“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24
As I have mentioned before, I am not an expert on the subject of worship. I am not sure there is anyone who really is. I am like a man who stands on the shore and studies the ocean. At best, I have waded in up to my ankles. The vast expanse of Who God is and what it means to truly worship Him goes far beyond my ankle-deep knowledge and experience.
What I teach and share is based on what I have learned from Scripture, the works of many godly individuals, and my years of seeking to apply these principles in my life and the life of the church. Yet, it is limited by my knowledge and comprehension and flawed by my own sinfulness. That is why it is always critical to test what you hear from me or anyone else by what God reveals to us in His Word.
A few years ago, I started listening to an Bible on my phone while I drive to work or exercise. I have found this to be a profitable addition to my study of the Word. There are some drawbacks. First, if I am tired, I am not always completely coherent. Second, the recitation moves pretty fast. Third, my mind wanders. So, I can miss things. But it is meant to be a supplement to my study of Scripture, not a replacement. However, because I can listen to large sections at a time, it does provide me with a broad overview of how God works both in the life of His people and in the world.
I am currently in the Old Testament. As I listen, I am reminded of several things. God is serious about His holiness, His law, and obedience. The human race, including the people of God, is incredibly stubborn and rebellious and sinful. Even when we outwardly practice rituals or “religion,” our hearts are often far from God. God is a righteous judge and He is always right when He judges. He is extremely patient in His dealings with us. Every one of us deserves the judgment and wrath of God. God is a merciful and forgiving God. We are without excuse if we do not receive His gift of salvation.
In Deuteronomy 13:1-6, it speaks of prophets or dreamers of dreams who give signs and wonders which come true. These prophets, in turn, then instructed the people to serve other gods. In other words, these prophets are either deceivers or once-servants who have been led astray and are now false prophets or teachers. So, God says that even though the prophet’s signs or prophesies came true, the people are not to listen to them. This seems pretty straightforward and obvious to me. But then, verse 3 really grabbed my attention. It says that God is using these prophets to test whether the people really love the Lord with all of their heart and soul.
Through the years, I have seen many teachers, churches, or ministries that are proclaiming a new “truth” or “experience” related to worship or Christian living. Writing books, speaking on TV, or traveling around the country to offer or seek out some new work of God. At times, I have been such a seeker. Unfortunately, in reality, I doubt that most of these have much to do with worship or God. Some people who pursue these are just experience worshipers – they want the latest and greatest worship or God “experience.” Some are just desperate to find something beyond the drudgery of the ritual or dead orthodoxy they have experienced in “religion.”
I have also seen and heard many who lay heavy burdens of guilt and obligation on others in the name of God. These are the self-righteous who legalistically impose such obligations on others which, in the end, they neither have the intention or ability to comply with themselves. I have found myself to be prone to being an inflictor of such man-made obligations and rules. Many of the rituals engaged in weekly by church attendees could very well fall under this umbrella of efforts to earn God’s favor by our obedience or performance.
In the end, for all of us, these things, and how we approach God in worship each day, test the true state of our hearts. As the passage in Deuteronomy tells us, God uses these to determine whether we really love Him.
In the passage in John 4, Jesus says that the kinds of worshipers that the Father is seeking are those that worship Him in spirit and truth. If this is the case, then it is very important that we try to understand what that means. Worship is an inward, spiritual experience and expression of the heart, ignited by and carried along by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit of God, there is no true worship of God. At the same time, worship is a response to truth about God and is shaped by truth about God. Worship should be an expression of the entire life of the believer and a pursuit after the living God, not a mere performance of religious rituals or obligations.
Worshiping in spirit and truth. As we go through the next couple of weeks, we will dig a little deeper into each of these and to see how they relate to one another. I hope and pray that it will be a fruitful venture for all of us. I pray that when God tests us, it will reveal hearts that love Him. By His grace and strength, may it be so.
Together for His glory…