Heart of a worshiper

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The Heart of a Worshiper

John 4:21-24

Preached at CGEFC

August 20, 2006

Open the eyes of my heart – of our hearts.  What does that really mean?  You know we sing these songs of worship on Sunday morning or with the radio day in and day out, but do we really take the time to think through the words and to search the scriptures to make sure what we are singing is actually Biblical? 

Today I am going to delve further behind the words that we see on the screen or read in the hymnals.  What I will say today goes deeper – this goes right to the heart.  It is the heart behind the words – the heart of a worshiper.  If you would, open your Bibles to the fourth gospel of Christ.  We will be looking at a very short passage today in John chapter 4, verses 21-24.

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, 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 spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

In today’s society and within the church (the universal church), we have equated personal opinion with divinely inspired truth. This has created what some have called “worship wars” – and in modern times the argument has been based on whether we should have music during our congregational worship time that is similar to current cultural trends.  Listen as I read a quote by an American pastor regarding new trends in worship music:

“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it's too new. Two, it's often worldly….The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style. Because there are so many new songs you can't learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It's a money-making scheme, and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose."

Perhaps some of you may have felt this way about something new.  As Pastor Don asks us to do last week, we need to be flexible and open to change.  But I think it would surprise you that the quote I read was not written by a pastor in the 21st century, but the 18th century.  He wrote it as an attack against the hymn writer Isaac Watts – who became one of the greatest hymn writers of all time, writing hymns such as “When I Survey The Wonderous Cross”, and “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”.  

As you can hear and tell from this 18th century quote, these so called “worship wars” have been going on for a long time, an as we see in John chapter 4, they have been going on for thousands of years. But the point I am trying to communicate today is not my personal opinion on how we should worship – that is the form of worship.  The point I want to make today is that worship is far more than words and music.  Worship transcends culture and time, because it is directed toward Somthing that transcends culture and time. And God, in the form of Jesus Christ the Son, was intent on breaking down religious barriers to get to what mattered most to him – the heart of a person and in this particular case, the heart of a Samaritan woman.

In the fourth chapter of John, we find Jesus traveling through Samaria on His way to Galilee.  Now Samaria was a despictable place for the Jews.  They avoided traveling through the land because they hated the Samaritans. The Samaritians were a mixed race of Jews who were left behind during the Babylonian captivity.  They intermarried the inhabitants of the land and combined their religious beliefs, while also holding onto some Jewish customs.  When the exiled Jews came back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and city, the Samaritans who now worshiped on Mount Gerazim, wanted a part in rebuilding the city. However they caused much trouble for the returning exiles who wanted to return to temple worship and this deep division was created between the two races.  By the time Jesus came to them, the Samaritans still believed that true worship should take place on Mount Gerazim and believed, as the Jews did, that God had promised a messiah to establish them as an independent nation.

Jesus, at this point in His ministry regarded as a highly respected Teacher, stops at a Samaritan well and actually talks with a woman – a Samaritan woman at that.  He stopped there at the sixth hour, which most likely is around noon.  A woman coming alone to the well at noon was an unlikely occurrence, unless the woman was looked down upon and could not come with the other women.  This woman was woman of courage, having lost all hope and living on the edge of society.  Mark 2:17 quotes Jesus as saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  This encounter is not some chance encounter.  NO!  This whole event is set up as a purposeful, divine appointment for the woman, the social outcast in need of salvation, to meet the One who would quench her thirst for truth and freedom from her sins – the only One who can give her the living water her heart desires.

The woman recognizes Jesus as a Jew and ignores Him until He asks her for a drink of water.  After a short conversation, Jesus grabs her attention by stating the truth concerning her life circumstances – that she has had five husbands and is now living in an uncommitted relationship with another man. The woman calls Jesus a prophet and immediately asks a question – the question that Samaritans have pondered for hundreds of years – where is the proper place to worship?  The Samaritans dwelt on this issue because they felt they were right and the Jews were wrong.  A type of worship war, except this time it is not dealing with form, but location.

Jesus answered her with an unexpected answer, for she assumed He would say that temple worship in Jerusalem was the only way to worship the true God. Instead, He stated that neither the Jews nor the Samaritans had it right, but that salvation would come from the Jews and that the true worship comes from within, not outward expressions.

This must have confused the Samaritan woman.  I could imagine her clamering for words in response to His answer to her question: “Well, uh… I know that Messiah is coming – He will explain it to us.”  She didn’t get it.  How could worship be anything else but tied to a place and through outward expressions – the sacrificing of animals, the ceremonial rituals which Samaritans and Jews did to prepare for worship.  As far as she was concerned, worship had nothing to do with the heart or the spiritual condition of the person.  Rather, in her mind, it simply had to do with acknowledging God so that He would be kind to her.

How many of you feel this way?  How many feel that we must do something to appease God?  I believe that we, in our human condition, fall into the same way of thinking about God as the Samaritan woman.  We come to church (a place), sing the songs, bow our heads, hoping that this would be enough to satisfy God so that He would look favorably upon us.  We recognize, through creation and the Spirit’s work, that there must be a God and we immediately assume that if Something could create all of what we see, including ourselves, then He must be an incredible Something that demands our whole being. 

The truth is – He is an incredible Something.  And the truth is – He demands our whole being. The truth is – we are utterly depraved and unable to give Him our whole being.  The truth is – He knows that.

What does Jesus mean when He states that “true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth”? He simply means this – if you want to truly worship God and be called one of His own, you must accept that you cannot worship God apart of Jesus.  You see, when Jesus said that the time was coming and is in fact now here, He meant that He Himself, the Revealer of God, was immediately available for true worship.  He was telling the Samaritan woman to not waste time, but to accept the truth and to go beyond her conventional view God-worship. 

To worship God in spirit and truth is to recognize that God is Spirit – invisible, divine, life-giving and unknowable except by His own revelation.  He is what we are not and is beyond our comprehension. To worship God is to stand in awe of Him. To worship God in truth is to accept Jesus at His word.  In John 14:6 Jesus makes the claim that He is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.” He is the only Way to God and the only One who can make our hearts right before God.

Some of you, most of you, have accepted Jesus and believe His Word. Praise God for His redeeming work in your life! But even though you may have accepted Him at some point in your life, some of you still hunger for true worship.  You may feel that you are in a rut where prayer has become ritual, and singing songs on Sunday morning is done because that is what is expected of you. 

You see, the reason you may be feeling this way is because worship was never meant to only be about singing songs and praying.  Worship was never meant, even in old testament times, to be tied a place or time.  Worship was never meant to be ritualistic. Instead, worship was meant to be our natural reaction to God’s revealing of Himself to our hearts.

If worship was only about outward manifestations, then the Pharisees in Jesus’ time would have been praised by Him, not condemned.  This is what the Sermon on the Mount was trying to address – it’s about our hearts.  “Blessed are the pure in heart”, not blessed are the ones who acted righteously.  The ones who were acting righteously were the Jewish leaders of that time (perhaps we can use the term Public Display of Righteousness – P.D.R.) – The leaders were displaying P.D.R..  They are the ones who announced their giving, who prayed in pride where everyone would hear their piety, who fasted publicly, and those who focused on building up their worldly fortune instead of building up their spiritual fortune by having pure hearts before God.

Don’t be like the people whom Jesus condemned during His earthly ministry.  Examine your hearts before God and through His Word.  Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to see yourself for how God sees you.  Understand that without the Spirit’s power in your life, you cannot measure up to God’s standards. Turn your life completely over to Him and learn to worship Him in spirit and truth and with your whole being.

How do you turn your life over to Him?  For the Samaritan woman it was a combination of progressive revelation of the Christ and a hunger from within her for deeper truth.  We see this happening in five steps in chapter four.

1)    God approaches us, not the other way around.  God approaches us, not the other way around.  We see Jesus in verse 6 approach her. God comes to us on our own level, it’s not about us coming to God.  He reaches out because we cannot on our own.

2)    The Word of Christ will quench our thirst.  The Word of Christ will quench our thirst. Jesus shares with the woman something that she wants, but she doesn’t fully understand.  We have access to the Living Word in almost any place in this society, especially with modern technologies such as the internet.  We may not understand what we read, but if we hunger for it, God will quench our thirst and shine light where there is darkness.

3)    The Spirit opens our eyes to spiritual reality.  The Spirit opens our eyes to reality. Jesus points out the sin in the woman’s life.  We are all sinners.  It states in Romans 3 that all have fallen short of God’s holy standards.  Like the woman, we all have the need for a Savior.  But sometimes the guilt of sin is hindering us from making that choice to follow Christ.  When the Spirit, in this case it was the Spirit through Jesus, shines light on our sin and opens our eyes to see ourselves for who we really are, then we fully recognize that the need is there and we are at a place mentally and spiritually to go further.

4)    The Spirit prepares us intellectually as well as emotionally.  The Spirit prepares us intellectually as well as emotionally.  Jesus patiently answers the woman’s question in order to teach her.  Sometimes our hearts are ready for salvation and discipleship, but our minds are not there.  The Christian faith is not about the heart only, but it is also about engaging the reality of God intellectually. Jesus knew this woman’s question about worship was sincere – she desired to truly worship God, yet she was not looking at worship from God’s perspective.  Jesus shared with her God’s desire for a true worshiper so that she would be intellectually ready for salvation and true God-worship.

5)    Once we are ready emotionally and intellectually to respond, the reality of forgiveness and eternal life is fully revealed through the Person of Jesus Christ. The reality of forgiveness and eternal life is fully revealed through the Person of Jesus Christ. In verse 26, Jesus fully reveals Himself as the Messiah and she responds in belief.  Not only does the woman respond in belief, but she, in an act of heroic courage, shares her testimony with a society that has basically banned her and looked down upon her for years.  She responds in worship by sharing the Good News she received from Christ Himself.  And it states in verse 39 that “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed because of her testimony”, and continuing in verse 40 it says that the Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them to teach them and it says that many more came to faith.

Turning your life over to God, becoming a true worshiper and avoiding the P.D.R. disease is realizing that God comes to our level, that He has promised that His Word will quench our thirst for truth, we need to pray for our own eyes to be opened to spiritual reality, that the Spirit will prepare us intellectually and emotionally and that Jesus will fully reveal Himself when you are ready.

We are all made to worship something. This is evident in every aspect of culture – where wee see people worshiping athletes, musicians, politicians, money, objects of value – we were created to worship – our hearts yearn to worship something.  The question is, are you involved in true worship?  Are you the true worshipper that the Father is seeking?

As I close, I would like to ask the music team to come forward to help point us toward God through songs, and as they get ready I would like to remind you again that worship is not about whether we should sing modern or historical music.   It is not about singing songs at all or about coming to a church building to show our PDR.  Instead it is about coming before God, acknowledging that He is Creator and that we are His creation, and then going a step further – seeing ourselves for who we are and seeing Him for who He is we humbly accept His gift and we respond - in praise and adoration.


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