If you stop someone and ask, “How would you define true worship?” Most people would answer by talking about a style of music, various elements of a worship service, or they will start talking to you about their church, or their view of religion.
People are confused about this topic. Worship is something that has to do with the heart. Yes, hopefully we do worship as we pray, as we hear the Word of God read and proclaimed, as we give, and as we sing. However, we can do all of those things and never really worship at all.
Last week we looked at some texts in the Bible that condemned the worship of Israel. From that study we drew some simple positive principles,
- True Worship is God-Focused rather than man focused. God is the “audience of One”.
- True Worship Impacts Our Daily Life Rather Than Being Detached From Daily Life. The person who truly worships will be transformed in their living.
- True Worship involves giving God our best. Since God is to above all, we are called to honor Him by giving His the best we have.
This morning we move to another valuable text in the New Testament. John 4 is the record of a discussion that Jesus had with a Samaritan Woman. There are lots of great things to teach from this passage. We are going to learn some things about true worship.
TRUE WORSHIP IS AVAILABLE TO ALL
The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus left Judea (which is south of Samaria) and decided to travel to Galilee (which is north of Samaria). Most Jews would travel around Samaria. Jew and Samaritans got along about as well as Israelis and Palestinians do today. They had some common roots but neither had much regard for the other. The Jews saw the Samaritans as just another group of pagans. The history of the conflict is interesting but beyond the scope of our study today.
Jesus chose to go through Samaria (it was the shortest route). It was about noon and Jesus came to a town by the name of Sychar and decided he needed to rest. The disciples presumably went off to the fast food restaurant to get some lunch because it was noon.
We are told that a woman from Sychar came to the well. This fact alone is interesting. Usually women drew water later in the day when it was cooler. So, why was she there?
There is a good chance that the woman came to this well at this time because of her stained reputation. If you believe everyone is talking about you in a negative way, you will tend to avoid being in public places at busy times. This woman had had five different husbands and was currently living with a man she was not married to. Today we might call her a loose woman, sleazy, or cheap. She may very well have come to the well that day simply to escape the gossip of the other women.
Jesus is the one who broke the ice. He asked for a drink. When the woman asked Jesus why He was asking her for a drink (no one asked her for much of anything). Besides, most Jews would view a drink from a Samaritan as being something that would defile them. A drink from a Samaritan? Ick!
Jesus, tried to build a bridge to this woman and said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (10)
Imagine the look of confusion on the woman’s face. Why would she ask Jesus for a drink? He didn’t even have anything with which to draw water from the well. And besides, was he really meaning to imply that he was greater than Jacob who established this well?
Jesus told her that once she tasted the water he had to offer, she would never be thirsty again. Naturally, she was eager to receive such water. She hated having to cart that water back to town every day.
Before she could receive the water Jesus needed her to understand something. He told the woman to go and get her husband. She responded honestly that she was not married. Jesus agreed, and told her that she was not married and commented that she had been married five times and was now living with a man apart from marriage.
What was Jesus doing? Was Jesus trying to get this woman to see that a prerequisite for grace is an awareness of sin? Possibly? I suspect she was well aware of her sin. She had to live with it every day. It was like a scarlet letter she wore. I wonder if Jesus brought up the past because He knew that she needed to know that He was aware of her sin. She needed to know that the One who was inviting her to taste the living water, knew exactly who she was.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance to true worship is the fact that we believe God could never love us if the truth of our hearts, minds, and past were exposed. We feel we have to pretend with God. We play the game of worship. We gather together and pretend that we are all good people, who are worshipping a good God, in a good way. For some reason we believe this is what He wants.
In reality, God wants US. He wants the real you and the real me . . . scars and all. He wants us to bring the broken pieces of our lives to Him. He wants us to drop the act and recognize that worship cannot begin until we come to Him honestly, seeking and celebrating His mercy and His grace. God is not looking for our performance; He is looking for us – the real us. In truth, this is the most amazing reality of our lives.
I was talking to a woman once who was pushing away the person she loved . . . and she knew it. When I asked her why she was doing this she said, “He’s going to walk away eventually anyway.” When I asked her why she felt this way she said, “You don’t know me, I’m a bad person.” She couldn’t accept the fact that someone could love her as she really is. Many of us feel this same way with God. We don’t follow Him because we believe if God knew the truth about us; if he knew our past, our thoughts, our desires, He would turn away.
Jesus wanted this woman to know that He knew exactly who she was but His arms were open to her anyway. God is the One who seeks us. True worship is available for all.
TRUE WORSHIP IS ABOUT SUBSTANCE NOT FORM
The woman from Sychar didn’t know how to respond to the fact that she was exposed before Christ. On the one hand, I’m sure she was intrigued by this man who was not intimidated by her stained past. On the other hand, this was an awkward moment. So, she did what most of us do in an awkward moment, she changed the subject. She asked, “Where is the true place of worship? Gerizim or Jerusalem?”
Have you ever tried sharing the gospel with someone who seeks to derail the conversation with this question: “How do I know which is the right denomination?” It’s the same kind of question. It is meant to distract us.
Jesus refuses to be distracted. He answers her question,
“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24)
Jesus told her that her worship was deficient because she doesn’t have all the information (Samaritans only embraced the first five books of the Bible). However, a time of transition had come. True worship was no longer about the right place of worship; it was about the right “attitude”. True worship can take place in a sanctuary, but also in a car, in your home, while you are standing in line in a store, or any other place where the heart is tuned to the Lord.
TRUE WORSHIP INVOLVES THE SPIRIT
Jesus said true worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Notice that Jesus said, his worshipers MUST worship in spirit and in truth. This is the only kind of acceptable worship.
When Jesus talks about worshiping in spirit he does not appear to be talking about the Holy Spirit (even though we do need the Holy Spirit to lead us to worship) but he is referring to our inner spirit or our heart. Notice that the various translations do not capitalize the word spirit. That means that translators understand this not as referring to the Holy Spirit but the spirit within us.
John Piper writes,
Worshiping in spirit is the opposite of worshiping in merely external ways. It is the opposite of empty formalism and traditionalism.
Jesus tells us the woman that true worship is a worship that is in spirit and truth because God is spirit. God is not limited to one particular location. He can be worshipped at any time and in any place. God is spirit which means He is not looking merely at what we do externally, He sees our heart, He knows our emotions. He is looking for us to really worship Him. When the Bible talks about worshipping in spirit I think He means that worship should be a time when we are vulnerable, open and honest before the Lord. We should be more honest with Him than with any other person (even our spouse) because we know that He knows us and loves us.
Consequently, true worship should involve our emotions. This worship will sometimes involve genuine sorrow for sin, overwhelming gratitude for grace and forgiveness, the stunned silence of awe, or the exuberant celebration of God’s greatness. The point is this: If you are unaffected in your worship you have not truly worshipped at all.
Perhaps I can illustrate this distinction. Lots of people attend a funeral service. They all see the same things. They all hear the same words. They all walk past the casket. However, not everyone at that service truly grieves. You might attend a funeral for a variety of reasons. You may be there because the person who died is a relative or dear friend (and you truly grieve), or you may be there because the person who died is related to a friend and you are there to offer support. You may be there because the person who died is a leader in the community and you want to honor their memory. In each case you are at the funeral. However, the person who truly grieves is the one who acutely feels the sense of loss. Tears well up. Heaviness overshadows your soul. Numbness sets in as a defense mechanism.
The person who worships in spirit is not merely present in a certain location and doing certain things. They are fully engaged in response to God.
TRUE WORSHIP INVOLVES THE HEAD
When Jesus told us that we must worship God in spirit and in truth He was not only telling us we must worship Him emotionally but also that we must worship the true God in a way that is consistent with His nature and desire. True worship doesn’t just involve our feelings; it also involves our head.
John Piper writes,
Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full of artificial admirers. On the other had, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship. (Desiring God p. 760)
Spirit and truth must go together. We can whip up people’s emotions for all kinds of things. We see people cry, dance or become filled with anger at a sporting event. People cry at movies or television shows. We are can be moved by a beautiful piece of music or a stunning piece of art. However, none of these things is necessarily worship. True worship must be directed to the right place.
True worship can only happen in a person who has been made new in Christ. This is the only way we can come to God. Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father except through me.” A person must understand their sinful nature, they must recognize that God has provided a way of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, and they must be willing to entrust themselves to the resurrected Christ. Only the Spirit-born individual can worship Christ in truth.
There are lots of people who engage in “acts of worship”. Some are very devote. However, if they are not worshipping the true God, if they have not come to God in the way that He has provided in Jesus Christ, their worship is merely annoying noise to the Lord.
Suppose you hired someone to help you on the farm. They arrive at the farm every day but they spend the day working on rebuilding their car. Would you feel they deserved a paycheck at the end of the week”? Of course not! You would fire the self-absorbed little twerp. Suppose they argued, “But I was working hard the whole time I was on the job, I deserve to be paid!” After you finished laughing you would explain that they may have been working hard but they were not doing what they were hired to do.
In the same way, people all around us tell us that they worship “their” God in “their own” way. They may be wonderfully sincere and very devoted. However, if they are not worshiping the true and living God they are no different than this farm hand. They are no different from those who bow before sticks of wood or slabs of marble. WHO you worship is the most important matter.
The true worshipper is eager to learn the truth about God’s character, about His will, and His instruction. As they come to glimpse the true and living God, they are moved by His character; they are stunned by His grace; they are overwhelmed with His mercy; and they are eager to follow His lead in their life.
So, what does all this mean to us? First, if you find yourself bored by the idea of worship, there is a problem.
- You may not be a true child of God. You may simply be going through the motions of religion rather than entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe the Samaritan woman was truly changed. She acknowledge her thirst, she admitted her sin, she testified of her faith in the Messiah that would come, and then she went and told others that she had found that Messiah. The woman of shame, I believe, became a newborn child of the Kingdom. You cannot truly worship until the same can be said of you. Please, examine your heart. Your worship may dead because you are viewing worship as a set of things you need to do rather than as a dynamic celebration of God. You are focusing on requirements rather than relationship. Look beyond the activity of worship and set your heart on the object of worship.
- You may be unbalanced in your worship. You may be seeking only information and have not given yourself to the information that you are learning. You may be learning about God without being moved by God. Or you may be seeking an experience. Your worship may only be about getting a good feeling for yourself rather than offering yourself to the God of life.
Second, we are challenged to worship more fully. We must look beyond the actions of worship and focus on the heart of worship. Our challenge is to not merely have worship services, but to truly honor God. Our goal is to get beyond the mere performance of our duties and to enter in to the glorious celebration of His grace. Our goal is lay ourselves open before Him knowing that no One is greater than He is; no One knows us better than He does; no one loves us more than He does; and no One, no one is more deserving of our heartfelt praise and adoration.