I’ve been asking myself the question, “What is true, God-honoring worship?” and I keep going back to that conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well. To me it’s an example of a person catching a glimpse of God’s glory-in-the-flesh, the lifting of veils and becoming a true worshiper. I’m particularly drawn to Jesus’ statement:
But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
You’ll recall, Jesus had started to get a little too personal, so the lady changed the subject to religion. “You Jews have the Temple and we have the mountain. Who’s right? Who worships better? Who has the better worship, us or you Jews?” Jesus answers, “Neither. True worship isn’t about any of that.”
Forgive me if I’m stretching this a bit, but this reminds me of the “worship wars” that have been waged ever since contemporary worship showed up three decades. “What style of worship works best today?”… Contemplative? Liturgical? Classical? Traditional? Contemporary? Gospel soul? Hip-hop? Country? Rock? Choirs? Bands? Orchestras, No music at all?… and “Which church group has the best worship music?”… Maranatha? Vineyard? Hillsong? Bethel? Jesus Culture? Brooklyn Tabernacle?… “What kind of worship music is most God-honoring and Spirit powerful?”… Hymns? Choruses? Praise? Anthems? Intimate?
Wrong question. I think it all boils down to the meaning of “worshipping in spirit and truth”. What if it’s somehow connected to the conversation we’ve been having on the glory of God and mirrors? What if worship in spirit and truth is shorthand for “worship that glorifies God”?
Here’s my perspective: All of Christian living is a response. Our love for God is actually “answering love” or mirroring love; a love that responds to God who loves us first. Everything in life is meant to be a response to who God is and does for us; reflecting, mirroring the love we’ve received. The Westminster Catechism states that we’ve been placed here on earth to glorify and enjoy God; to be mirrors reflecting his greatness and goodness to the world. Christian worship and prayer are always and only a response to God’s grace and mercy already at work in the world around us and at work in our lives.
Since worship is a response to God, true worship in spirit and truth starts with us catching a glimpse of God’s glory like Isaiah when he had the vision of the angels circling God’s throne. William Temple said,
“To worship is to quicken the conscience (become aware of) by the holiness of God, to feed the mind (to grasp) with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God (to catch a glimpse of), to open the heart to (captivated by) the love of God and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
Jesus removed the veil. He fully revealed the Father in order to offer the truth necessary to worship the Father. He knows if we can’t see Him clearly, we won’t worship properly. To worship in truth is worship that flows from our relationship with Jesus, the Truth. So this truth empowers us to worship. This is the foundation of worship. Worshiping God in this way empowers you to express your love in profound ways. Your worship is no longer a way of coercing God; a way of getting his attention or winning his affection. It’s a response of love and devotion…
To worship in spirit and in truth is not a matter of form, genre, or style. It’s worship that involves heart and mind; truth and spirit. It engages our whole life – not just singing some songs for thirty minutes on Sunday or in a home group. It encompasses our entire, ordinary, everyday life. Brother Lawrence scrubbing pots and pans was worship… In other words worship is first and foremost a way of life (“all-of-life worship”) – public, family, and private. We’re to glorify and enjoy God in all of life.
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Now with this larger, all-encompassing perspective of true worship that connects spirit and truth, reflecting God’s glorify and becoming mirrors, consider the following on what is and is not true worship:
True worship is not entertainment. A.W. Tozer wrote:
“A church that can’t worship must be entertained; and people who can’t lead a church to worship must provide entertainment.”
The goal of true worship should be to glorify God. It should reveal, reflect, put me in touch with God; it should glorify God by putting his holiness on display…
True worship is not about me and for me. It’s not about what I get out of it; it’s not a weekly experience I consume for my own benefit. I shouldn’t apply a “taste test” to worship…
True worship is about giving not getting…
True worship is something I choose to do, its not done to me; a decision I make, no one else can make me worship (I can’t be coerced, manipulated, or guilted into true worship)…
True worship isn’t an escape from reality, it puts me in the presence of Reality. It’s not a worship-fix, a pick-me-up or as a feel good moment. My emotions have nothing to do with it although it touches my emotions and that’s good…
True worship is about God and for God alone…
And here’s my word as a pastor to worship leaders: In my opinion the job of a worship leader is to be a mirror so the congregation can catch a glimpse and get a taste of the wonder and beauty of God’s holiness. Your role is to lead people into wonder and adoration for all God is and does. So ask yourself:
“Who gets the attention when I lead worship, Jesus or me? Am I a mirror or a veil? A lead worshipper or a cheerleader? A signpost or a distraction?”
“Is my worship true? Is it personal and honest or am I simply performing?”
“Am I willing to decrease so that Christ might increase?” (Sometimes less is more in true worship)
Is there something you can do in order to make sure your worship leading glorifies and honors God? There’s something even more important than practice and rehearsals…The best preparation for leading true God-honoring, transformational worship in spirit and truth – worship that’s life-changing and makes our lives better – is living a God-honoring, transformational life yourself.
That simply means that getting ordinary, unspectacular, everyday life right is your highest form of worship. There is meaning to the ordinary, in the everyday, in being responsible for and alert to what we’ve been given to do at home, in our marriages, in the workplace, with our neighbors, when we’re alone. If you fail at this nothing you do in public ministering, regardless of how talented and gifted you are, matters.
This addresses the issue of spiritual formation, discipleship and character, which undergirds our entire life including ministry. John Wimber once commented on this: “… some of our worship community are not well prepared… little has been said to them about the need for godliness, spirituality and depth of maturity in their individual and family lives. Quite frankly, many of our musicians are just not steeped in a daily spirituality… (they are) just not ready to be used by God in a public way…” (from Worshiping With The Anaheim Vineyard, by Andy Park, Lester Ruth, and Cindy Rethmeier).
Getting ordinary, unspectacular, everyday life right is our highest form of worship. In other words to truly worship God in spirit and truth we must learn to master the ordinary. Being able to pay our bills and taxes, show up to work on time, keep our word, tell the truth, and be a good friend and neighbor – all the little things that go into living a responsible, dependable, honest, helpful, humble, generous, God-honoring life. And with the help of the Holy Spirit you can…