Every musician knows the importance of rehearsals: great performances don't just happen. Likewise, every minister knows the importance of preparation; great sermons don't just happen either. Careful preparation and practice are essential before these and other ingredients are ready to be presented in worship.
The importance of this care is obvious. In worship, God is our true audience—and he certainly has a right to our very best. As a searcher of hearts, he knows when our performance and motivation are second-rate.
Perhaps we should view Sunday worship as a dress rehearsal for heavenly worship. We know that heaven is our destination— we find that truth comforting when we are in the midst of suffering. But we need to remember heaven as well when we are celebrating with the members of our congregation.
The Bible tantalizes us with its restraint on the subject of our activities in the new heaven and the new earth. What will we be doing for eternity? From the magnificent pictures in the book of Revelation, we are certain of one thing: worship will be among our occupations, and this heavenly worship will surpass any celebrating or praising we do here on earth.
While we can't actually enjoy such heavenly worship here on earth, we should certainly be using that worship as a model.
We need to discover all we can about heavenly worship and then to begin "practicing" what we've learned in our Sunday "rehearsals."
Heavenly worship, first of all, is extensive. Everyone participates in heaven. There are no bystanders or nonperformers. All the saints and all the angels join together in musical praise. Nobody says "I can't carry a tune" or "My voice isn't good enough."
Second, heavenly worship is exuberant. Emotions as well as intellect, hearts as well as minds, are employed. The sound is deafening—more like the roar of thunder and waterfalls than the tentative mumbling we sometimes mistake for hymnody. We can shout to God with a loud voice, as the psalms command us to do, only if everyone present rejoices in the Lord.
Third, heavenly worship is eternal. Worship will become a chief occupation of God's people. It will be something so wondrous, so thoroughly satisfying to our new natures, that we will never grow weary of proclaiming the glory of God. No wrist alarms will interrupt our joy. As seraphs never tire of crying "Holy, holy, holy," saints will never tire of crying "Worthy is the Lamb."
Fourth, heavenly worship is evangelical. Every word, every note, every heart will speak of the Savior who was slain and is alive—the Redeemer who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Humanistic moralizing will have no place in heaven. The heavenly harps will extol sovereign grace, not secular attainments. Worship there will be magnificent in its Christ-centeredness.
Extensive. Exuberant. Eternal. Evangelical. When these words begin to describe our Sunday worship, we will be doing more than rejoicing in the excitement of a rehearsal for "the real thing" yet to come. Sunday's worship will truly begin to serve as an appetizer, a brief taste, of the thrill that will soon be ours in heaven's courts.