The Shulchan Aruch in Aruch Chaim Siman 90 tells us that when a man goes to shul to daven, he should run to shul. The purpose seems to be as a sign that he is anxious to perform a mitzvah. The Bnei Yissaschar in Agra D’kala tells us that we find this idea implemented by Avraham Avinu in this week’s parsha, for when Avraham saw the three guests, he ran to greet them. He teaches us furthermore that when Avraham came close to the guests, he bowed down to them humbling himself, showing reverence for their assumed higher state. The Bnei Yissaschar explains that though one is supposed to run to shul, one is not supposed to run into shul, meaning that when a man comes close to the shul, as a sign of respect, he must slow down and take more deliberate steps upon entering. One should have the same approach as Avraham Avinu did when he went to his guests.
The Bnei Yissaschar also mentions a disagreement amongst the poskim as to when one is supposed to begin running to shul: Is one supposed to begin running immediately upon approaching the mitzvah, or should one only start to run when his destination becomes apparent (for there are many people who are always in a rush, going to do things)?
I would like to suggest a possible understanding for this disagreement. When you do these kinds of actions, are they to inspire yourself to appreciate the mitzvah that you are about to perform and grow from it, or is the purpose to show others and inspire them? (Obviously both ideas are true – the argument would be which one takes precedent over the other.)
About 25 years ago I knew a man who at the time was over 100 years old, that before going into the shul would do exactly as Chazal tell us (see Magen Avraham introduction to Siman 46): recite the verses that are appropriate to give reverence to the beis haknesses. This seems to me to be a far cry from today’s shul foyers, which look more like an advertisement center or a flea market. Likewise, if someone runs into the shul while still on his cellphone, where is the disconnect between the outside world of business and the reverence for the shul?
It seems to me that all of these distractions are the work of the yetzer hara to sidetrack us from the proper frame of mind in which to daven. If Avraham can bow down with reverence to supposed idol worshipers as a preamble to doing hachnasas orchim, let us try our best to focus on the mitzvah of Tefilla which we are about to do, and filter out all of the external diversions.