“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. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” — John 4:23-24 (NIV)
Jesus responded to a genuine question from the Samaritan woman about worship and religious tradition. Jesus and the woman were from different religious and cultural lineages — with different ways of doing things that created barriers between them. Jesus explained that the Jewish people did have it right — that they had been given true instructions from God on worship.
However, Jesus came to announce a new way. No longer would a formal, arms length relationship be the standard. Jesus was creating a way of intimacy — a higher way that God had always wanted. He hinted at throughout the Old Testament. He desired more than sacrifice — He desired a sincere heart. Now Jesus was declaring that the New had come, and that True worship had less to do with place or style, and had only to do with spirit (heart) and truth. It was less about what one’s lips did, and more about the sincerity of one’s heart. Indeed, one can worship without moving one’s lips or uttering a sound.
Worship involves turning our attention to God. It involves recognizing who He is and what He means to us. It is to let thankfulness and praise and honor well up from inside us. Worship can be done with others, or alone. Worship can be done in a formal religious setting or spontaneously while on a walk admiring God’s creation or even while driving a car.
I must confess that I have sometimes been a spiritual snob — an elitist who judged others by my standards for what true worship is. Given the way God made me and the things that typically help me to turn my heart to God — nature, for example, or songs which speak of love for God or God’s love for me, and the slowness of my mind and heart in being turned — I have found that a more traditional style of worship doesn’t work for me. It is way too intellectual for me, for one, and it is way too short, as well. So I have often judged those who prefer that style as not really worshipping in Spirit and in truth, assuming they were limited in their abilities as I was in mine. But I do know, in fact, that there are people who can indeed engage their hearts more quickly than I, and who engage them better through songs with more complex thoughts than I can handle.
I have learned, therefore, that I need to allow each person the freedom to worship in Spirit and in truth based on the way that God created them and which best works for them. However, I also know that there are people in every worship setting and style who are not really worshipping in Spirit and in truth. If you are one of those people, I encourage you to experiment and try to find something that helps you truly worship God rather than going through the motions. The basic principles are as I have already described: bring your heart to a place of admiration of God and thanksgiving for having God in your life and all that you have because of that. As your heart enters that place, worship becomes spontaneous and natural.
Originally posted April 19, 2010