Recently, I was teaching a class that focused on a general survey of the New Testament. As we were talking about some of the different ways people approach the Bible in general and the worship of the God of the Bible in particular, a student raised his hand and asked the question: “Why is worship such a big deal? Why do people worship anyway?” Good question. Why do we worship?
It may surprise you to learn that everyone worships! Everybody! Everywhere! Worship is the fundamental drive of life. Atheists worship. Infidels worship. Skeptics worship. Even Republicans and Democrats worship (though not always together!) Lawyers, insurance agents, and even Internal Revenue Service agents worship!
All people worship for worship is the fundamental difference between humans and animals. Animals do not worship. They have no sense of the beyond or the spiritual. But God has placed eternity in man's heart, as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us. (Eccl. 3:11) This inner urge causes men everywhere to worship. If they are not worshipping the true God, they are worshipping a god of their own composition. Worship, therefore, is a universal experience.
The word “worship” comes from an old English word which means "to ascribe worth or value to something or someone." Clearly there are two forms of worship. From the Bible’s point of view there is true worship and there is false. The worship of all the peoples on earth fall into these two categories.
True worship is to attribute worth to a real Being, one who is truly there and who is truly worthy. Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote a book called The God Who Is There to make the point that, although God is invisible to our eyes, he is actually there. The function of believers is to learn what God is like and to acknowledge him -- to ascribe worth to him, to reflect upon the value, beauty, and character of God. This is true worship.
False worship, on the other hand, is to attribute worth to an illusion which is not really there, or which is not worthy. It is not worthy of worship because it is merely imaginary. In the ancient world, false worship usually took the form of bowing before idols or images. People created representations of gods, usually in the form of a human being or animal. Then they ascribed worth to it and regarded it as extremely valuable in their lives. They thought the god either helped them in causing their crops to grow or it protected them from some danger or evil. Thus they ascribed great worth to speechless images and idols.
In our modern world, men still worship. Either they worship the one true God, or often they worship some idealized view of themselves. It is amazing how many millions of people worship themselves. You may be familiar with the bold words of the poem 'Invictus':
Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.
That is the worship of self and it is widespread in our culture… so much so, I could write for many pages on the various aspects of this form of worldly worship.
But, what I tried to do, was answer the student’s question by pointing him to Jesus. He is the object of the believers’ worship. We can learn a lot about worship from the lips of Jesus himself.
One time He was speaking to a woman at a well in the town of Samaria. The woman was lonely and miserable after five failed marriages. Obviously she had tried to satisfy herself and her longings by marriage, but it was all to no avail. Obviously she was thirsting for something and had probably reached the place where she no longer expected to find it. Without bothering with marriage she was now simply living with a man.
Reading her lonely heart, our Lord offered her new life using terms drawn from the very place where they were sitting. As they sat by the well, he offered her access to a well of “living water” which would constantly be flowing, springing up to give her continuous life. He told her she could come to it any time and it would refresh her. She did not need to return to the physical well for the satisfying of her soul's thirst. Finally, Jesus said: God is a Spirit; and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
With these words, Jesus indicated the fundamental elements of true worship and the reason people should worship God.
#1 - God is a Spirit and so are we!
We are spirits dwelling in bodies, which in the design of God creates a third entity, called soul. We have personality because we are spirits dwelling in bodies. Our human spirit is designed to communicate and interrelate with the Spirit of God. This is what Jesus means when he says we must worship God "in spirit." He is referring to our human spirit which is usually referred to in Scripture as the heart.To worship "in spirit" means our worship must be genuine and heart-felt. We must mean it and feel it deeply.
Then, Jesus told her that such worship has another quality.
#2 – Our worship must be "in truth."
The God we worship must be the true God. He must be the God who actually exists -- the true and living God.
If you approach God in this way, when you come on Sunday morning, and sing the songs and hear the words of Scripture, your mind will not wander. You will be so caught up in the expression of what is valuable to you -- the worth of the God you serve -- that you will give yourself fully in heart, spirit, & truth to Him.
As Jesus said, "My Father is seeking such to worship him," (John 4:24)
Rick Amerine is the Senior Pastor at Maple Grove Christian Church.