A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/24 John 4:16-24

Imagine meeting a perfect stranger who proceeds to tell you some of your darkest secrets. It would certainly be disconcerting to say the least. You might try to deflect the conversation, change the subject, or flat out deny what they say.

The woman at the well decides to change the subject and take advantage of the knowledge Jesus has by engaging him in a theological debate about worship. It is not a bad tactic. If you want to stir up controversy and get people talking, a debate about worship preferences and theology will certainly to that. The Samaritans were not welcome in Jerusalem nor at the Temple there. As a result they established their own place of worship and the Jews despised them even more for it. The woman wants Jesus, whom she perceives to be a prophet, to settle the issue or at least talk about it.

Jesus makes a startling claim. God really doesn’t care much about where you worship. What really matters to God is that you do worship and you do so “in spirit and truth”. Okay, fine. But what does that mean? Given the setting and context of his conversation with the woman we can draw a few conclusions.

The debate over location for worship is also connected to what things you actually do in worship, what practices one follows. The Jews and Samaritans argued over form instead of function. As long as you performed the right actions, in the right place, at the right times, you were worshipping correctly. Jesus makes it clear that worship is first a matter of the Spirit. You have to be connected with God on a spiritual level to actually worship God. Performing the right rituals without the spiritual reality of a connection with God is useless and actually damaging. Because you are actually fooling yourself into thinking you are right with God.

The second aspect of truth is just as crucial. You have to know who God really is in order to worship HIm. You can have some “spiritual” experience that feels wonderful but if it is focused on a false understanding of God then you are worship a false God. This is where God’s Word becomes so important in worship. It is in his Word, his Truth, that God has most clearly made himself known. It is the God of the Bible who we worship and the more we learn of him through his word, the more amazing, beautiful, powerful, awesome, and worthy of worship he will become in our eyes.

Provocative Worship pt 3: What the Father is Looking For

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

When Jesus had a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she asked a question about worship that was much like those we ask today. We ask what worship style or liturgy is the right one, what music is the most godly, what kind of space is the most holy. She was asking where the right place to worship really was. The Samaritans said it was on a mountain in their territory. The Jews said only in the Temple in Jerusalem could people really worship God. Jesus makes it clear that her question about where the right place to worship might be is a meaningless question. It is not important at all. What is important according to Jesus, is that we worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.

Much has been written on just what Jesus meant by Spirit and Truth and in the days ahead I’ll add a few hundred more words to that topic. But that is not what I deal with here. What amazes me in this passage is that Jesus said that the Father is looking for people to be His worshipers. What an amazing statement. Our heavenly Father is actually seeking people who will worship Him. At first glance from a human point of view that seems like a rather self-centered and even egotistical statement. It has even caused some to wonder if there is some psychological need that God has to be worshiped and that He is in fact a bit emotionally unhinged because of it.

It must be understood that God does not “need” us for anything. He is complete in and of Himself and we can add nothing to who He is. He is not lacking in anything. He has no emotional deficit that causes Him to need us to bow down to Him. God does not need our worship. But we need to worship God. That is the point. We were created to be in a relationship with God. It is a relationship in which we are to love and adore Him with all we are and all we have.

Ever since our fall into sin that relationship of love, adoration, and worship with God has been broken. We have not worshiped God with all we have and with all we are. And that is the problem. We need to worship. We were created to be worshiping beings. Our fulfillment can come only if we are in fact worshiping God to the fullest. But the impact of sin is that we don’t worship God in that way and instead attempt to find our fulfillment by worship something, anything, other than God. If there is any universal character trait found among human beings it is that we will worship something. It may be a totem pole, or a Hindu god, or material wealth, or fame, or sex, but we all worship something. By worship I mean that thing that we all long for and make choices in our lives to have or to serve. Satan has capitalized on our need to worship and uses that to lead us into destructive relationships with false gods.

In his incredible love for us, the Father sent the Son into the world in order to seek out for Himself people who would live fulfilled lives as true worshipers. Far from being an act that served to fulfill a need in His life, God sent the Son in order to fulfill a need in our lives. We need to worship. We will worship something, anything, even if it destroys us in the process. When Jesus came to save us it was not just to save us from sin, but to save us from destroying ourselves by worshiping a counterfeit god. It may be in part what is behind the first of the Ten Commandments that we will have no other God by the Lord Himself. It is a command for our own fulfillment and safety.

I find it at times to be an overwhelming thought that in spite of my predeliction to worship things that would ultimately destroy me, God in his mercy and love risked it all to draw me into a relationship of worship with Him. He gives me another chance to fulfill my created purpose and find ultimate joy and satisfaction. He came looking for me so that I could finally be a worshiper of Him. Not because He needs me to worship Him, but because I need me to worship Him.