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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

The Criteria for Worship

By Van Cummings
Mar. 17, 2013

John’s Gospel records one of the most personal interactions Jesus had during His earthly ministry. The narrative also captures some of Christ’s central teaching on our relationship to God.

In John 4, we find Jesus leaving Judea on His way to Galilee. As Jesus journeyed through Samaria, He approached the historic parcel of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and after sending His disciples into the nearby village of Sychar, Jesus sat down at the well to rest.

When a woman came to draw from the well, Jesus engaged her in a spiritual conversation. When the woman recognized Jesus as a prophet, she asked Him about the mystery of worship. She wanted Jesus to resolve the age-old question of where believers should worship (in that very location or in Jerusalem).

Jesus responded by declaring neither there nor Jerusalem should be a priority place of worship. True worship is the act of worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth, and God is on the lookout for individuals meeting those criteria.

God’s people have held many views as to exactly what constitutes worship. Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, combined with a passage in 1 Chronicles 16:29, give us about all the instruction for worship we will ever need. The Chronicler enjoins us to “worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (NIV), and the Lord calls us to “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). These are the criteria for true worship.

In one of the key events of the New Testament, our Lord gave us a vivid reminder that no force on earth will ever be able to prevent true worship (see Matthew 21:1-11 and Luke 19:28-40).

Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst the worship of a crowd of people quoting praise contained in Psalm 118:25,26 and shouting, “Hosanna,” a cry of expectant praise associated with Israel’s messianic hope. The event was a wonderful fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 foretelling that the nation would one day welcome its Messiah into the holy city and acknowledge He was worthy of worship and praise. The religious leaders immediately demanded Jesus silence these worshippers. His reply: “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Jesus’ response continues to teach us true worship is an unstoppable force. History has shown worship cannot be stopped even in the most terrifying circumstances. The following message of hope scrawled on a wall in Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto is believed to have been written around 1942, during the Holocaust, by an unknown Jew: “I believe in the sun, even if it does not shine. ... I believe in God, even if I do not see Him.”

Genuine worship continues to thrive in the face of extreme stress and confusion, even when the rational mind seems to have been defeated. The often-quoted lines of the third verse of the song “The Love of God” were penciled on the wall of a narrow room inside a mental institution and were found after the patient’s death:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Once again, no power on earth can cancel the reality of true worship. When Paul and Silas ministered in Philippi, they experienced strong resistance to their ministry (Acts 16:16-40). A crowd joined an attack against the apostles, then the magistrates ordered them to be stripped, beaten, and finally locked into stocks.

Instead of showing symptoms of defeat, around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. And heaven responded to their worship. An earthquake shook the foundations of the prison, the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.

It apparently took only a split second for true worship to transform a prison into a camp meeting event where individuals were being saved, a baptismal service was celebrated, and captives were set free from visible and invisible chains.

I believe many Christians today are like the woman at the well, puzzling over what constitutes true worship. Many dedicated believers, for example, are convinced worship and standing to sing worship songs are one and the same.

A youth leader recently stated, “We are not having worship in our youth meetings right now because the worship leader has transferred to another ministry.” In reality, the fact the youth were not engaged in singing did not mean they were not engaged in worship ... it was simply an indication worship was being expressed in other ways. When worship is in the heart, it will find expression or the rocks will cry out.

Some believe true worship must take place inside a church, while others insist worship must be in private in order not to become an attempt to impress others. There is no question each of these techniques provides an expression of true worship. Whether in a closet or a sanctuary, it is not possible to stop the flow of true worship. God’s people will always find a way to worship in spirit and truth.

There are many ways to encourage true worship, but none is the exclusive or the only acceptable method of worshipping God in spirit and truth. There is no limit to the ways we may express worship. The way we live life is part of our worship. The love we show to others should be part of our worship to God. The meditation of our hearts and the words of our mouth are expressions of the worthiness of the Almighty.

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6,7).

Is your life consumed with the joy of worshipping God in spirit and in truth?

VAN CUMMINGS is pastor emeritus of First Assembly of God in Auburn, Calif.

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