If I asked you to write down a definition for the word “worship”, what would you write? We’re familiar with the word. We use it all of the time. But do we really understand the meaning and importance of Biblical worship?
Let’s look at one passage in the Bible which discusses it. John 4:1-26 tells us, “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Jesus steers his conversation with this woman to worshipping God. Let’s look at the meaning and importance of this by asking a few questions.
The first on is: What is worship? At this point, we need to look at another word – praise. We also talk about praising God. Sometimes, we even interchange the words “worship” and “praise.” This indicates they mean the same thing. Do they?
The website gotquestions.org has an excellent short article called What is the difference between praise and worship? The author writes, “Praise is the joyful recounting of all God has done for us. It is closely intertwined with thanksgiving as we offer back to God appreciation for His mighty works on our behalf…. Praise does not require anything of us. It is merely the truthful acknowledgment of the righteous acts of another. Since God has done many wonderful deeds, He is worthy of praise (Psalm 18:3). Worship, however, comes from a different place within our spirits…. Worship is the art of losing self in the adoration of another. Praise can be a part of worship, but worship goes beyond praise. Praise is easy; worship is not. Worship gets to the heart of who we are. To truly worship God, we must let go of our self-worship. We must be willing to humble ourselves before God, surrender every part of our lives to His control, and adore Him for who He is, not just what He has done. Worship is a lifestyle, not just an occasional activity…. Through worship, we realign our priorities with God’s and acknowledge Him once more as the rightful Lord of our lives…Just as praise is intertwined with thanksgiving, worship is intertwined with surrender…Worship is an attitude of the heart. A person can go through the outward motions and not be worshiping (Psalm 51:16-17; Matthew 6:5-6). God sees the heart, and He desires and deserves sincere, heartfelt praise and worship.”
Praise and worship are related but they aren’t the same thing. Worshipping God isn’t an event or a feeling. It’s a lifestyle.
We need to think bigger about worship.
The next question is: Why do we worship? Jesus started his conversation with the woman at the well by asking a simple question. Will you give me a drink? This seems innocent enough to us. Men in our culture ask women to get them something to drink all of the time.
It wasn’t this simple in their culture. Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean so they wouldn’t associate with them. Plus, according to the Old Testament law, women were unclean during their monthly cycle. Anything they touched was unclean also. Jewish leaders refrained from associating with women as much as possible because they didn’t want to risk becoming unclean themselves.
Jesus didn’t seem to care about any of this. He didn’t ignore the woman. He sought her out. After their initial contact, Jesus steered the conversation to spiritual matters by talking about spiritual water. Then, of all the subjects Jesus could have asked her about, which one did he address? Her sin. Did he then condemn and shun her because of it? No. He told her about God’s unfolding kingdom and revealed the identity of the Messiah to her.
This interaction shows us how God really is. He seeks out the unclean, outcast sinners in the world. People like this woman at the well. People like you and me. Then he confronts us about our sin and offers salvation.
There are many other passages in the Bible confirming Jesus’ mission and purpose. One example is found in 1 Peter 1:8-9. It says, “8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
The main reason we worship God isn’t because he has a plan for our lives. It isn’t because he blesses us for being faithful. The main reason we worship God is because, through his Son, we don’t have to spend eternity in hell. Without Jesus, that’s the destination for us all.
This brings us to our next question: Where do we worship? The hostilities between the Jews and the Samaritans at the time of Jesus conversation with the woman was centuries old. Just like some of God’s followers today, they didn’t worship together because they couldn’t get along. The center of worship for the Jews was the temple in Jerusalem. It was Mount Gerizim for the Samaritans, which was near the village where Jesus met this woman.
People during this time period believed God was more accessible at sacred places, especially if they were on top of a mountain. The higher up you were, the closer you were to heaven. Jesus tells the woman a time is coming when the place of worship won’t matter. People will worship God anywhere.
We now live in that time. We don’t worship God in either Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim. We gather as a congregation to worship at Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren.
The New International Dictionary of the Bible defines worship as “the honor, reverence and homage paid to superior beings or powers, whether men, angels, or God.” Do we come to worship with an attitude of honor, reverence and homage for God when we arrive on Sunday mornings? Do we make an effort to prepare ourselves for worship by reading the Bible, meditating on it and praying before we leave our homes?
Once we gather, do we create barriers which take our focus away from worshipping God? I believe we do.
One way we do it is by conducting business before the service starts. Personally, I don’t like Sunday morning meetings. They take my focus away from being ready to worship when the service does start. On Sunday mornings, I pray, study the sermon notes and listen to praise music to prepare myself spiritually. Coming to church and participating in a meeting changes my focus. I’m no longer spiritually ready to lead worship and preach when I’ve just walked out of a meeting.
Sunday morning isn’t the proper time to do other business either. Don’t ask the church treasurer to write a check or if she got the payment voucher. It isn’t the proper time to complain to the Church Board chairperson about something the Church Board did or didn’t do. Don’t ask the businessman when the technician is coming to service your furnace. It isn’t the time to ask the doctor in the congregation about your latest ailment or to change your medicine. It isn’t the proper time to complain to your pastor about something or someone else. If you complain to your pastor about something a few minutes before worship starts, does he or she have enough time to work on the problem? No. But I’ll guarantee you something else will happen. That complaint will stay in the back of his or her mind the whole time they’re leading worship. The easiest way for you to ruin my Sunday morning and take my focus off leading worship and preaching is to complain to me about something before the service starts.
There was a time in the past when people entered the sanctuary and sat in silence before the service started. This was so they could prepare themselves for worship. I realize that time has passed. But, as you talk, are you talking about things that prepare you to worship? Or, do your conversations contain a lot of griping and complaining? Griping and complaining before a worship service starts doesn’t prepare anyone to come into the presence of God.
Another barrier we create for ourselves on Sunday mornings is announcements. I realize we need to get information to the congregation but there are times when we have way too many announcements and they go way too long. When this happens, you can feel the movement of the Holy Spirit being squelched. I’m going to ask you for a favor. Unless it’s something relevant for the immediate future, please email them to our church secretary. Then we can put them in the bulletin to hand out and put them on the TV screens for everyone to see before worship starts. If you do need to make an announcement, please keep it short and sweet.
Let’s work on preparing ourselves to worship and eliminate some of our barriers. If we do, we’ll notice an improvement in our worship on Sunday morning.
Jesus also said God expects us to worship him everywhere – not just at scheduled services in our congregational facilities. After all, Biblical worship is a lifestyle that comes from an attitude of the heart.
This brings us to our final question. How do we worship? Jesus said in verse 24 that God is spirit so his worshippers -not praisers – must worship him in Spirit and in truth. Basically, true worship happens when we submit ourselves to God and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in everything we do.
We worship God in the way we:
*love each other
*treat our spouses, children, parents and other family members
*do our jobs when the boss is away
*sing, play music, produce art, cook meals for people, clean the church, serve on committees and teams, do any ministry the Lord gives us
*act at the red light and in line at Wal-Mart
*present ourselves at our children’s activities and events.
Worship is the way we live our lives before God. Let’s worship bigger.