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What is true worship?
John 4:23-24 records Jesus saying, “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.” What did He mean?
First, it is important to understand what worship is. Many equate worship with singing music in church. This is one aspect of worship (Psalm 100:2), but worship is in no way limited to song. It is a full life response to the object of our worship. When we truly worship something, it affects the way we live.
One way to look at worship is to think of it as “worth-ship.” When we worship something, we declare that it is worthy (Psalm 145:3). The Greek word used for “worship” implies an attitude of reverence. It also includes such physical gestures as kissing the hand or kneeling (Psalm 95:6). We worship something when we act as if it has value. By nature, human beings are worshippers. Sometimes our worship is focused on that which is actually worthy of reverence (like God). Other times it is misdirected (for instance, we worship our work or our bank accounts or fashion or a political icon).
Worship is a life response to the worthiness of its object. When we worship God, we do so in response to who He is (Psalm 52:9). Our attitudes and actions reflect that we believe the character and conduct of God to be worthy of praise and adoration. At times our worship is expressed through corporate singing, teaching, and giving. It is also expressed in our daily lives through prayer, Scripture reading, acts of kindness, gratitude, pure thoughts, and the like.
Next, we need to look at what it is to worship in spirit and in truth. It is important to note that we do this simultaneously. We do not worship in spirit in one setting and in truth in another. We are in both at once.
Our spirit is the core of who we are. It is the center of our volition and our emotions. We also know that God is a spiritual being. To worship in spirit, then, is to do something that is beyond the physical. We do not worship by simply bowing our knees; we worship through a heart posture (Psalm 51:17). And our worship is in line with the worship going on in heaven (Psalm 148:1-2; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 4:8).
Worshipping in truth means that we worship based on truth (see Romans 10:2). This includes the truth about who God is and what He does, hence why He is worthy of worship. It also includes the truth about our circumstances. We worship God even when we are experiencing heartache. When we worship Him, we do not forget about our hurt, but we worship even in the truth of our hurt. We also worship in joyful circumstances. Truth itself can be a means of worship; we worship God when we declare His truth.
To worship God in spirit and in truth, then, is to declare that God is worthy of our reverence. We do this both through our emotional core and in light of reality. We worship God based on the truth of who He is, the truth of who we are, the truth of what God does, and the truth of what is going on in our world. We do it with a heart inclined toward God and in submission to Him. We worship God when our attitudes, actions, and words declare that He is worthy of our praise.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).
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