Ravi Zacharias is absolutely correct when he says of worship, “It is the sense and service of God.” What does that mean? I want to address today an issue that has become quite controversial in the church. What is that issue? Worship.
You hear countless sermons today on music—whether it be contemporary or traditional. Organs or guitars, choirs or praise teams—and how Christians are tearing each other’s eyes out over their particular tastes. The truth is, music isn’t worship. Anyone who tells you it is wants you to believe a lie. Music can be used in worship, it can be a vehicle of worship—but it isn’t worship itself.
In Chapter 4 of the book of John, Jesus gives us an incredible picture of worship though the way he deals with a prostitute. This is a very loose woman—basically—she wouldn’t be welcomed into most of our churches today (that’s for another day). It is in this context that Jesus tells us about worship. Present in the dialogue are a few issues: First there is Hunger. Jesus is hungry and the disciples have left to get food. Jesus is thirsty. He is at the well looking for something to drink. We see racial tensions. A Jew isn’t supposed to talk to a Samaritan. We see sexual tension. A man shouldn’t talk to this woman, and this woman shouldn’t be a prostitute. It is in the midst of this madness that Jesus teaches us about what worship is. Why? Quite simply, if we ever get God right, the stuff we spend so much time trying to fix, will take a whole lot less time fixing.
Jesus has confronted this woman with her sin. He tells her in verse 16, “Go call your husband,” and in verse 17, she says, “I have no husband,” and then Jesus replies in verse 18 (my paraphrase), “You got that right—you have 5!” So what does she do when confronted with her sin? She does what nearly anyone does when confronted with their sin and the holiness of God: She skirts the issue. She dances around it. She obfuscates.
She wants to move on to the subject of religion.
We need to look at a number of things that are important to realize when it comes to worship:
The first issue to understand is the importance of worship. At the end of verse 23, Jesus says, “For such people, the father seeks to be His worshippers.” Why is worship important? It’s simple: God is looking for it. He is looking for authentic worship and sincere worshippers. It is implied here that these worshippers that God is looking for are hard to find. We have to realize this though: Just because God is looking for them doesn’t mean he needs them. He doesn’t need worshippers, he deserves worshippers.
Psalm 148 says:
]Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
2 Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
3 Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all stars of light!
4 Praise Him, highest heavens,
And the waters that are above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord…
When it comes to human beings, worship is a conscious choice. When it comes to nature, worship is automatic. God created you to be a worshipper, but he seeks you to see if you will fulfil the reason for which you were created—to worship God. What is worship?
Tony Evans says, “Worship is the celebration of God for who God is and what God has done.” It is all that I am paying supreme homage to all that God is. The implication is that worship is recognizing above all, who God is. We must recognize God as God. When people worship, but don’t recognize God as God, he isn’t being worshipped. Worship isn’t taking place.
What is the object of worship? Verses 23 and 24 say: 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is [e]spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
God is the object of our worship—but not a God you make up. He is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many groups who say they are worshipping, but the God they are worshipping isn’t the father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This isn’t worship. God is the father of all creation. Even nonbelievers recognize that. He is the Father of the saints. We recognize that as Christians. But it is the fact that He is the father of Jesus Christ that makes him unique.
If we miss Christ, we miss the Father.
God is also sprit. You can’t worship God first with your body. His essence is not corporeal. This means his is not material. He is a person, but he has no visible body. He is an invisible person. If you are going to worship him, you must begin in the invisible part of you. It is possible to be physically in the place of worship, but not have the requisite heart of worship. God is spirit, and he is dealing with the invisible realm, not the visible.
To put it simply, you may have the look of worship. You may have the smell of worship. You may have the right clothes on. You may have the hand movements of worship. You may even have the right hairstyle or clap on the right beat. Get this right though: If all God gets is your body, you are not worshipping God in spirit. If you aren’t worshipping God in spirit, you aren’t worshipping at all.
Some people will tell you that they don’t feel that they have worshipped unless their body moves. Ultimately, they are saying, “Worship is about how I feel.” This is wrong. Worship is about how God feels when we are done. Unless your spirit moved, it doesn’t matter what your body did. Now, don’t get me wrong, the physical can and should be an important part of our worship to God, but it isn’t the most important. The most important is the spirit.
I see people all the time: They stand up but don’t sing. “I don’t like that song,” or “I don’t like that type of music.” When I see this, I want to remind them that God would say, “Hey! I thought you were singing to me!” To refuse to sing because you don’t like the song dismisses the fact that God may like to have that song sung to Him! Who are you or I to choose? Is the role of the choir to sing to you? No! Its purpose is to sing to God. If you are only coming for you and to sing the songs you like, and to see things that you want to see—you aren’t worshipping God. You are asking God to worship you.
The barometer is this: At the end of the benediction, if God doesn’t applaud—something has gone wrong. God is to be glorified, not us.
You see, God has intrinsic glory. What does this mean? Well, if you put a robe on a guy, he becomes a judge. If you put a white coat on him, he is a doctor. If you put dress blues on a man, he becomes a marine. This is ascribed glory. If you take any of those men, and strip him down and put rags on him—he becomes a bum. Ascribed glory is only given based on a set of circumstances—and it is temporary. This is not what God is. God is intrinsically glorious. This means that His glory is and cannot be taken. As wet is to water or blue is to sky, Glory is to God. It is intrinsic.
The next issue is what could be called, the spheres of worship. In verse 20 we see the woman say, 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
What Jesus says is that first of all, worship is not a place. Worship is a state. It isn’t first about where you are, it is about who you are. If your life isn’t a continuous act of worship, showing up on Sunday at a building with a steeple is worth nothing.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul says that “your body is a temple,” the church of the living God. Put it this way, you don’t go to church—you are church! If the spirit of God is in you, you couldn’t leave church if you wanted to. The question isn’t about what is happening at the local church house, the questioning is what is going on in your internal church—the one that is open for business 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If you think that church is only on Sunday and ends at noon, then you are missing the point in a major way. Worship is a way of life, not a place you go to. Why wasn’t Daniel fazed when the edict was sent out that he couldn’t pray? Today we would gather together and have a prayer service if our religious rights were challenged like that. Daniel didn’t have to have a prayer meeting. His life was a prayer meeting.
The reason many of us are messed up is because the only time we are in church is on Sunday. If we could learn that being in church and worshipping really means us being the people God wants us to be, then we would always be worshipping. We wouldn’t necessarily need a pastor or a choir—we would be the pastor and the choir. When worship is real, you become alive. It becomes like the engine or the car that drives your life! It becomes your oxygen source.
If the only time we break into praise through song is on Sunday, or if the only time we open His word is on Sunday—or if the only time we fellowship with other believers is on Sunday—why is it any wonder that we are anemic Christians? Worship isn’t a mountain or Jerusalem. Worship is you! It has to be you. The spirit of God dwells in you!
What about the problems in church when it comes to worship styles? I will tell you this: Anyone who has no problem worshipping in private, will have no problem worshipping corporately. Why? You haven’t defined worship by a once a week meeting. You have defined it by John 4—your relationship with God. Daniel worshipped in private, that is why he could stand boldly and face the consequences of his actions—and beat them.
This is why the Psalmist says, “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same. The name of the Lord deserves praise.” Your life is worship.
It isn’t about reading a verse day. It isn’t about a prayer you recite before a meal that you could say backwards and still not mean what you are saying. No. It is about saying, “God, I fall down at your feet and I adore you. I sense your presence and I devote my life to serving you!”
When we understand that the meat we cut on our plate was derived from an animal that God made, or when we realize the tea in our glass was made from water and leaves that God made—when we realize the table our food and tea sit on was cut from a tree that god fashioned—we will be able to say, “God, I adore you. You are worthy of all praise.”
The final issue is the essence of worship. Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” To put it clearly, if we are going to worship God corporately and privately, then our worship must be both authentic and accurate. What do I mean? It must be authentic in your spirit and accurate in his truth. Spirit refers to our attitude, and truth refers to information.
God is spirit. What this means is that God is both an invisible, immaterial reality. You can’t see him because there is no matter. There is no matter because he is invisible. Reality doesn’t require matter. Because God is spirit, for us to link our spirits to his, there must be a person with a spirit who is pursuing his. It doesn’t stop there. The person pursuing him must be pursuing him as truth—as the truth revealed in scripture and in the flesh as Jesus. What I am saying is that we cannot make God in our image and expect him to cooperate with our idea of worship. We are made in his image, and we must worship God as truth.
The implication is: The better you know God, the better you worship. Truth exists. There is the true One—God, and there is the true Word—the Bible. We know God because we have relationship with him and because he has revealed himself in his word. Unless we know God personally through the truth of his being, and know about God through the truth of his word, we cannot know him. If we don’t know him, we can’t worship him.
This is why we see so many churches in America today—doing nothing. Some people want an exciting service of worship, but they don’t want truth. Some want all the truth, but they want no excitement in worship. One is emotionalism and the other is dead orthodoxy. Both are wrong.
We are to worship God and serve him out of desire. It is what we are made to do, and when we begin to know God, it becomes what we want to do.
If my anniversary came around and I bought my wife flowers and when I presented them to her I said, “Because you expect this, and because it is my obligation as your current husband, I got you these,” I guarantee you that they would be thrown back in your face. We give gifts because we want to. It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the other.
This is a desired duty.
If we sense God without serving him, it isn’t worship. If we serve God without sensing Him, it is drudgery. God wants your heart and your hands. Not just one or the other.
Many of us don’t get this. This is why you see church members who are sanctimonious in the church building but snakes in the parking lot. Many of these people act as if there is some magic spell in the walls of the church or some magic balm that has been applied to the pulpit. No. If we don’t start to worship outside of the church, we will never be able to worship him inside it. If in the church we sing, “Have thine own way,” and then out in the parking lot we hear, “Get outta my way,” we have just witnessed a religious show that is neither based in spirit or truth.
As Tony Evans notes, “The fuel of worship is God, the furnace of worship is man, but the fire of worship is the Holy Ghost.”
Some of us may not be there yet. That is ok—so long as we are willing to go there.