Worship in Spirit and Truth

Hierbij een artikel over aanbidding wat ik enkele tijd geleden heb geschreven. Het was in de context van Crossroads International Church en vandaar in het engels…

There is a lot to say about worship. Nowadays there is whole worship industry going on with big CD labels and ministries that produce more music records then a regular rock star. There are of course good things about these new developments. A lot of worship songs are written and sweeping across the globe. They are an inspiration for many people. The bad thing is though, that we associate worship more or less with big church celebrations with a lot of light, music and good-looking people, rather than an intimate encounter with God. People are finding it hard to worship at the more ‘lost’ places because they are sort of spoiled in church with a ‘pre-fab’ worship experience. So let’s have a serious look at what scriptures tell us about worship. What is worship?

Worship is in the essence intimacy with God. It is our response to the love of the Father. And since we can only respond to what God initiated in the first place, worship is about relationship. Throughout all the scriptures we see that God it not just after our obedience or fear but He is after our hearts (obedience flows out of love revelation and not vice versa). The way Jesus summarizes all the laws and the prophets and everything that God had revealed and commanded is this: Love God. And love you neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27). I love this verse is Hosea 6:6 where God says: For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. So in a nutshell worship is about loving God. To adore, to love. Worship cannot exist in slavery or bondage because then it isn’t worship anymore. Just another ‘burnt offering’. There are several stories in scripture where the people of Israel had fallen again into that religious kind of worship. And God responds with grief. Your offerings stink! You hearts are not there (see Isaiah 1:11-13).

But there is more to say about worship. Let’s have a look at one of the key New-Testament verses on worship. I’m talking about Jesus Himself saying in John 4:21:
“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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 4:21-24)
A couple of things are interesting here. Firstly Jesus is saying that a time is coming that we will worship the Father. God, in the Old Testament, did reveal Himself as a father (Deuteronomy 1:31) but only on occasion. Now Jesus is mentioning God the Father. That implies that we are children and that worship is apparently about children responding to their Father. Then Jesus says basically this: It won’t matter anymore where you worship. The woman is asking whether we should worship God on that particular mountain or in Jerusalem. And Jesus says, it doesn’t matter where you worship. Because from now on the Father will seek worshipers, that worship Him in spirit and truth. They are the kind of worshipers the Father is looking for. And then Jesus adds that God is spirit, so that when we want to worship God, we need to do that in spirit and truth.

What does that mean? Worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. Let’s split them for a moment. What does it mean to worship the Father in Spirit? To understand this we must go back to the moment where God is making His covenant to Israel. Throughout all the scriptures you can see Gods primary desire: To walk and live among His people. For instance check out Leviticus 26:12 where God says `I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be My people.` God wants to be in the midst of His people. He wants to dwell and live in the midst of us. We see that desire in the command of God to build a tabernacle and later on a temple. In 1 Kings 8 we read the story of God taking His place in the Temple. It’s amazing what we read: (verse 10-13)… When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled His temple. Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for You to dwell forever. What does this have to do with worship in spirit? Well, stick with me for a moment. In the Old Testament we see that the temple is the dwelling place of God and it is the place where we worship. If you wanted to meet with God you went to the temple. If you wanted to worship you went to the temple. If you had to bring an offering for a committed sin, or you had a thanks offering you went to the temple. The temple was the place where you could express your relationship with God. Because that was the place where God lived.

And now Jesus is saying in John 4:21-24 that we won’t worship God in Jerusalem anymore. How is that possible if the temple in Jerusalem is the dwelling place of God? Well it is possible when we worship the Father in spirit… It was never Gods intention to be in one place (the temple of Jerusalem) and stay there. How would people from all over the world be able to draw near and meet with God if they had to go to Jerusalem? If the temple is the dwelling place of God then Jesus is already changing things by saying that he is the temple that will be destroyed and raised in three days (John 2:19). God dwelt in Jesus. And then Paul is revealing a mystery in one of his letters where he says: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you received from God (1 Cor 6:19)?
So worshiping in spirit means that we can actually meet with ‘Christ in us, the hope of Glory’ (Col 1:27). We can have a real intimate encounter with God because we are the temple, the dwelling place, of His Spirit. Our body is a temple. Peter even adds something to it for the congregation by saying we are living stones, built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). We as a church are a temple where God lives and moves. Paul mentioned this also in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Can you imagine what happens when we corporately focus on God? When we draw near in His presence and acknowledge that He is `God with us`. We find ourselves in the Holy of Holiest. Where no one was allowed to come.

That brings us actually to the second part of this exploration. What about worshiping the Father in truth? What is that about? Well, if worship is about relationship, intimacy with our creator, than let’s replace the word worship with ‘relationship’ for a moment to see if that brings any light to this question. The time is coming that we will have a relationship with the Father in spirit and truth. That’s already a bit more understandable isn’t it? Of course, we all know that if we want to maintain healthy relationships, truth is the foundation. And ‘all truth is God’s’ (Leanne Payne). Truth works both ways in relationships. God is involved and we are.
Let`s start with God. Worship is our response to the overtures of ‘Love from the Father’ (Richard Foster). God started the whole love initiative. Matt Redman sings in one of his songs that ‘Worship starts with seeing You’ and later on he sings ‘Our hearts respond to Your revelation’. One of my favorite scripture verses comes from the Corinthians chapter 3 verse 18. It says `And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord`s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the spirit.`
We are allowed to see God. Allowed to come in the Holy of Holiest. We are allowed to see God in truth. And when we see Him, we start to become like Him, reflecting His glory. Is that not what we are made for? To wear his Glory, ‘The Glory of God is man fully alive’ (st. Ireaneus) and now the time is coming. Apparently there was a time we didn`t worship in truth. We worshiped with a veil in front of our eyes. A veil between us and God. Remember the veil in the temple of Jerusalem? When Jesus died the curtain of the temple torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). We don`t worship an unknown God. We worship God in the truth of His own revelation. And God revealed Himself in Jesus (Hebrews 1:2).

Let`s have a look at our side of this relationship. But first let me give you a little bit of history. In ancient Greece when an artist made a statue, he made that of course out of a whole piece of stone. And he would just sculpt and polish and beat it and do whatever was necessary to end up with a beautiful statue. But very often it happened that when he was already half way he would accidently hammer away a piece that should have stayed there. He would easily make a flaw or damage the statue. What could he do? Throw away the uncountable number of hours that he put into it? No. What they did was this: They took some wax and they would put it on the flaw. Then the sun would heat the wax and it would melt deeper into the flaw. After taking it into the shadows the wax would be hard again and with just some polishing the flaw was hardly noticeable anymore and the artist could still easily sell the statue. But some artists were so good that they could make a totally perfect statue without any flaw… When an artist did this they gave the statue a stamp. A stamp that said: ‘Sincere’. It meant: ‘Without wax. Totally perfect’. No window dressing. It’s where our word sincerity comes from. Why am I telling this? Well, here comes the crux. If you wax the flaws, the wounds, the sins… or whatsoever.. of your life.. You don’t have a real relationship in truth.. You don’t worship in truth.. If I would lie in my relationship with my wife, would I have a real relationship? Could I be intimate with my wife if our relationship was full of lies? I could probably pretend but more fundamental, could I know myself being loved? So the consequence is this: what would happen if I waxed something in my marriage? It keeps the love, acceptation and grace of my wife from flowing into that place… I cannot receive because there would always be that voice inside me that says: ‘But what if she sees this… Then she wouldn’t love me… And it works the same way with God. It`s not that He doesn`t want to give, but we can`t receive if we hide stuff from Him. Walking or worshiping in truth is also called in scripture ‘walking in the light’: And this is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-8)
This piece of scripture is one of the reasons why I think it is very powerful to confess stuff to brothers or sisters. Because when we do that, we step into the light, into the truth and that is the place where we allow God`s love to reach the places we are so ashamed of. So when we worship in truth we do the same thing. We step into the light inviting God to shine on all the places of our lives. On all our brokenness, I would really encourage you to try this. If there is something in your life you are ashamed of. Step literally into the light of God by telling is to a brother or sister. God’s love, healing, restoration, acceptation, everything will be unleashed to flow into that place… It’s wonderful!

I hope it all starts to fall into place for you. Let me summarize: When we worship in spirit, we confidently enter the most holy place (Hebrews 10:19). We practice the Presence, as brother Lawrence calls it. And when we do that in truth, we respond to God`s revelation. We stretch out to see Him as He really is and we come to Him as who we are. No pretending, no hiding, but brokenhearted and undone. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart. (Psalm 51:17). This quote of William Temple summarizes it also wonderfully: Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the awakening of conscience by His holiness,
Feeding the mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”
When we do this, I believe, a miracle takes place. We find ourselves in the place we are meant to be. We drink living water. Here we find healing, restoration, freedom, grace, forgiveness, courage to forgive, purpose and comfort. It is the blessing of Christ himself poured out on us. That is the mystery of fixing our eyes and life on Jesus.

And this is also the reason why worship is really a place of spiritual warfare. Satan knows that truth sets us free (John 8:32). Truth brings us in the place we are meant to be. Truth about God. And truth about who we are in His eyes. The opposite of truth is lie. The lie is the only serious stronghold that Satan uses to bind us. He is the father of all lies (John 8:44). He wants us to believe that God is different than how He reveals Himself. That He doesn’t love us and accept the places that hurt. Or the nasty stuff you’ve been hiding. And he will try letting you believe that we are different than what God tells us about who we are. And feelings like: ‘I’m worthless’, ‘nobody loves me’… ‘They might love the appearance of me, but not the real me? It’s a lie! And in worship lies are exposed. That is also why worship is so powerful in the spiritual realms. People are brought to freedom.
We can worship in spirit and truth. Also the feeling ‘I can’t do this, ‘I am not spiritual enough’ is a lie. God calls us to this place! I always emphasize that worship is not led by how you feel, but by what you believe. Feelings will come and go. But God’s truth will last forever. So I strongly encourage you to practice this in the corporate worship in church, but also in your small group and your quiet times with God.

Practical Recommendations
So where do we start? Well first these recommendations are not complete. Not by far (the teaching wasn’t also by the way). I am just giving you some idea’s that worked for me. But the starting point is always the same. You acknowledge ‘God with us’. By knowing, believing that God is always present, you focus on Him and start to see Him with the eyes of your heart. A simple prayer helps (for instance in a group): God thank You that where two or three are gathered in Your name, You are right in the midst of us. We acknowledge that You are in our midst and we want to focus on You right know. We long to hear from You. Will you speak to us. Then you could take a moment quietly ‘practicing the Presence of God’. I love to use my imagination in this. You could ‘see’ the room being filled with light as you practice the Presence. Or you could imagine Jesus walking around and blessing every single person by laying hands on them. Feel free to just interrupt moment of practice to simply evaluate what’s going on. So just ask what have experienced and share the thoughts, visions, dreams, impressions, scripture verse that came to mind, pictures, you name it. It’s important that we learn to just share. Most of us think the thoughts we had are not significant or were ‘just my own’. While very often they are not. Things you could do:

  • Worship with music – I do believe that music has a special place in scripture but we can do without. But if you have a musician it’s a great way to worship. Try to see as practicing the Presence and not just as ‘singing songs’. Evaluate thoughts and impressions afterwards. At our small group we always have stuff. Start with sharing the little thing! Don’t be afraid! I’ve been told once that you can only find out if your thought is a stone or seed by planting it. Your small group is the safest place to learn and step out. We once had woman going through quite a rough period and she wasn’t there but we just put a postcard in the middle of our group and we asked God to come and speak words of life for her so that we could encourage her. By just worshiping and practicing the Presence of God at the end the card was full of prophetic words for her and she was just amazingly encouraged!
  • Meditating a scripture verse: Just take a small scripture part and meditate on it praying and asking God to speak through it. Use your imagination. Recently we did this corporately on a Life group training event and what happened was quite amazing. A woman was really touched just by seeing God in that verse and bringing healing and restoration to people. Another one experienced God speaking the verse for his home country Uganda. Another fellow heard God speaking words of life over his own life and another one just had a deep sense of the peace of God.

If worship is about relationship with God, it is about receiving and responding. So there are a thousand ways to shape it. You can paint, listen to music, go into the nature, be quiet, you can write poems or your own psalm, you can read them or use photos, everything is possible as long as you worship, that is, practice the Presence of God.

Be blessed! Don’t be afraid! But stretch out to hear from God. Be patient. We all have to learn this. And become a worshipper in spirit and truth, more and more!