Monday, March 3, 2014

Worship: It's Not About Where, It's About If

The account of Jesus talking with the woman at the well in John four continues to intrigue me. 

For most of us, what we believe in terms of religion is intimately connected to who we are. It’s something we’re willing to argue about. "This is where I’ve staked my life. This is what my life is founded on. I don’t give it up easily. I’ve made certain assumptions, this is where I am, and it’s dear to me." 

When the Samaritan woman asked where should we worship, in a very few words Jesus reduced the edifice of her belief system to a pile of rubble. It. was. just. gone. She was concerned about where we worship. "Is it there or is it here?" Jesus told her it’s not about where, it’s about if. True worshipers," He said, "shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." I can only imagine how this took her back. 

Worship, in the mindset of the ancient world, took place in the temple. When you went to the temple to "worship," you did special things. You made sure you were "pure," ceremonially clean. David writes long Psalms about the joy of going up to the Temple. It was something that was to be anticipated, a place where you were to meet with God. There are beautiful images associated with it. But the New Testament develops the concept of our bodies becoming the dwelling place of God. The Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to describe human bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is a radical departure from the previous mindset.

When we think of God's presence, where He dwells and where we worship Him, there is much to consider. In the previous post, I talked about the idea of a citizen coming before a King where the King is the sovereign, the King has the power. In envisioning that relationship between a worshiper and the King, worship is a word that conveys the concept of a total lack of will in the presence of the King. It literally means to prostrate before. What can you say about somebody on the ground in front of you? They are totally at your mercy, totally at your disposal, totally in your hands. Jesus adds to that picture the concept of total submission with His words, "in spirit and in truth."

Although we call going to church, "going to worship," and worship can take place there, more literally church is a place where we are reminded of who God is. We educate ourselves, we spend time together in a more concentrated effort to understand what is His will, what is His way. Church is a time set apart from the rest of our lives for that purpose. Does worship happen here? It may, but we should not say in our minds, “I have worshiped God today. I’m done till next time.” We can take the position of worship, we can go through the motions, we can have an extended liturgy which we call worship, but what is going on in our own mind, what is going on within us can be totally different. God’s not looking for form or ritual. He’s not looking for us to just show up in church every Sunday morning. That's not what He desires. Jesus says true worshipers shall worship the Father in fact and reality not in form. It’s far beyond church attendance. 

Worshiping "in spirit and in truth" is living every day, every waking moment with an awareness that I am ever in the presence of my Heavenly Father, and with a sense of submission to His will as the highest priority of my life.

~Much of the content of this post is drawn from notes taken during our Bible studies on Sunday morning. I'm deeply indebted to my church family for continual insight and helpful soul food, and I'm grateful.