Worship in “Spirit and Truth”

When talking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she asked Jesus where they should worship God, on the nearby Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem as believed by the Jews. She had always been taught that Mt. Gerizim was a holier and more ancient place for worshiping God. Jesus replied that soon they would not be able to worship in either place. But more important than the location was to worship God “in spirit and truth.”

What did Jesus mean by that phrase?

21  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.

22  “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.

23  “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

24  “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:21-24 (NKJV)

The Greek word for “spirit”, pneuma, has the basic meaning of breath, air or wind. Scripture also uses the word for the Holy Spirit. In relation to people, it sometimes means the inner being. For example, “spirit” is used for mood, attitude, emotions or character.

Most translations translate the phrase simply as “spirit and truth” or “spirit and reality.”

However some of the paraphrases do a little interpreting. For example, The Living Bible assumes “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit. Here is how it paraphrases verse 23: “For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship – is our worship spiritual and real? Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help?”

Jack Blanco in his The Clear Word paraphrases verse 23 as “But the time is coming and is already here when people can worship God anywhere, because true worship is a matter of the heart. This is the kind of worship that God is looking for.” This paraphrase assumes “spirit” means the inner person.

Looking at the context however, the reason given for worshiping in spirit is that “God is spirit.” (verse 24). In other words God is not physical, material or tangible but He is spirit. God is not confined to things. Therefore image worship is an inappropriate method of reaching out to God. It becomes a barrier to developing a trusting relationship.

And since God is spirit He is not confined to places. God is not limited to Jerusalem or any church headquarters. God is everywhere. We can worship as well in a tin shed (as I did in northern Brazil) as in a Cathedral. True worship has nothing to do with location, but has everything to do with the condition of the heart.

When we turn to the meaning of worshiping “in truth,” verse 22 seems to help: “You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22 NKJV)

Jesus seems to be speaking concerning the truth about God. The Samaritans do not really know Him. They do not know who He really is. Jesus later said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NKJV). They need to know what God is like in order to really worship Him. If they think of God as harsh, vengeful and capricious it will affect their worship. On the other hand, if they know Him as loving, fair and dependable this will influence their worship in another way.

Our worship will be more meaningful as we understand the character of God. Like the Apostle Paul, I truly want to know Him better.

Who’s in the Spotlight

So the people all come together in rows in the church, and they face forward. So what?

Well, it’s the same physical set up as a stage play, and everybody knows about those. You plunk down in a seat. …At H-hour the lights go up; the actors start performing, a prompter offstage whispers cues – and the spectators lean back and evaluate how they do.

But church? No. No. No. No. No. No. No!

Church is unique. Whether the people in the congregation ever discover it or not, they are the actors. The up-front people are the prompters, whispering cues as needed – and God is the audience, looking on to see how they do.

Many poor churches don’t even know who’s supposed to be doing it! What lousy, lousy plays they put on! The actors sit around lethargically while the prompters practically exhaust themselves trying to do all their lines for them so the play will still give a lively appearance.

It doesn’t.

  • Quoted from Up with Worship by Anne Ortlund, original idea by Soren Kierkegaard.

Why Praise?

Why are we commanded to praise the Lord? I do not believe God has such a poor self-image that he needs our praise so He feels good about Himself. He doesn’t need our encouragement.

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—

Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul. – Psalm 103:1-2, 20-22 (NIV)

I have heard it said that, “Our main purpose as Christians is to praise God.” In other words the very purpose of our creation was to worship and praise God. If they mean that God created us so He would have someone to praise Him – I just don’t believe that.

What is the role or purpose of praise? Why are we so often invited to praise the Lord?

It must have more to do with the benefits we receive by praising, rather than the benefits God expects to receive from our praise. Our praise does not benefit God; rather it benefits us!

If that is so, what are those benefits to us?

  • Praise recognizes the blessings we receive from God.
  • It declares God is worthy of our adoration.
  • It expresses appreciation for His benefits.
  • It remembers our history with God, how he has faithfully led us in the past.

C.S Lewis, in his book, Reflection on the Psalms, says,

“When I first began to draw near to belief in God and even for some time after it had been given to me, I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God demanded it. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people [a]round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand.”

Then Lewis came to realize that praise simply expresses appreciation and enjoyment. Like any admirer of works of art or a lover who praises his loved one – we praise what we value. Expressing our appreciation enables us to fully appreciate an object. “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Furthermore, praise and worship is a relational experience. It builds our faith and trust in God. It renews that relationship. As we recount how God has cared for us in the past or how he has inundated us with His grace and mercy, we can only be grateful and trust Him more.

So yes, let us “Praise the Lord!” We are the ones who gain the blessing by our praise. It is our hearts that are drawn closer to Him. He’s there already.

Who Do I Worship?

Greek drama retold the stories of their gods. The problem was, their gods were as vengeful and immoral as the people. They created gods in their own image. They had no higher standard to emulate. After all, we tend to take on the characteristics of whose we admire.

Jesus told the woman at the well at Sychar, “You Samaritans don’t really know the one you worship.” John 4:22 (CEV). Certainly the Israelites at Sinai, having only known the gods of Egypt, had no concept of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Do I know who I am worshiping? It makes a difference in how I approach God and what I expect to receive.

What is my concept of the God I worship?  Do I think of Him as a

  • Santa Claus, for my “want list”?
  • An overindulgent grandfather?
  • A strict judge watching my every misstep?
  • An absentee landlord, not really a part of my daily life?

What is my relationship to this deity? Is He a distant acquaintance or a trusted friend? Is our relationship estranged or harmonious? Is my God weak or powerful? Majestic or ordinary? Dependable or capricious?

I know the answers to these questions in my head. In my head I know He is a father who longs for his children to come back home. But what does my heart believe about this God? How can I get my heart straight? How can I know Who I am worshiping?

Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3 (NIV). Jesus came to earth for the very purpose of revealing the characteristics of God to us. How can we know what He is like unless we are shown? To know Him is to trust Him. That is salvation. Paul exclaimed, “I want to know Him.”

I too, want to know Him. And I know my worship of the Lord God will be more meaningful as I come to know more of what He is truly like.

Worship: It’s All about the Relationship

What is the essence of worship? Prayer?  Vocal solo? Offering? Preaching? Is worship spoiled when the music is off-key or the preacher stumbles in his sermon? What is the difference between worship and entertainment?

What is the function of worship? What is it supposed to do to us?

It seems to me that worship is not dependent on an interesting preacher or talented musicians. Rather, it’s all about building the relationship with God.

The purpose of worship is to renew the relationship between me, a sinner, and a gracious, loving God. I believe God requests our worship, not because he is an egomaniac, but because worship builds the relationship of trust, love and dependence. We get to know Him better for who he really is.

It’s all about knowing who I am and Who God is. I need to be aware of His presence – to know I am not alone, to trust Him more. It’s being reminded of my great need, surrendering myself to Him again, and in various ways expressing my love and appreciation to Him.

The danger is that I can sing the songs, listen to the prayer (or even be the one praying for the congregation), follow the text as the pastor explains it – the danger is that I can do all these things and still not experience a renewed relationship with God. Worship is what happens inside me – and us, as we, as a group, encourage each other in this relationship with God.

Have you really worshiped lately? What do you think? I’d like to hear your ideas.