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.
We are often distracted worshipers. Stephen Charnock says this, ‘All our thoughts ought to be ravished with God; bound up in him as in a bundle of life; but when we start from him to gaze after every feather, and run after every bubble, we disown a full and affecting excellency, and a satisfying sweetness in him.’ We ought to give God what is rightfully due to him: worship, because of who he is: he is the one true God, but we are distracted by things that flit about: Charnock says like feathers or bubbles floating in the air blown by the wind; or we could say like the snow blown about by the wind in the winter.
In John 4, the woman at the well engages in a philosophical discussion with Jesus, which is to say one which is not grounded in reality. Her thoughts about worship were theoretical because they didn’t actually connect with her actual life. She was a Samaritan and they worshipped on one mountain, and the Jews worshipped on another. However both this Samaritan and the Pharisees who worshipped in Jerusalem have the same problem: their worship is only an external thing. Although Jesus answers the woman, he calls out the hypocrisy. Her ‘worship’ didn’t connect with how she lived. She had been divorced and remarried multiple times. The Pharisees’ ‘worship’ didn’t connect with their lives. They were more concerned about their traditions than how God had told them to worship. Both the woman at the well and the Pharisees were hypocrites, and both were concerned with external considerations versus the heart. The woman at the well hadn’t taken care of her heart in worship. Instead, the fundamental issue of worship to ask a visiting Rabbi was about the true place of worship. It didn’t concern her need for forgiveness; it didn’t concern what was most pleasing to God; it concerned what was the most ideal place to worship.
There are so many layers of issues here, not least of which is this: although the Old Testament law had designated a place where the Israelites were to have their worship, this didn’t actually limit the locations where God could be worshiped. He could be worshipped by Job in the land of Uz or by the Israelites in Babylon. Because God is Spirit and he is not bound by space, there is no limit to the place where he can be worshipped. God is Spirit and what is essential in worshipping him isn’t our location but our way of worship. Charnock defines worship as ‘a rendering to God the honor that is due him.’ We are giving God his due. Because he is the most excellent and glorious, we ought to be ravished by his glory and respond with songs of praise. The way we worship spiritually is laid out for us in the New Testament. We gather regularly together in a physical place as a body of believers. We worship God with songs of praise; we engage in the word of God proclaimed; we involve ourselves in the lives of other believers; summed up, we offer our whole bodies as a living sacrifice to God, and we seek to share the gospel so that the whole world may participate in this glorious worship of our great God and Savior.
It is our desire that our regular gatherings would challenge us in our worship and equip us to grow in our joy in the one true God. May this be our longing and desire.