies simply dried out.
Until the rise of modern medicine, nothing could be done for these victims. Then, intravenous feedings began to miraculously restore lost fluid content in a body until a disease like cholera had run its course. But in areas where no modern equipment is available, thousands could still die in an epidemic before health organizations could rush emergency equipment and health professionals to the scene of the outbreak.
Very recently, however, another simple solution is saving thousands of lives. It requires no complicated modern technology, no trained experts and uses elements available in nearly every culture. This solution is called oral rehydration therapy. That simply means that a mixture of water, salt and sugar is administered by mouth to the victim whose suffering body is able to tolerate this uncomplicated solution, which quickly replaces the water, sodium and bicarbonate lost through disease dehydration. Today, thousands of lives are being saved by this simple process of oral rehydration.
It’s amazing to me how often the simplest of ideas has the most powerful effect!
The Disease of “Lack of Spiritual Power”
In a sense, we might make an application to the state of the North American church; we might say that in some places the church is suffering from a problem of dehydration brought on by an acute epidemic of spiritual ennui.
Oh, I’m not saying that there isn’t church growth, that converts aren’t coming to know the Lord, that new programs aren’t being devised and new buildings being built, or that numerous parachurch organizations aren’t springing up overnight. But it seems to me that many of us Christians who want to do the work of the Lord are suffering from a strange malady of spiritual dryness. And this particular dehydration, this shriveling of the juices of life, I would call the disease of lack of spiritual power. We are a busy church. We are an active church. In many places we are a full church—nonetheless, we seem to be a church without power.
I say this in contrast to the great cloud of darkness that is rising over our nation and enfolding us in its shadows—the insatiable child pornography industry, family violence, X-rated video cassettes to show in the privacy of the home, Christian leaders who succumb to the sexual temptations of our times. Why is the church without the spiritual strength to combat the demonic forces of our age in order that the light of Christianity might prevail?
How frequently do strangers and sojourners enter our sanctuaries because they are drawn by an unexplainable sense of something remarkable? How often do people experience healing (physical and psychological and spiritual) because they attended a Sunday morning service—because they simply sat in a pew? How many times does the Holy Spirit break through our complacency, convicting us of our sin before God and producing tears and weeping and confession? How many times do we linger in quiet after a service is over just because the presence of Christ is so real we simply want to stay longer in His company? How many times are we stirred in our souls by the Scripture readings included in the liturgy?
When does church attendance become more than an activity? When does it begin to shake us to the very depths of our being?
How often do we cancel attractive weekend plans because we don’t want to miss what’s happening at our local worship service? How often do we so eagerly look forward to church that we are in our pews at least 15 minutes early? How often is the spiritual element so appealing that we bring friends and family and neighbors and acquaintances with us? How often do we think, on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, about the rich spiritual satisfaction we received from time with God’s people on Sunday morning?
Spiritual Rehydration Through Prayer
For the most part, we are a dehydrated church, but there is a simple solution to our dehydration, to our lack of spiritual power—a solution that does not need the technological wizardry of our modern age. That rehydration therapy is prayer—we need to become a praying church again.
Think of Sunday. Think of the amount of work that goes on in preparation for Sunday in the average church. Think of the custodial cleaning. Think of bulletins being typed and duplicated. Think of sermon preparation, of choir practices, of church school lessons being prepared. Think of freshly laundered altar cloths, of pressed vestments; of the provision of elements for Communion and candles. Think of people arranging flowers for the retables. Think of the gallons of coffee brewed and sweets baked for fellowship hours. Think of the preparation in individual homes; think of clothes being washed and shoes being polished and Bible lessons being studied . . . Then, think of this: In the midst of all this enormous activity, who has spent five minutes in prayer preparation?
Who is praying for your church? Which of us is devoting a portion of our Saturday by giving 15 minutes or a half-hour to requesting that the presence of God will so richly manifest himself in our congregation on Sundays that miracles (large and small) will take place as a matter of course?
I suspect not many in any of the congregations of this land do. I know that I am repenting of not praying this way for my church. No wonder we’re in a state of spiritual dehydration! No wonder we have an increasing multiplication of programs but an increasing division of power.
Praying For Revival
I’ve been reading through Isaiah recently and writing down the promises of watering. “Shower, 0 heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open that salvation may sprout forth” (Isaiah 45:8). This is the kind of spiritual rainstorm the churches in our nation need to receive.
David, my husband, has been a lifelong student of those times in the history of God’s people when heavenly rehydration brought life again to the drought-cracked souls of men and women. In theological parlance, these times have been called revival; but that word often evokes sweaty-faced preachers going hard after converts during a two- week meeting. Revival, in its classic sense, is when the church comes alive again; when the dried up skin, tissue, muscles, inner organs are again flushed with the fluids of life.
This only happens corporately when church people give themselves to prayer.
In 1794, 23 New England ministers, concerned about the spiritual condition of their country, met to consider the question, “What shall we do?” They agreed that revival of the church was badly needed and that prayer was the only means left to them. They issued a “circular letter” asking people to pray for revival, “public prayer and praise . . . on every first Tuesday, of the four quarters of the year, beginning with the first Tuesday of January, 1795, at two o’clock in the afternoon . . . and so continuing from quarter to quarter, and from year to year, until, the good providence of God prospering our endeavors, we shall obtain the blessing for which we pray.”
All over the country little praying bands sprang up, “covenants” entered into by Christian people to spend one whole day each month in prayer, “Aaron and Hur Societies” which formed to “hold up the hands of their ministers” through intercession. What happened as a result of this concerted prayer was the most sweeping revival our country has ever known—the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s.
When David studied this, he, too, took a vow before God and for more than a decade has been faithfully praying a half hour each Saturday night and Sunday morning for our minister, the local church where we worship, for the churches of this country, for a sweeping spiritual renaissance in our nation.
What is needed to rehydrate a church on the national level is also what is needed to rehydrate us on local levels; and it is as basic a technique as oral rehydration for cholera victims. Simply, we need to learn to pray for our churches.
Joining a Network of Spiritual Intercessors
I am learning to pray for longer periods of time by taking my prayer notebook and sitting before the Lord, then asking him, “Lord, how do you want me to pray?” I have learned I am not doing this alone but joining myself in a small but faithful network of spiritual intercessors, many unknown to me or unmet by me; yet we are joined spiritually in a prayer work to make Sunday worship more meaningful. Then, when thoughts come to my mind, Pray for your pastor, that he will deliver the Lord’s words this Sunday; pray for physical and spiritual protection for his family—I pray and write these prayers down.
Then I’m silent again, listening. When more thoughts come to mind regarding prayer for the Sunday service and for those participating, I write these down. When I think of nothing else, I move to the next topic, often my own spiritual needs. Confess your own sins of deed and attitude so that you will have nothing that prohibits your ability to worship. I do so, write these down and move on, always inquiring, “Lord, how is it you want me to pray?”
Opening Rivers on Bare Heights
When we seek rehydration for our parched souls through prayer, the Lord will bless us. “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them . . . I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water” (Isaiah 41:17,18).
Oh, how we need this rehydration therapy; we need to be a church of moral influence in our nation again. In Revivalism and Social Reform, Timothy Smith writes about the church during periods of revival, “Clergymen inspired the dominant social movement of the period, the crusade for humanitarian reform, at every stage. They were the principal arbiters of manners and morals and the most venerated citizens of every community.”
This kind of influence is evidence of spiritual power in the church, a power that was unleashed because God’s Spirit was freed to work among His people, a power that can only come because God’s people have given themselves to prayer. It was a church that was fully rehydrated.
Lord, teach me to expand my feeble prayer for my church and for my own Sunday participation from five minutes to 10, then from 10 to 20. Open the rivers on the bare heights, and in the wilderness pools and springs of water in our dry lands. Amen.
In order to be truly prepared to worship on Sunday morning:
• I must be mentally alert, having put aside all things that distract my mind from spiritual thoughts.
• I must be spiritually in tune, having spent a good and satisfactory time in prayer.
Getting organized helped me immensely in my struggle to get physically ready for Sunday.
The first principle is organizational: I try to have all the physical preparations completed for Sunday by Saturday afternoon.
The second principle is motivational: I try to have all the physical preparations readied as though Christ were going to be a special guest in our home.
Ingrid Trobish writes in Bright Legacy about her grandmother Johanna Lind Hult, a woman who was widowed at 43, with eight children (ranging in age from two to 19) to raise on her own. “During the time I lived with her, she taught me that all Saturday work—cleaning, baking, preparations for Sunday—must be finished by noon. This was her unswerving rule. Then, as she told me, ‘I go to my bedroom and close the door. My Lord and I have time to fellowship and I study His Word.’ ”
Being Physically Prepared for Sunday
I am not quite up to the standard of Johanna Lind Hult, but I have discovered that adapting to the weekly Jewish rhythm of the sacred enhances my organizational skills. About Wednesday I begin to think, “Ah, Sunday is coming. How can we continue to make this the high point of our week?” I check family schedules and make sure I know who will be traveling, who will be home, who is forming weekend plans of their own. I take garments to the cleaners, do laundry and make sure Sunday clothes are ironed and hanging fresh in closets. I make lists, think about menus, check recipe books and anticipate having guests either on Lord’s Day Eve or for Sunday brunch after the early church service.
Housecleaning is reserved for Friday or Saturday morning. Since I hate the exhaustion from doing laundry, cleaning, errands, grocery shopping and cooking all on one day (unless I have a big and cooperative crew), I try to spread all these responsibilities over the week. The bedroom house level is cleaned early in the week with a quick go-over Saturday morning (or a reminder that everyone is to vacuum and pick up their own room).
The goal is to be physically prepared by some time Saturday afternoon so that we can begin to ease into relaxation with the internal satisfaction of work completed, the enjoyment of one another’s company, and the anticipation of the next day—Sunday. To be truthful, this doesn’t always happen as carefully planned; but I am getting better and better at achieving my goal.
Gerita Garver Liebelt (a Sabbatarian who practices Sabbath in the Jewish custom from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) discusses getting ready physically in her book From Dilemma to Delight. A minister’s wife, she tells of having heard her children say, “I hate Fridays!” (meaning they were tired of all the work they were asked to do to get ready for Sabbath—all on one day), and this motivated their mother to reorganize her work schedule in order to reduce the dread and emphasize the delight. By doing one thing each day of the week in preparation for Sabbath, she figured out a schedule where she could be prepared at the end of the week without feeling too hurried. For example, on Monday she washes the Sabbath clothes, on Tuesday she irons them, on Wednesday she plans the Sabbath menu and the Sabbath day’s activities and does the shopping, on Thursday she bakes and prepares food for the Sabbath meals. Then on Friday, she completes the preparation.
Every family will devise their own organizational styles with unique divisions of labor that adapt to the ages, abilities, interests and expectations in each home. But again, the goal of this planning is to be finished and ready sometime Saturday afternoon so we can anticipate Sunday with a Sabbath heart.
Learning to think about Sunday around Wednesday or Thursday is one of the mental organizational tools I now use as a Christian to make sure that the housework, the weekday physical preparations don’t bleed into the Lord’s Day. (It is also surprising what inward emotional pleasure this Wednesday thought brings me.)
Receiving Christ as a Special Houseguest
The second principle I use which enhances my physical readiness is to train myself to think that Christ is going to be my houseguest—He will ” arrive” sometime Saturday night and “stay” until Sunday evening. Now the Spirit of Jesus is with us at all times. I recognize His everyday immanence as well as His transcendence; but to form a mental discipline, I get myself and my house ready to welcome him as a special guest.
I want to be physically prepared, not for physical preparations’ sake (which is always a temptation), but so that my heart will be free to welcome.
Scripture teaches that we are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us for the glory of God (Romans 15:7), but I think I am learning to welcome Christ as others have welcomed me!
I’ve jokingly said to David that I could write an article titled, “The Beds I’ve Slept In”! While traveling in ministry, I’ve been the recipient of varied forms of hospitality and I have slept in many wonderful and strange places.
I’ve slept in missionary homes in Venezuela and Columbia and Kenya, and I’ve taken cold showers, bathed in tubs in rooms without inner ceilings where I could also listen and contribute to the living room conversation while I bathed! I’ve gone to bed by kerosene light to the sound of African tribes singing beneath the full equator moon. I’ve slept in bunkbeds in summer camps and in cots in student dormitories. I’ve slept in mansions. I’ve slept in YWCAs and YMCAs! The only place I haven’t slept is in a hammock or on a bare dirt floor—and that’s probably somewhere in my future.
One home in particular where I was a guest is typical of the kindness I have received in so many places. And I often think of this special hospitality when preparing my own home for the Lord’s Day.
Quiet and privacy were provided to rest from traveling and to prepare myself to speak in the evening session; yet all the while, one of the daughters, a concert pianist, practiced classical music on the grand piano downstairs. I began to feel my body and soul and mind relax.
The next morning, the breakfast table was set with welcoming fresh linens. We drank grape juice from backyard vines and spread homemade jellies on the toast. Saturday evening dinner was a dining-room affair served on old family china. The food was mostly homegrown—even the salmon had been caught by the husband—and all was lovingly prepared.
It was a joy being in that home, among those people. There was obviously a spiritual gift of love at work. Not only did this strengthen me for the ministry of the days ahead, but I came home vowing to be a better homemaker myself, promising myself to take more pains with my hostessing—not to be so busy that small details are overlooked. I especially try to remember this when I prepare to welcome the Lord on Sunday, and other Sunday guests who bring their own special blessing when they share the Lord’s Day with us.
I am learning to get ready for the Lord’s Day, to get my home ready to greet Christ, to welcome him or to welcome those who represent him; I am preparing myself to be hospitable in a way that is different from what I am able to be during the rest of the week when work harries me and deadlines loom and schedules march across our calendars.
Amazing things occur when Christ is present. The hostess rises from her sick-bed, healed; minds are challenged; sins forgiven. The emotions are freed for weeping, for laughter. We touch and are touched. The very walls of the rooms seem to bend to listen. The candles burn brighter. The new day rises more hopefully. The sun smiles.
I rise on Saturday thinking—only a few more things to make ready: early-morning shopping, the tables to be set for company, get one of the boys to stir up a box cake.
He is coming! He is coming!
We need new candles, one more load of laundry. Time for morning prayers.
We are almost ready! Christ is coming!
At last, ready and waiting!
Welcome, my Lord. Welcome to my home on this Lord’s Day Eve.
On Saturdays, I open the doors of my home and my heart with a deeply felt welcome to my Lord, and Sundays have never been so special!
The above article, “Preparing Hearts and Homes for Sunday” is written by Karen Burton Mains. The article was excerpted from a pamphlet published by Focus on the Family in 1992.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.