John 4:23-24 – “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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.”
Within each of us is a hard-wiring to worship. We have been created to worship God. Because of the Fall, our worship is distorted. Augustine first coined the Latin phrase “incurvatus in se” which means that our worship is turned in on itself. Martin Luther described this when he said, “Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, being so deeply cured in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them, or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.” What this means is that our worship is ultimately of ourselves. The gifts we attain are for our own sake and not God’s. That is a distortion of God’s design. What this reveals is that our hearts need to be turned to recognize that our worship is to be for God.
Possibly the most famous teaching in the New Testament about worship is what Jesus says to the Samarian woman in John 4. What Jesus tells this woman is that worship will ultimately not have anything to do with geography, but instead it has to do with the head and the heart.
In order for us to worship God as we were created, we need to be changed. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are given a new heart of flesh that replaces our heart of stone, and we are given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our future inheritance. It is through these two great transformations that our worship can be right. Yet, just because you may be in Christ, does not mean that your worship will always align with Jesus’ teaching here in John 4.
The Holy Spirit is the one who opens our eyes and our mind and our spirit to understand the truth of who Jesus Christ is. The Spirit is always pointing God’s people to truth, and so proper worship can never be Spirit-fueled but not truth-driven. Worship that is “spirit-filled” but not truth-driven will be empty emotion, whereas worship that is “truth-driven” but not spirit-filled will be dead orthodoxy. This balance is what we must get right because so many get it wrong.
At times our worship can tend to be so cerebral that it seems we are afraid of allowing the Holy Spirit and the truth of the lyrics to ignite our emotion. As I mentioned this last Sunday, if there is not enjoyment in our worship, then our praise and worship is not genuine. On the other hand, I recently was a part of a more charismatic worship service, where the lyrics of the songs were focused not on the truth of the gospel or the truth of the character of God, but instead were focused on the experience we get from worshiping the Lord. When the lyrics to our songs are focused on OUR experience, that is how we know that our worship itself is starting to be curved in on itself. Our worship MUST be driven by both the Holy Spirit igniting our spirit, and the truths of God we find in the Word of God.