Four Foundational Convictions About Worship: Part 4
In this final installment of a 4-part series, we’re discovering four foundational convictions that every follower of Jesus should have. Go back and check out the first three convictions if you haven’t yet.
Conviction #4: Worship is about a Person, not a place.
If you google the word worship, you will discover a bottomless pit of information, most of which has nothing to do with worship. Misconceptions about worship abound in titanic proportions. Most people associate worship with what happens in a church building or auditorium. This misconception runs amuck. In fact, this same misconception plagued the people of Jesus’ day.
In John chapter four, we find a Samaritan woman who has a life-altering encounter with Jesus–so much so that as her understanding of worship changed, her whole life changed, and then her entire community changed. See, Samaritans were half- Jews—Jews who had intermarried with the Assyrians—and were therefore despised by the Jewish people. Because Samaritans were forbidden to worship in the Jewish temple, they simply built their own.
When we pick up the scene in John 4, we see Jesus sitting at Jacob’s well under the hot Israeli sun, intentionally defying social and ethnic norms in order to have a conversation with this woman—willingly risking social criticism so that He could restore, heal, and transform her. For this woman, the centrality of worship was based on a place—the temple at Mount Gerazim. For Jesus, the centrality of worship was based on a Person, as He would begin to explain to her. Kindly and tenderly, Jesus began the deconstruction process on her theology of worship that would prove to be life altering.
Let’s pick it up starting in verse 20. She says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:20-24).
This whole conversation now hinged on these two words spirit and truth. What was Jesus saying? Kenneth Gangel sheds some light on this. “We learn immediately that place is irrelevant and that worship is not primarily in body—through physical motions and activities—but in spirit … an attitude of the heart which acknowledges God and his sovereignty over our lives. Furthermore worship must be done in truth—honestly, biblically, centered on Christ” (Kenneth Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, “John,” p. 76).
Jesus’ challenge to the Samaritan woman was simple: If you focus on where, you miss the point entirely. Instead, worship is about who. Worship is about Jesus. Worship is about an attitude of the heart that recognizes Jesus as the center of life, and it must be filtered through the lens of the Gospel–that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman reveals this very important contrast: “Religion describes humankind’s search for God; the gospel describes the way God reached down to humanity” (Gangel, p. 77). Religion limits worship to physical places, activities, and techniques. The gospel rightly places Jesus at the center of true worship. Religion places the burden of “getting worship right” on the individual. The gospel says, “Jesus got it right.”
Maybe you grew up in a traditional church where you weren’t allowed to run around and you had to dress up and wear the appropriate clothing. I don’t want to devalue your experience, and I’m sure it was filled with well-intentioned people. But at the heart of that kind of attitude is an overemphasis on a place rather than a person. And Jesus was basically telling this woman, “You’ve got it backwards. It’s not about Mt. Gerizim, or Jerusalem, or any other holy site. It’s about Me. Only I can fill the deepest longings of your heart, not your religious performance, duties, or checklists. Only I can give you the living water that your heart truly longs for.”
Some of the sweetest times of worship I’ve had with Jesus have been in one of two places….either by myself in the woods, removed from all technology and distraction, or with a group of believers in a third world country like Uganda, gathered under a mango tree in the hot African sun, singing and praising Jesus at the top of our lungs. No nice buildings. No padded chairs. No air conditioning. Just hearts abandoned for Jesus. That’s it.
The story of the Samaritan woman ends with the most amazing conclusion. After she realized that Jesus truly was the Messiah that she had waited for her entire life, John tells us that she went immediately became a missionary to her village. John explains, “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’” (John 4:28–29).
She became an instant evangelist. As her understanding of worship shifted from a place to a Person, her instinct was now to tell everyone about this Person. When Jesus becomes the center of your worship and your affections, you can’t help but tell people. It’s what true worshipers do.
As you examine your own heart, attitude, and understanding toward worship, how does it align with what Jesus taught the Samaritan woman? Are there moments where you erroneously limit your understanding of worship to a particular time and place? Are there moments in your day-to-day life that you fail to identify as worship?
Thanks for tracking with the last four posts as we’ve discovered four important truths regarding true Christian worship.
Number 1: True worship occupies the mind and heart with God. Worship is our response to his revelation.
Number 2: Worship happens in every sphere of life. We can’t separate the sacred from the secular. Jesus is either Lord of all, or He’s not Lord at all.
Number 3: True worship emphasizes being before doing. If there’s one thing you and I need to do more of, it’s sitting at the feet of our Savior. And finally…
Number 4: Worship is about a person, not a place, and that person is Jesus Christ. If Jesus is not at the center of our worship, it is not true Christian worship. Any worshipful expression that is not 100% Christocentric, or Jesus-centered and Jesus-focused, is not biblical worship.