What is Worship
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
What is worship?
Well, first of all, I have a secret to tell you. Sitting here today isn’t necessarily worshipping God.
Today is April 13th and if you’re mind is more on the taxes due Tuesday than on God right now, you aren’t worshipping God.
The beautiful sanctuary with its wonderfully set communion table, the choir and its sacred music, the mighty organ, the fellowship of believers around you, all mean nothing if you aren’t responding to God.
The Lord is here today not because this is a church. Scripture tells us that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. So God isn’t here because this is a church building. The truth is that God’s come this morning because you came, and even if two people come together in his name, he is in their midst.
Where you are at isn’t what matters. It is what is in the mind and heart that matter. See, this worship service isn’t for you. Its for God. And the service doesn’t just consist of me and Jeff and the choir – it includes all of you sitting out there as well. You are not the audience – God is.
So if God’s glance happens to fall upon you sitting there on the stage of this worship service for him, would what you are doing be pleasing? Would you be an enthusiastic participant in our service or only a bored extra?
Is what you are doing today truly for God?
Perhaps the most powerful description of authentic worship comes from the lips of Jesus in John 4. Here we find the Savior in the midst of a deep discussion with a Samaritan woman, the famed “woman at the well.” After speaking of water, both physical and spiritual, and after Jesus tells her of her own private life, she changes the subject to religion.
She hooks her thumb toward Mount Gerazim and says: Our fathers worshiped on this mountain and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.
Jesus skillfully sidesteps the question of location and drives for the subject of motivation in verses 21 and 22. It was not an issue of Mount Gerazim or Jerusalem. Worship was and is an issue of the heart. Jesus says “true worshipers” worship the Father “in spirit and truth.” He says that “the Father is seeking such to worship him.” He says that “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
Worship of God in spirit and truth does not point to an internal, spiritualized worship but to a form of worship that reflects and is shaped by the character of God. “God is spirit” not bound to any place or people, and those who worship God share in the spirit.
It seems to me that churches tend to major on one or the other but rarely are balanced with both aspects of worship. On one hand, you have those who emphasize the spirit to the point of extreme. Jump a pew, laugh your guts out or fall over and pass out. Sway your arms and close your eyes, but it doesn’t matter what you are saying as long as you feel connected to God and the world around you.
But the thing is, it does matter what you say. We are clearly asked to worship God in truth – and speak faithfully to Scripture. What we feel when we are not in the truth is generated entirely by us and not by God’s presence at all.
Just as guilty are those who take such a high view of truth that they have neglected the spirit. Speaking of this, Gene Getz writes, “Our greatest strength has helped create some of our greatest problems.” He indicates that we have so elevated the Bible and Bible teachers that we ignore the spiritual, emotional aspects of worship. He says, further: “Our failure to provide balanced New Testament experiences for believers has resulted in an emphasis on correct doctrine and knowledge of the Scripture, but has neglected other important needs that create mature Christian personalities. Consequently, we have moved toward a sterile, though biblical, orthodoxy—a very dangerous move in the direction of institutionalized religion.”
We need to seek both truth and the spirit. One without the other is folly. Who says we can’t interpret the Scripture with integrity and yet have worship that touches the heart? Our goal should be balance.
Whatever else we might believe about Christian worship, it is essentially and necessarily a response to God. It is our reaction to a God who has initiated relationship with us, reaching out to us in love and grace through Jesus Christ.
Yet have you any idea how easy it is to substitute human traditions for that response to God?
I’ve noticed that there’s some little thing for everyone that makes a church service right. For some it’s the correct hymns, others it’s the design of the sanctuary or the arrangement of the communion table. For me it was the benediction my dad used when I was a child. He used the same one for awhile, and it was about the age when I started paying attention in church. Before long I had it memorized and would mouth the words along with him as he spoke. Whenever he didn’t say it, or we were visiting another church, I noticed the absence and the whole experience meant less for me.
Yet, we need to understand that these are external things. These do help, but they’re not necessary. Having straight candles and a pretty sanctuary are indeed nice, but God is still there if something isn’t perfect. Hearing the benediction I was used to was a comfort to me, but it didn’t mean that God wasn’t there if I heard something else.
Rev. Terry Fullam tells a story about a small-town church in upstate New York. They’d had a rector in that church for over 35 years. He was loved by the church and the community. After he retired, he was replaced by a young priest. It was his first church; he had a great desire to do well. He had been at the church several weeks when he began to perceive that the people were upset at him. He was troubled.
Eventually he called aside one of the lay leaders of the church and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I have a feeling that there’s something wrong.”
The man said, “Well, Father, that’s true. I hate to say it, but it’s the way you do the Communion service.”
“The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s not so much what you do as what you leave out.”
“I don’t think I leave out anything from the Communion service.”
“Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous rector administered the chalice and wine to the people, he’d always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would—”
“Touch the radiator? I never heard of that liturgical tradition.”
So the younger man called the former rector. He said, “I haven’t even been here a month, and I’m in trouble.”
“In trouble? Why?”
“Well, it’s something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?”
“Oh yes, I did. Always before I administered the chalice to the people, I touched the radiator to discharge the static electricity so I wouldn’t shock them.”
For over 35 years, the untutored people of his congregation had thought that was a part of the holy tradition. I have to tell you that church has now gained the name, “The Church of the Holy Radiator.” That’s a ludicrous example, but often it’s nothing more profound than that. Traditions get started, and people endure traditions for a long time. They mix it up with practical obedience to the living God. All of us know that practical obedience to the Word of God takes precedence over our traditions; still, we need reminders.
So, what do you have to do to have worship? Do you have to have a building? A pulpit? A communion table? What do you have to have beyond a people who gather in the name of Jesus Christ, who are assured of his presence with them as they come together to hear the Word and celebrate with their God?
During the middle school lock-in recently, we got up early enough to walk over to the beach at sunrise. We faced the ocean and took turns reading prayers. Sometimes it was hard to hear each other over the sound of the surf. Sometimes words were said incorrectly. But since it was done both in spirit, we each had picked prayers that moved us, and in truth, we had studied about prayer the night before so we knew why we were doing it, our little service was true worship.
We are here to respond to God in spirit and truth. Our worship is for God! Naturally, this lends itself to our praise of God.
Now, let me give you a definition of praise: Praise is the spontaneous overflow of enjoyment. Maybe that’s why praise often seems so artificial in church. I wonder if it’s because our people have rarely understood that we are bidden to enjoy the Lord.
The Lord says, “I delight myself in you.” If the Lord said, “I endure you,” we’d understand it. If he said, “I forgive you,” we’d know we need it. But what he said is “I delight myself in you.” Some days I have trouble imagining why God, who has the fellowship of all creation, would want such a close relationship with you and me. Let’s face it: as human beings we tend to mess up. A lot. Why would he want to fellowship with us? Yet our God says he delights in us.
Here’s the other thing. The Scripture bids us to delight ourselves also in God. In a lot of churches, we’ve never learned that. We’ve learned to keep God in honor and reverence. To a lot of people, that means keeping the Lord at arm’s length. “Don’t get too close,” we say. The idea that we should actually enjoy the Lord seems indecent to people. Church is probably good for you, like medicine. But the idea that you’re supposed to enjoy it or delight in it is not firmly rooted in the hearts of a lot of American churchgoers. Other people in other churches and other denominations have gone way beyond us in understanding that we are to delight in the Lord. Praise is the spontaneous overflow of enjoyment. It’s the heavy on the Spirit part again.
So the real question is: Do you enjoy your God? If there’s no enjoyment there, there’ll be no praise. You may say the words and sing the songs, but there’ll be no praise there. Praise arises naturally. It just overflows when there’s delight in the heart. We Presbyterians have a great catechism, and the first question is this: “What is the chief end of man?” And we answer, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” For once, we’ve got it exactly right. It couldn’t be said better because to glorify God rightly would certainly be to enjoy him, and to enjoy him rightly would certainly be to glorify him. Now, how many of us can answer that way truthfully?
All of life is an act of worship and an opportunity to serve and please God. Your whole life—your waking, sleeping, eating, playing, making music, hitting a softball, making soup, discovering earthworms, worshiping, and serving—matters to the God of the universe. Go out and worship him with your whole heart, doing everything for the glory of our amazing, glorious God!