“After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside that night and prayed, ‘Dear God, we had a good time at church today–but I wish you had been there!’”
You’ve probably heard a similar prayer in the worship service, or maybe even thought it yourself. Someone will pray, “Lord, we hope that everything we’ve done here today was pleasing in your sight.” These words have always struck me as odd. Why are we unsure if God is pleased with our worship? Shouldn’t we know for absolute certain that God will be pleased with our worship before we stand before the almighty, eternal Creator of the universe? Seems like step one should be to figure out how exactly the Lord wants to be worshiped and step two should be to worship Him in that way. Sadly, this mindset of, “God, I hope You’re pleased with our worship,” is pretty common. Saddest of all, there are plenty of times when, figuratively, “God doesn’t come to worship.” In other words, He doesn’t approve.
In John 4, Jesus was having a conversation with a Samaritan woman that is very relevant to ours. The Savior explained to her, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (23-24).
Did you catch what the Lord just said? God wants people to worship in “spirit and truth.” If we want the Lord to come into our midst when we’re worshiping Him, then here is the key. The question is, what does this mean and how do we do it?
Worshiping in “Spirit.” The word for “spirit” means “breath, life, soul, wind.” Worshiping God in spirit is less about the physical words, actions, and appearance we show. In fact, if all we give is physical, God has made it very clear He detests it (Matthew 6:1-18; 15:7-9). The idea here is that our worship is from a sincere heart. So, if we’re sitting in the worship service wondering if God would be pleased with us, one area we should have already looked at was our heart. Was our heart focused on honoring, serving, and praising the Lord? Or were we focused on how good we think we sound, or the person signing off key three pews behind us, or our plan that afternoon? If we want the Lord to “come to worship,” then we must make sure we are worshiping with a sincere heart.
Worshiping in “Truth.” Like in other places, the word “truth” here is talking about lining up with God’s standard of truth, His commands. In other words, we are to worship the Lord according to the specific ways He has commanded us. Not only would this include the heart, as we just talked about, but it also includes the specific ways we worship Him. This includes what should be included in worship (Lord’s Supper, Giving, Singing, etc). This includes who is authorized to lead the assembly worship (1 Timothy 2:8, 11-15). This includes the specifics of what should and should not happen in worship. If we want the Lord to be “present for worship,” then our worship must be according to His commands.
But is God really this strict? Wouldn’t God be happy if we had the “spirit” part down more than we do the “truth” part? Notice what Jesus said, “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” (John 4:24). If our worship doesn’t accomplish both spirit and truth, the cold hard fact is, we aren’t true worshipers. So why would we expect God to approve of it? We shouldn’t.
The whole point of worshiping God is to please Him. It’s not to do it the way I like it. It’s not to punch a “worship ticket” just so we can say we were there. We want God to be pleased with our worship. The only way to do it is to worship in spirit and truth. Are we “true worshipers” (John 4:23)?