September 4, 2020
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, 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 the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Did you know that the way churches are worshipping right now is a source of controversy both inside and outside the church? Key leaders and thinkers of sincere faith are on opposite sides of the issue. Some say churches should not gather for the sake of the community. Church services have been “super-spreader” events in several countries this year. There are some who say gathering is an act of faith and not worshipping together is tantamount to sin. Some are not gathering out of fear, some are not gathering out of love. Some are gathering out of faith, some are gathering out of guilt. Many are in between these poles, and some are not on the graph at all, instead feeling confused and uncertain.
Amazingly, this is the exact situation the Samaritans and Jews found themselves in, and it’s a controversy Jesus walked straight into in his conversation with the Samaritan woman. The woman says, “Some say we should worship over here, others say we should worship over there.” Jesus says, “They are both wrong. Where you worship is not the core issue. How you worship is what’s important.” The Message translates Jesus’s closing phrase like this:
God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.
Jesus is also saying that since God is Spirit, we must worship “by the spirit.” In other words, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability and desire to enter into God’s presence and worship him. Neither of those commands – to worship wholeheartedly and by the power of the Holy Spirit – are tied to a specific form or context of gathering. Let that bring you both peace of mind, and conviction. Find peace in the knowledge that wherever you are worshipping, at home with your family or in-person at a church, you can worship as God intended. On the other end, feel convicted that merely “showing up” to church or listening to a sermon podcast does not at all mean you are leading a worshipful life. If you are not being wholehearted, nor listening to the Holy Spirit offering encouragement, conviction, and direction in the midst of your worship, then you are falling into the same trap well meaning people of faith have stumbled into for several thousand years.
In your next opportunity to worship, ask yourself different questions. Not, “Am I comfortable? Do I like this music? Am I safe?” Instead ask yourself, “Am I engaging wholeheartedly? Am I focused and listening?” The answer to those questions will let you know if you are walking in obedience. If you are showing up in person out of guilt, that will keep you from worshipping freely. Stay home and worship in spirit and in truth. If worshipping alone makes it hard for you to focus, find others you can worship with, or find a group of believers who are gathering. But don’t simply go through the motions and assume the context is sufficient. God desires more of you than that.