We worship in a cloud, unfocused though we strain to see and feel -- yet worship what we know within unknowing, all senses clamoring for the Real: -- the One who touches hearts with joy, whose fingers heal the blinded eyes, deaf ears; who feels our hurts because he hurt as human-Godson, heart and soul. -- the One who sees me, eyes alert to know and change me, penetrating always to the core, not fooled by the hypocrisy I put on like a suit, looking good. -- the One who hears me, bending down to listen to my ramblings, sorting out the whimpers from the whines and hearing what the heart most surely needs for health. -- the One who smells the fragrance of my praise, and blends it with the songs of angels to concoct aromas that unfurl in galaxies and waken dances in the stars. -- the One who made the amber sweet of honey, hid cinnamon and coffee in the plants, planned salt's allure, the hot surprise of pepper, invites me now to savor his rich goodness. He is the God of all the senses, never numb to what is happening to his children. I pray: he comes, he bends, he hears, he enters me and holds me in his love.
How was Sunday’s “worship service” for you? Were you able to connect with God and truly honor him? What part of the service prompted that response for you? Or, if you were at home, how did you worship?
For most of my life, the word “worship” became associated with singing and praying, being in some programmed setting. So many times I’ve attended a church service and gone through the motions, singing, bowing my head, following the sermon, ready to go home and get going on my day. Other times I am enticed by a song to actually focus on the wonder of who God is and what he has done. Or the message may jolt me out of my routine church attendance and offer me rich meat from the Word that makes me drool for more, and lifts my heart to God in wonder. I’ve often wished that was what going to church would always mean to me.
Back in Côte d’Ivoire, the West African styles of worship were very different. I was delighted when I discovered that there were times when community dance that accompanied a song praising God would suddenly make my heart erupt with joy, turning to him.
Then, sometimes it is sitting in quiet by the ocean, or by the Detroit River, or under trees in the yard that silence and solitude calm my heart and open it to contemplate the goodness and love of my Abba, my Messiah friend. Even in my private “skyhouse” space (remodeled attic) at home there are moments like that, but it takes focus.
Learning to dedicate a moment to worship, not just intercessory prayer (as precious as that is) has made a huge difference to me. So has digging into the deep writings of people who have taken the time to analyze what the Scriptures say and how we should apply them.
There are so many forms of “worship” that use of the term can be confusing. What did Jesus mean when he told the Samaritan woman that what God truly wants is for people to worship him “in spirit and in truth”? (John 4:23) Both of these are essential.
Sam Storms explains the “spirit” aspect this way: “To say that we must worship God ‘in spirit’ means, among other things, that it must originate from within, from the heart; it must be sincere, motivated by our love for God and gratitude for all he is and has done. Worship cannot be mechanical or formalistic. That does not necessarily rule out certain rituals or liturgy. But it does demand that all physical postures or symbolic actions must be infused with heartfelt commitment and faith and love and zeal. But the word ‘spirit’ here may also be a reference to the Holy Spirit—there’s disagreement among good Bible scholars. The apostle Paul said that Christians ‘worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Phil. 3:3). It’s the Holy Spirit who awakens in us an understanding of God’s beauty and splendor and power. It’s the Holy Spirit who stirs us to celebrate and rejoice and give thanks. It’s the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see and savor all that God is for us in Jesus.”
John Piper agrees that emotion accompanies worshiping in spirit, and elaborates on these truths in his classic book, Desiring God. “God is not worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy. Not to enjoy God is to dishonor Him. To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. . . . I must pursue joy in God if I am to glorify Him as the surpassingly valuable Reality in the universe. Joy is not a mere option alongside worship. It is an essential component of worship . . . Worshiping in spirit is the opposite of worshiping in merely external ways”
I love Piper’s quote from C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle: ”There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.”
So whether we are expressing joy in physical ways or personal prayer and praise, it must spring from our hearts. Worship includes emotions. The Holy Spirit is given us to bring us into a true posture of worship, fueled by the truth regarding the character of God. Knowing God more and more intimately brings trust in him and real joy in his presence. Piper gives a meaningful expression of how this works:
“The fuel of worship is the truth of God; the furnace of worship is the spirit of man; and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude, and joy.(74)
Did you notice that he added “contrition” to the list of emotions? That is because being in God’s presence often reveals a matter that we need to make right with him. His holiness illuminates our need to repent and ask for forgiveness, which then releases us to truly be at home with him, adoring him.
Yes, our worship must be founded on what the Lord has revealed to us in his Word, what the Spirit is underlining for us in the moment. It must never be based on flippant assumptions or “heresy”. As we grow in that process of knowing God and who he is, we will respond in awe and wonder.
“It follows that forms of worship should provide two things: channels for the mind to apprehend the truth of God’s reality and channels for the heart to respond to the beauty of that truth.”
Those channels are the various practices and experiences that incite worship for us. Some of us find that we worship best in quiet moments, alone. But worship in the assembly of other believers is also normal. Depending on where in the world the assembly takes place, and whether it is in a large church or a small group, even a family, it may take on a huge variety of forms. As Adele Calhoun says, “The heart of worship is to seek to know and love God in our own unique way . . . One style of worship is not better than another. The quality of worship emerges from the heart and its focus.”
The core of worship, then, “is to see God as worthy, to ascribe great worth to him.” It is a spiritual discipline, a part of spiritual formation, when we pay attention to practicing it in solitude and in union with other believers, when “our thoughts and words turn to perception and experience of God, who is then really present to us in some degree of his greatness, beauty and goodness.” This changes and strengthens us!
These authors who mentor us so well point out Scriptures that command us to worship and underline the delight we will find in doing so. God is so amazing, and by paying attention to his invitation to truly enjoy his love and goodness, we will find that worship is the awakening of our senses to who he is. Someday we will see him face to face and worship with the millions. But right now we can be with him in that mysterious union that he calls us to, desiring to enjoy him.
Scriptures that push us to worship in spirit and truth:
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4 NIV)
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his1 holiness. (Ps. 29:2 NIV)
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his1 holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. (Ps. 96:9 NIV)
Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (Ps. 99:5 NIV)
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Ps. 100:2 NIV)
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, (Heb. 12:28 NIV)
 Storms, Sam. “What Does It Mean to Worship God in Spirit and Truth?” (Lightstock: March 14, 2020) Sam Storms
 Piper, John. Desiring God, (Revised Edition, The Crown Publishing Groupz; Kindle Edition) ,16.
 Ibid., 74.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 74.
 Piper, 93.
 Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books), 45.
 Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. (HarperSanFrancisco:1988). 177
 Ibid., 178.
2 thoughts on “In Spirit and in Truth”
Nice poem, and I read your thoughts after it. I liked it when you said:
‘God is so amazing, and by paying attention to his invitation to truly enjoy his love and goodness, we will find that worship is the awakening of our senses to who he is.’
Thanks so much for your comment, Tom. Worship is indeed a great blessing and privilege!