What God Seeks from You
A brief look at worship from John 4
A few years ago, the Chicago Tribune reported the story of a New Mexico woman who was frying tortillas when she noticed that the skillet-burns on one of her tortillas resembled the face of Jesus. Excited, she showed it to her husband and neighbors and they all agreed that there was a face etched on the tortilla and that it truly bore a resemblance to Jesus. So the woman went to her priest to have the tortilla blessed. She testified that the tortilla had changed her life and her husband agreed that she had been a more peaceful, happy, submissive wife since the tortilla had arrived. The priest, not accustomed to blessing tortillas, was somewhat reluctant, but agreed to do it.
The woman took the tortilla home, put it in a glass case with piles of cotton to make it look like it was floating on clouds, built a special altar for it, and opened the little shrine to visitors. Within a few months, more than eight thousand people came to the shrine of the Jesus of the Tortilla, and all of them agreed that the face in the burn marks on the tortilla was the face of Jesus (except for one reporter who said he thought it looked like former heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks).
As funny as that sounds and as much as we would never want to be a part of that, it has caused me to ask and I’m hoping it will cause you to ask yourself, 1) Do the people of this church worship the way they should? 2) Are we good at worship? 3) Are we worshiping the right God, for the right reasons, in the right way? 4) Do we even know what worship is?
You say, “Chris, I know what worship is–worship is when we gather to sing and pray.” Others say, “No, it’s when I feel a spiritual feeling in my heart–that’s what worship is.” Others would say, “Well no, real worship is when I sing the hymns of the faith, or the choruses, or when it’s quiet.” Others say, “Only when it’s loud”–meaning it’s only worship when it’s the style I like. Some would say that singing, prayers, offerings and preaching are what make up individual and corporate worship. Still others would say worship is moment-by-moment offering to the Lord as we walk through life, that only intensifies when we gather together. It’s incredibly important that we ask ourselves these questions about worship because of an astonishing fact about God which we find in John 4.
Open your Bibles to John 4 and take your outline and follow along, in order to become a better worshiper. Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well and he says to her some remarkable statements about worship in verses 22 to 24. “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But an hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24God is Spirit, and those who worship Him, must worship in spirit and truth.”
I believe in this passage Jesus establishes the fact that worship is the single most important activity of the believer. Nowhere in all of Scripture do we read of God seeking anything else from His followers. We are created for good works, instructed to evangelize and make disciples, called to holiness and commanded to obey the Word of God. But the people God actively seeks are those who “worship [Him] in spirit and truth.” As the Westminster catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
Because worship is the single most important activity of the believer, this morning I want to challenge you with the quality and integrity of your worship. This is crucial, because it’s not what we know of God that is important, but what we do with what we know. So allow me to ask and answer three questions from John 4. Are we worshiping . . . 1) the right God? 2) the right God for the right reasons? And 3) the right God for the right reasons, in the right way?
#1 Are we worshiping the right God?
In John 3, Jesus shares with Nicodemus, a Jew. Now in John 4, Jesus is sharing with a Samaritan woman, a hated half-Jew/half-Gentile, a half-breed. As we approach verses 22 through 24, we find the woman has been verbally sparring with Jesus. She doesn’t want to deal with her obvious sin of divorce, adultery and fornication, so she quickly changes the subject, attacking the Jewish faith, and trying to put Jesus on the defensive in verse 19. As a Samaritan, she wouldn’t come to Jerusalem to worship, because they were not welcome there–so she attacks the teaching that worship must only occur in Jerusalem in verse 20.
But Jesus says to her in verse 21, very soon every tribe and nation will worship God the Father–everyone together. It will not just be in Jerusalem or Samaria, but everywhere. In fact, the secret to worship is not where, but how and what. Key point–worship is not where, here or there. Worship is not a building (and all this church said, “AMEN!”). Worship is not a place, a location or a time. If you only worship here, then you don’t understand true worship, biblical worship, the worship God seeks. Worship is a process and a person–a how and a what.
Concerning what we worship, Jesus now states in verse 22, “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Jesus is saying, because you Samaritans have rejected the clear teaching of the Old Testament Bible, you worship a god of your own imagination–but we Jews worship the God revealed to us in the Old Testament, who promised to bring us salvation through the Jewish race. Jesus is saying to her, “You don’t worship the true God.”
The first key to true worship, the very thing that God the father seeks from His children is–do you worship the right God? Jesus says, “You worship [a God] you do not know,” a God of your making, an imaginary God–but we worship a God who has revealed Himself, who is knowable, personal, and intimate. What God do you worship?
Is Jesus a good man, prophet or God incarnate? Is He one who has no claim on your life, or is He the one who calls you to love Him more than any other relationship and to show you do love Him by obeying His commands? Is He a God who must make you comfortable and solve all your problems, or does He call you to bear the cross, promise you suffering and persecution? Is He the one who promises you a house and two cars, or the one who asks you to be willing to give up all your possessions for His sake and at the very least to use all your possessions, time and money for His glory?
Which God do you worship? Is it the same God as Larry Flint? On trial for pornography, his last statement was, “If Jesus were alive today, He would read Hustler Magazine.” Do you worship the God of the disobedient little boy who was sent to bed early one night for not eating two prunes on his plate. His parents told him that God was not pleased with little boys who did not eat their prunes and obey their parents. That night there was a terrible storm, with loud rain, lightning and thunder. The mother went in to see if her son was frightened by the storm and as she entered his room, she found him standing near the window with his face pressed against the glass looking outside saying, “My, my, such a fuss over two little prunes.”
Which God do you worship–is He a cosmic buddy, or a Creator Master? Do you worship the right God? You say, “Chris, can you objectify it and make it a little more concrete so I can answer honestly?” I believe I can. Allow me to give you some simple tests.
Test #1 Are you constantly LEARNING?
If the Bible is God’s self-revelation and God is unlimited, then there should always be something new to learn. There are unlimited possibilities. Therefore, do you study the Bible out of routine, or study to know God, to meet God. Do you look beyond the printed page into the face of Christ? Is the Bible a wall to look at or a window to look through?
Test #2 Do you have a sense of wonder?
If God is measureless, then there should be a sense of awe and wonder in your private and public worship. Like standing on the ledge of a tall building with no railing to protect you from falling in, there should be a sense of awe when in the presence of God if we are worshipping the right God. Just look at the apostle John’s reaction to Christ before the resurrection (his head on Christ’s breast) and after the resurrection (he faints in His presence). And look at Peter’s response to a storm outside the boat (the Bible says he was afraid) and compare that to his reaction when he realized that God was inside the boat (the Bible says he was exceedingly afraid).
Test #3 Are you becoming more like Jesus?
Worship is being in the presence of God, and when we’re in God’s presence we can’t help but be like Him. When my boys were young and I was silly at home, my boys are silly. If I was caring, they would be caring. If I have an opinion about some politician, they would adopt it as well. As God’s children, we are the same. As we dwell with Him in worship, we become more like Him. Are you worshipping the right God?
Test #4 Does anything get more focus than Jesus?
Take a spiritual inventory–have you been influenced to worship the wrong God? That is what the Bible calls idolatry. What is that? Idolatry is excessive devotion to anything that takes God out of His rightful place of priority in your life, thoughts and actions. Psalm 50:21, “You thought that I was just like you.” We project on God our weaknesses, faults, and misperceptions–mostly its convenience, comfort and ease rather than running our race and doing spiritual warfare. Worshiper–where is the ongoing sacrifice for Christ in your life?
Back to John 4, the first challenge Jesus gives us is–are we worshiping the right God? Not going to the church of the right God, not knowing about the right God, not owning a Bible about the right God, but are we worshiping the right God?
#2 Are we worshiping the right God for the right reasons?
Jesus says in verse 23, “But an hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” Why do you worship God? Why do you come to church? Why do you have times of private worship? What are the right reasons for worship?
In Exodus 32, Moses is up on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments for ten days. The people down below want to worship, so they cry out for a golden calf–demanding an object be made which would provide visible representation of God. Yes, believe it or not, it was the right God, but it was the wrong way to worship Him. They had reduced God to an image. They were worshiping for the wrong reasons.
In Exodus 32:6 it says that they rose up to play, meaning they gave themselves to an orgy in order to worship the one true God. Israel had come to know the religious practices of the people in the area with their fertility rites. I don’t believe they wanted to do away with God (Yahweh), they just wanted to worship Him in their own style for their own reasons. Yet before we get too judgmental, we too can do that here. We want God/Jesus–we aren’t ready to worship Buddha or Confucius, or to worship our ancestors. We are not ready to bow down to a cow–we want our Lord, our wonderful, majestic, awesome, Jehovah. But at times, we act like the Israelites and want to worship Him for the wrong reasons.
The church, instead of being the place where we come to worship God, becomes our social club to meet with friends, a fashion show, a singles club, or entertainment on a dull weekend. In our day, the Church has become a political platform for social reform, a monastery for modern monks removing themselves from the world, a weekend self-image center in order to feel good about ourselves, a stage for the megalomaniac to perform for his devoted audience, a coliseum to come attack others. Or a 2-hour religious routine in order to remove guilt, satisfy our conscience and play the Christian game.
Why do you come to church? For friends? You have to? It is good business? You get fed so well you feel you don’t have to feed yourself? Or to keep the kids out of trouble? Or do you come to church to lift our God up in worship together like you have been doing individually and as a family all week long? So what is the right reason to worship God? The answer can be found when you study the original Greek words used for worship in the Bible.
First Proskuneo literally means to kiss toward, to kiss the hand, to bow down, to prostrate oneself
Second Latreuo which means rendering honor, paying homage, to serve as a slave serves his master
Of course the English word worship means to give worth, to extend worth-ship. The reason then we come to church is because God is worthy. The reason we worship as a way of life is that God is worthy of all our devotion and focus. We want to bow down before Him, kiss His hand, honor Him because of who He is. We offer ourselves in His service to His honor. Worship is ascribing to God His worth, stating His worth, affirming His value.
Do you grasp what that means? Attending church doesn’t mean you’re worshiping. Singing songs doesn’t mean you’re worshiping. Listening to a sermon doesn’t mean you’re worshiping–why? Because worship isn’t just doing something in the name of God. It is me wanting from my heart to express to God His worth. Stating from my heart to God His worth. Singing to God from my heart His worthiness. Listening to His voice through His Word in order to respond with my life–because He is worthy to know Him, to love Him and obey Him according to truth.
When we come to church for our corporate worship, it’s important to be excited about seeing one another. We’re part of the same family, we have the same father. But the overwhelming motivation has got to be–I’m going to church to affirm to God from my heart how worthy, awesome, and how wonderful He really is. It is our time to corporately gather together and all of us tell God together with our songs, words, prayers, offerings, and obedience how much He means to us.
So many have got the wrong idea about worship–we think it is getting. Church is good if I get something out of it–entertainment, interesting, fun, learn something new. Now it’s nice when church is that way, but that isn’t what church is really all about. Church is all about corporate worship, and worship is all about coming to God to give to Him. The most important thing about worship is not the effect it has upon the one who worships (you), but the effect it has on God, the one we worship.
Read with me Psalm 29:2, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name, worship the Lord in holy array.” Are we 1) Worshiping the right God? 2) Worshiping the right God for the right reasons? And finally . . .
#3 Are we worshiping the right God for the right reasons, in the right way?
Look again at John 4–Jesus is talking to a Samaritan, a third-class citizen. Not a Jew, in fact worse than a Jew. If you wanted to worship God the right way back in Jesus day, you’d ask for a priest from Jerusalem. But the Jews would not allow this for the Samaritans, they said no to the hated half-breeds. So the Samaritans developed their own way and their own place to worship. That’s why the woman asks in verse 20, “Our fathers say the right worship is to worship at this mountain, Mount Gerizim, but you say the right way to worship is only in Jerusalem.”
Jesus has just confronted her about her five husbands and her heart is changing. She is aware of her sin and beginning to realize it’s not the place of worship that matters, but the heart of the worshiper. So as Jesus answers her question of the correct location for worship in verse 21, He will point to the heart, not the place. Look again at verse 21, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”
There is no one particular place for worship–worship is a way of life. Yes, we worship in the church, but that’s not the only place we worship God. That’s the point Jesus is making here. Lady, it’s not where you worship—it’s who and how you worship that counts. So how do we worship our God the right way? Look at verse 24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The context tells us what this phrase means.
One, true worship, the worship that the Father seeks is one–not hampered by physical externals (like whether one prays in this place or that place) of verse 21, but is motivated by an internal heart, offering all we are–the spirit. Two, true worship is not guided by our own ideas of who God is (like what the Samaritans did in verse 22), but operates fully by the definite knowledge of God as revealed in the Word of God–the truth. According to Jesus, what is the right way to worship? What does God the Father seek from you and me?
First to render such homage to God that our entire heart, our spirit, our whole being enters into the act
Second to perform this process only in complete harmony with the truth about God revealed in His Word
This kind of worship will not only be spiritual instead of physical, inward instead of outward, but also directed to the true God as described in the Bible. Real worship is only found in the combination of . . .
1 humble, spiritual heart attitudes balanced with
2 truth and doctrinal soundness
A true worshiper has a heart burning with biblical truth. Do you know what that means? Corporate worship is not what most people think it is. Many people understand worship in the Church as a casual to formal activity that takes place once a week. It is often seen as a form or style or external, rather than a heart/truth response to God. Worship is not stimulated by gimmicks.
Some churches insert a notice in the bulletin telling people not to talk when they come in. That has nothing to do with real worship. Worship is not energized by artificial methods. If you feel you must have formalized ritual, or a certain kind of mood music to worship, what you do isn’t worship. Liturgy can assist or express a worshiping heart, but it cannot make a non-worshiping heart into a worshiping one. The danger is they can give the non-worshiping heart the sense of having worshiped when they haven’t.
Certain styles of music don’t make the difference–certain choruses or hymns, or instruments, or quietness or lights or darkness or traditions can’t make worship. The crucial factor in worship in the Church is not the form of the worship, but the state of the hearts of the individual saints. Our worship this morning is only as good as our hearts before God today. If our corporate worship isn’t the expression of our individual worshiping lives, it is unacceptable to God. Do you worship God the right way? In order to understand the right way to worship God, to be a worshiper that the Father seeks, view your life and corporate worship as an offering to God.
In Psalm 96:8 in the context of worship, the writer says, “Ascribe to the Lord, the glory of His name. Bring an offering, and come into His courts.” Worship is not to be considered chiefly as getting from God–worship is giving an offering. What is our offering? First Peter 2:4 to 5 says, “We are to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” What are those spiritual sacrifices–our offerings?
1. Hebrews 13:15 says a “sacrifice of praise”
2. Hebrews 13:16 says we offer “good deeds”
3. Hebrews 13:16 says “sharing” is an offering
4. Romans 15:16 says our evangelistic work is an offering
5. Romans 12:1 says our whole being, “your bodies”, our entire life, our purpose in life is an offering to God
Are you an offering to God this day? Do you worship the right way–as a way of life, giving your entire life to God? Psalm 47:7 (KJV) adds, “Sing ye praises with understanding.” Worship is not merely an ecstatic experience having no meaning or content. Worship is not a good feeling apart from any comprehension of truth. Worship is an expression of praise from the heart toward a God who’s understood as He is truly revealed.
The nature of worship is to offer God worship from the depths of our inner beings in praise, prayer, song, giving and living–always based upon His revealed truth. Worship involves the Word and the Spirit–the head and the heart, the will and the emotions, the mind and the body, all of you. We are to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. Amen?
How can we please God with our worship?
A Worship God anywhere, anytime and in EVERY WAY
Since Jesus declares that worship is not a place or a style or a kind of music or an instrument, I believe if Christ were here today, He would say to us, “The Father is seeking those who can worship Him anytime and anywhere with any style–whether loud or soft, celebrative or meditative, traditional or contemporary, with raised hands, clapping hands, or folded hands. Worship God standing or sitting, heads raised or heads bowed, with quiet singing or shouts of praise.
Worship the Father anywhere, anytime, all the time and in every way–never pass up an opportunity to bow down before Him, to honor Him because of who He is, ascribing to God His great worth.
B Worship God with your first and BEST
When you seek to worship the Lord in private and in public, since He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, our Savior and Creator, the all-powerful Sovereign Master of the universe, the right way to worship the Lord is with our first and best. Sing with all you have–even a joyful noise. Promise to make no more half efforts for the King. Give your first and best offering.
Be intense in prayer, concentrate on the Word, take notes, talk to God while you hear His Word, make plans to be a doer of the Word as you hear it. Go to bed early on Saturday. Come ready to give offerings of sharing, praise, giving, and your whole life.
C Worship God with your head and HEART
Don’t look for an experience apart from truth, and don’t look for truth apart from a heart passion. Don’t show up twenty minutes late in time for the sermon, as if that was worship and praise and prayer were not. Avoid the two extremes. All head Scripture and all heart experience–give God both in spirit and truth. Let’s pray.