In Spirit and Truth
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” - John 4:23-24
When a friend suggested I write this, the words that immediately came to mind were ‘Lack of experience’. As a Christian singer-songwriter, I’ve sung to people and talked about the circumstances that brought the songs into being, but at the time of writing, I have no experience of picking up a guitar (or sitting at a piano) and leading people into God’s presence in a church-setting. So can I, or someone like me, write on the theme of worship? Because that’s what I’m setting out to do. In these pages, I want to share some thoughts on what it is to be the kind of worshippers the Father seeks - those who worship in spirit and in truth.
“The true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”: There seems to be an emphasis on truth here, as there always has been in God’s eyes. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him a question once, He said: “It was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). If we too were to go back to the beginning to find God’s heart, we would see that He has always looked for honesty.
Adam and Eve were in the garden - in a perfect relationship with God, until everything changed. Following his wife’s example, Adam disobeyed God’s command, and ate from the only tree he was told not to eat from. This disobedience, Adam’s sin, severed man’s perfect relationship with God. And when God came walking in the garden, in the cool of the day, He called out to Adam: “Where are you?” There was no pretence. Instead there was a need to come face-to-face with what he had done, and where he now stood with the LORD.
Honesty, then, means relationship. If we are to worship God, we need to be in a relationship with Him - to know Him personally, and we come into this personal relationship through Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and as John 14:6 says, no one comes to the Father except through Him.
When Jesus spoke about coming to know Him, He called it being ‘Born again’ - born not physically, but spiritually. He said: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). Through his disobedience, Adam died spiritually. Through Jesus, on the other hand, we’re made alive spiritually to live new lives in God’s kingdom. To worship in spirit and truth then, we must be ‘Born of the Spirit’, and we must be prepared to be honest with God.
But what is being honest with God? Is it to express all of our feelings to Him, without restraint? I’ve had more than one person tell me it’s okay to be angry with God, but is that the case? And if so, why would Paul say: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger” (Ephesians 4:31)? If we are to let our attitude be the same as that of Christ Jesus, my advice would be to look at Him, and what an example! The more I look at Jesus, the more I see He never complained or lost His temper. I think we need to remember we’re talking about honesty here, not arrogance. Isaiah 45:9 says: “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker ... Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” I actually find this comforting because I see that clay still needs to be shaped. If an emotion such as anger does come in, we have a Father who can help us to fight it - if we’re honest with Him.
Honesty could also be translated sincerity, and this sincerity must come over in the worship we bring to God. At church, there are certain lines in some of the songs that I choose not to sing, if I know I disagree with them. One example is “Jesus, we Celebrate Your Victory”. The writer says:
“And in His presence, our problems disappear”, but do they? I don’t believe our problems disappear, but I do believe life is much easier to handle with God than it is without Him. It’s important to mean what you sing, so if you don’t believe it, don’t sing it.
I may seem to be stating the obvious, but honesty starts from the heart - from the inside. In Ezekiel 13:9-16, God talks to Ezekiel about a whitewashed wall - a wall that looked good on the outside, but was heading for collapse. This reminds me of us. If our heart’s not right towards God and we try to cover that up, or put on a front, it will do us no good. But if we call on God in truth, if we’re honest about our failings, He will sympathise and come to our rescue. Why? Because He can! The Bible says Jesus can sympathise with our weaknesses because He was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus can sympathise because of His obedience to God - the obedience that freed us from death, and made us alive. To worship in spirit and truth, we must be made alive spiritually, and must have that from-the-heart-type relationship with God, which gives Him our lives - to be shaped as He chooses.
The Roots of Worship
“Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him” - John 9:38
What is worship, and where does it come from?
I think of worship as worth-ship - bringing to somebody’s attention how much they’re worth. Although we’re concentrating here on the worship of God, not everybody makes Him the Focus of their worship. Some worship what they have - making wealth their security. Others direct their worship towards people - rock stars, football-players, or people who’ve impacted their lives. Heroes are put on a pedestal, honoured greatly and thought of with much respect. Christians can also be prone to this. I remember Jesus’ words to the early church at Ephesus: “You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4). I regularly ask myself whether I am putting God first, or whether I’m becoming too reliant on those around me for my security.
A few years ago, when I was praying about an issue in my life, I felt God telling me to glorify Him in whatever I did. God’s intention was that He, and only He, should be the Focus of our worship. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He said to Satan: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10), so we see the reason worship was invented was to bring God worth-ship - to tell God how much He is worth. Actually, God’s worth cannot be measured, so words will never be enough to express it.
If we keep this in mind, we may adopt a different view of church-worship. Sometimes the person leading a meeting will say: “We’ll have a time of worship now”, but look closely at the songs they sing, and some of them aren’t worship-songs. Take Hillsongs’ “The Power of Your Love” as an example.
“Hold me close; let Your love surround me”. That’s petitioning God - asking something of Him, but it’s not worship.
“Lord I come to know
“The weaknesses I see in me
“Will be stripped away, by the power of Your love”. Please understand I’m not dismissing these sorts of songs; I think they’re vital. Making declarations like this strengthens our faith, but they’re not worship-songs - they’re not us telling God how much He’s worth. I think it’s important to give freedom for all such songs to be included - faith-strengtheners, songs that make requests of God, and worship-songs.
Can we say, then, that worship is just about singing a few songs? I don’t think so. I believe it’s the expression of what’s in somebody’s heart. In John 9, Jesus healed a man blind from birth, and he worshipped Him. He was certainly grateful for the miracle, and his worship also came as a result of faith - faith in Jesus. He said: “Lord, I believe”; then he worshipped.
Let’s consider for a moment what he believed. This blind man had been a member of the synagogue, before he was thrown out. He probably would have listened attentively, and may have been very familiar with what we refer to as the Old Testament. If he was, he could feasibly have known Deuteronomy 6:13 - the verse Jesus quoted when tempted: “Fear the LORD your God, serve Him only”. If he did know that verse, to call Jesus ‘Lord’ was to recognise Jesus as being One with God, which I find amazing.
In Luke 17:11-19, ten men were cleansed of leprosy. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him” (Luke 17:15-16). As with the blind man, this Samaritan’s bringing of praise to God followed a miracle in his life - worship as a result of gratitude.
There are some, however, whose lives seem to be full of trials. Job was a devout man, and a successful one. He owned oxen and donkeys, sheep and camels; he had ten children and many servants, but one day, four messengers came to him in quick succession. He learnt that his oxen and donkeys had been carried away, and those in charge of them killed with the sword. Next, he was told his sheep and those tending them had been burned when the fire of God fell from the sky. (Actually it was allowed by God, but was of the devil. God had said to Satan: “Everything he has is in your hands”.) Then came news that his camels were hemmed in by three raiding parties and carried off, and those placed over them put to the sword. Finally, he was told of a mighty wind, that blew down the house where all his ten children had been. Each time, the messenger said: “I am the only one who has escaped to tell you”.
On the same day, Job lost all his possessions and the majority of his household. Those remaining were his wife, and the four escapee messengers. Yet Job was a man who could fall down in worship and say: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).
After he said this, did everything change for the better? In the following chapter, we read that Job was then afflicted with painful sores, from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. His life got worse, not better. Even his wife advised him to curse God and die, but I love Job’s response (in Job 2:10). “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Job’s worship came from a heart surrendered to God - a heart that recognised Him as sovereign, and was willing to accept whatever He would allow.
I can remember a time when I worshipped through surrender. The fact I didn’t have a paid job was on my mind one Sunday night. My guitar-playing Scottish friend led us in a heartfelt rendition of “Power in the Blood”, and it was when we got to the last verse that God challenged me. “Would you live daily His praises to sing?” I didn’t have a job, but would I live daily to sing His praise? There was nothing I wanted to say, apart from: Yes I would.
Faith, gratitude, surrender - and our most important motivation to worship should be the words of Jesus Himself, who said: “If you love Me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). If we know that people who worship in spirit and truth are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks, then if we love our heavenly Father, don’t we want to please Him? Don’t we want to worship?
The Way of Love
“Follow the Way of love” - 1 Corinthians 14:1
A lot of us would know what is sometimes called the love-chapter in the Bible - 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind” etc. But what else do we know about love? Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her”. Love is sacrificial - putting another’s interests before our own.
The day Jesus went to the cross, it wasn’t just one person’s interests He put before His own, but those of the whole world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” - John 3:16-17. God’s love sent Jesus to the cross to take our punishment - to die so that we could be saved from death. Surely this should fill us with gratitude, and prompt a desire to serve Him.
In fact, Paul encourages such a response. In Romans 12:1, he says: “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship”.
So, if offering our lives to God is our act of worship, what does this mean and how do we do it? By saying: Your will be done - by aligning our will with God’s will, but first we need to know God’s will. In order to get to know God’s will, we need to read and learn from His Word. John 1:14 says the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. This refers to when Jesus came into the world, and Jesus said Himself: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me” (Matthew 11:29). He also said the Spirit would: “Take from what is Mine and make it known to you” (John 16:15). When we’re Christians, the Holy Spirit opens up the Bible to us - teaching us what it means to live for Jesus.
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). That’s quite a promise, isn’t it? And we will be, in one way or another. If someone mocks you because of your faith, the last thing you want is to pray blessing on them, but we’re told: “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and “Bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14), so if you’re offering your life to God - to live the way He wants you to, these prayers of blessing can be part of your worship to Him.
So can forgiveness. A few years ago, someone close made a hurtful comment because I was doing what I believe God would have me do. I felt unsettled for hours afterwards. I knew things wouldn’t be right until I forgave, so I had a choice - to hold onto my hurt, or to do it God’s way and forgive. I prayed the situation into His hands, and forgave the words that were said. They weren’t erased from my memory, but they don’t cause me hurt, and I don’t have any ill feeling towards the person anymore.
This offering of our lives to God can also affect our finances. You’ve got a bit of money saved up, and you hear of a disaster in a foreign country. You have contact with people you know would be able to help in some way, so what do you do? Proverbs 3:27 says: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act”, so you pray, and you feel God would like you to give a certain amount. As you take the money from your savings - putting the needy before yourself, and giving sacrificially, that too is a part of your worship.
Amanda Suzanne Frye is someone I’ve never met in person, but we’re in-touch through a website founded by the child-sponsorship charity Compassion. On this site, Amanda wrote about visiting Harvery - one of her sponsored children. She said:
“There were a million reasons not to go to Haiti – my companions backed-out of the trip and I had to go alone, it was costly, it took a lot of time, I was nervous – there are always plenty of good reasons not to go. But I am so glad I went. ... I was even emotional at the very beginning and sensed that the Lord was very near in this experience. As I held Harvery in my arms, I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘Amanda, you are worshipping Me’”.
This is a great modern-day example of someone whose heart was in line with God’s heart. Maybe the next time we overlook an insult, or give money to someone in need, we should remember that Jesus would call us by name and say: “You are worshipping Me”.