You Samaritans worship what you do not know … 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 (looks for, desires). John 4:23 (NIV)
I have read this verse many times and always have skipped right to the “spirit and truth” part. But this time I couldn’t get past that word “true.” What is a true worshipper? The adjective, “true,” used in this verse is the Greek word alethinos. It basically means the real deal. It means “that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine.” It is the “opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended.”
Imaginary. Simulated. This reminded me of a flight simulator. You really feel like you are flying in a flight simulator, so much so that you can even get motion sickness and it is used for training pilots and astronauts.
So, is it possible to give imaginary or simulated worship? This is scary to me, but seems important to know, since God is seeking the “true” worshipper. As in a flight simulator, could we feel like we are really worshipping but not be?
Emotion, in and of itself, is not the same as worship, though deep emotions may be evoked. I remember as a teenager back in the sixties a young man (immediately labeled hippie) stood up in the congregation after the sermon and criticized and questioned our faith. The reaction of most was indignation and the next song on the program, the Hallelujah Chorus, was sung pointedly with [self?] righteous gusto. There was a lot of emotion happening, but even at that young age I wondered about the amount of worship going on. John Piper has written that “Right worship, good worship, pleasing worship depends on a right mental grasp of the way God really is.”[i] God is love, and I think true worship in that case would probably have involved loving that guy, no matter what he said.
When we go to a worship service and criticize the songs chosen or the way they are played/sung – if we “just can’t get into it” – what does that mean? We may be having a bad day, but sometimes we may be worshipping worship and its trappings and not God. An example is in 1 Samuel.
When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4: 3 (NIV)
They were worshipping, trusting in, the physical Ark not the God who promised to meet with them above the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25:22), not the One whose glory filled the temple (Exodus 40:34).
“This, the remedy suggested by the elders, was to employ their God as a talisman or charm. The ark was the symbol of Jehovah’s presence among them, and of their being his especial people, and by exposing it to danger they supposed that they would compel their God to interfere in their behalf.”[ii]
Wow, that is very scary and sobering indeed. Is it possible we can do pretended, counterfeit worship as kind of a good luck charm, or, even worse, to try to hold God hostage to his promise?
The woman at the well in the above verse was stuck on the outer trappings, the where of worship: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem (John 4:20).” Jesus’ answer took worship away from a physical place or a building and into the temple of our hearts. What’s going on in my heart?
The word “worship” means to kiss the hand to, like a dog licking his master’s hand, to fawn or crouch to, prostrate oneself in homage, do reverence to, adore. Is there something in you, like in me, that cringes at the “dog licking his master’s hand” fawning, crouching imagery? Something that wants to hang on to some self-dignity and pride? Yet, if I really saw Him “high and lifted up” and let myself realize who He really is, if I really entered into His Presence, and really knew His holiness and my corruptness – wouldn’t I fall down and like Isaiah (6:5) cry out, “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
“With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.” A.W. Tozer[iii]
Jesus said to worship God in spirit (or Spirit) and truth. There has been a difference of opinion on whose spirit, ours or God’s that Jesus meant here. But it doesn’t matter, because it is both. My spirit meets His Spirit there above the Mercy Seat in the temple of my heart. That’s the worshipping God in truth part. Jesus, the Mercy Seat (see Mercy Seat). Jesus the Truth. The one who made it possible for me to come before God. And I am amazed and awestruck that He is right there with the merciful answer to my cry, “Woe to me!” My Redemption, my justification, my acceptance in the Beloved. And I worship Him there.
… let us draw near to God with a sincere (alethinos) heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 (NIV)
[i] What is Worship? https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-worship
[ii] Pulpit Commentary. H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell.
[iii] Knowledge of the Holy. A.W. Tozer. Preface.
Image by SuperJet International – SSJ100_FFS_1, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29394082