Pastor Ian Ferguson with his scout uniform showing his merit badges and Eagle Scout award. (Photo/Courtesy of Ian Ferguson)

“Be Prepared” is a phrase that was hammered into me at a young age through Boy Scouts. It is the Boy Scout motto, instructing me to always be ready, in mind and body, to do my duty. Being prepared meant having enough water for a hike or packing the proper clothes for a camping trip. I learned simple first aid, how to start a fire, and how to use a knife. Simple activities helped me to “be prepared.” It was a valuable lesson.

Once in college, when a friend began choking on his food, he looked at me in panic. His face began changing color and he put his hands on his throat. He was in trouble. Recalling my Boy Scout training, I got behind him, positioned my hands above his belly button, and heaved. The food dislodged and he was ok. Thankfully, I had been prepared.

Lent is a time to “be prepared.” For 40 days, many Christians slow down to pray, fast, and worship together in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. Preparation is helpful because rashness can ruin worship. We see this in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we find wisdom in light of the vanity of life. There is vanity, or perhaps best translated in this section as “hot air,” to be found in rash worship. In Ecclesiastes 5:1;7, we read “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong…Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, fear God.”

“Guarding our steps” means exercising caution when approaching God. In the day of Ecclesiastes, the Jewish Temple was a special place of God’s presence. It was carefully built to remind the worshiper of God’s presence. The Temple was an awe inspiriting sight that got you “tuned-in” to worship. As worshippers slowly walked up to the Temple Mount, taking in the grand sight, they “tuned into” the grandness and holiness of God that was being broadcast by the Temple.

Still today, we should “guard our steps” to worship. We do not worship at the great Temple in Jerusalem and we do not need to. Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices, and the new temple is God’s people (Ephesians 2). Lent is an extended time to practice “guarding our steps.” And we can do that by choosing simple activities that slow us down and help us be ready to gather to worship.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are classic activities found in Matthew chapter 6. What helps you “guard your steps” for worship? Pastor Alistar Begg once said, “It is far more important to be tuned in than to be decked out.” What he meant by this is that it is more tempting to be preoccupied with our outward appearance in worship than inward preparation. It is easier to slip on a jacket and a nice smile than to humble our hearts and prepare to hear from God.

For me, meditating on scripture throughout the week prepares my mind. Doing my work before Sunday helps me to celebrate the Lord’s Day without worrying about my work. “Guarding my steps” means going to bed early enough on Saturday night so I am not exhausted on Sunday morning. What does it look like for you to be prepared?

Much of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 warns us that if we rush into worship unprepared, mumbling along with many words, prayers, and songs, then we can bring God’s judgment upon ourselves. As Ecclesiastes 5:6 says, He will “destroy the work of our hands.” Rash preparation corrupts worship.

The appropriate response is fear towards God, as we see in Ecclesiastes 5:7. By fear, he means reverence or awe of God and appropriate obedience to him. If we would revere God, we would not forget God in our preparation. We would not pray to God, trying to impress Him with our many words. We would understand that God knows what we need, and we would speak less and listen more.

If you ever go camping, make sure you are prepared. Check the weather, have a map of the area, pack the appropriate clothes and bring a first aid kit. Maybe even find a good checklist online. And this Easter, be prepared to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as well. If you don’t usually attend church, ask your friends where they attend or look one up nearby. Don’t worry if you don’t have anything fancy to wear. Remember, it is more important to be tuned in than to be decked out.