Author: Charles Hegwood
The term ‘worship wars’ has become a prominent and sometimes heated discussion topic within certain Christian circles. While it may be tempting to reduce worship to a debate about musical preferences, we can learn from Jesus how He defines true worship in His conversation with the Samaritan Woman. When reflecting on John 4, we should take the time to think critically about our forms of worship and strive to deepen our understanding of what God desires in our practice. Are we worshiping God in spirit and truth? Are we seeking Jesus as our source of life? Both of these questions jump from the pages of John 4 and are worthy of our consideration regarding worship and life.
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
As Jesus and his disciples journeyed, weariness set in. Thirsty and hungry, the disciples ventured off to find food while Jesus rested at a nearby well. Then, a Samaritan woman approached, unaware that her meeting with Jesus would transform not only her life but also the lives of all those around her. She was about to encounter the source of living water; Jesus.
Why was this meeting between Jesus and a Samaritan woman such a big deal? You see there was hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans had intermarried with the deported exiles of other lands under the Assyrian Empire. The result was centuries of mutual hatred and cultural disgust. This sets up an earth-shaking encounter between Jesus who is a Jewish man and a woman from Samaria.
As we briefly look at the following conversation we will see that Jesus used practical images to make spiritual parallels. He is at a well. He asked the Samaritan woman for water, but the conversation went from practical to spiritual. Jesus began talking about living water. He was telling the woman that He was the source of this living water. People went to the well for life-sustaining water but they would have to come back. What Jesus offered was radically different. The water He offered would be a spring that travels with you. This well is not fixed to one location.
The woman is interested but still does not fully grasp it. And again the conversation moves from practical to spiritual. Jesus tells her about her life’s current condition. She was living in sin and she knew it and Jesus knew it. What she did not know is that she was speaking to the one whom all of the Scripture foreshadowed. He was the one whom every part of Scripture whispered His name. Then the conversation shifted to worship. The woman asked about worship location. She worshiped on a mountain, and the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. “Who is right?” she asked. But Jesus again took the conversation from a practical location to a spiritual one. The conversation ends with the woman telling the village that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus stayed for two days teaching the people.
Living Water and True Worship
Did you catch it? As we ask the question of what is true worship in an age of ‘worship wars’ we must lock in on what Jesus said here. They are having a conversation at a well. A well was and is a location you go to receive life-sustaining water. Now compare this truth with what Jesus is saying. He offered living water that “will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” That is something you can take with you wherever you go.
The true issue the woman seems to have with worship is location. For the woman, it was the mountain she worshiped on and for the Jews it was Jerusalem they worshiped. These were like the spiritual wells people went to receive thirst-quenching spiritual water. And yet they would have to return to the spiritual well in a set location. Jesus offered the woman living water that removes the need for a location. Living water goes with you wherever you go. Jesus is saying the location does not matter, instead it is the source and object of worship that matters. It is no longer about a mountain or a city but a person; Jesus. Worshiping in spirit and truth must start with following Jesus and thus receiving living water.
God is not seeking people who worship at a certain location, but people who seek Him in spirit and truth. The heart of your worship is far more important than the location and mode. People must seek God as the ultimate source of spiritual nourishment and satisfaction. People who worship in spirit and truth seek the Father over the things of this world.
Living Water and Our Worship
As I have already said, true worshipers seek to worship God wherever they go. He then becomes their source of spiritual life. But how does this relate to what style of worship we partake in? Again, let us as Jesus did, move the conversation from practical to spiritual.
Instead of location, insert musical style. Our worship of the one true God should overshadow our preferences in musical choice. That is not to say that the music style is unimportant. There is a place to evaluate certain music, lyrics, and styles. What I am saying is that we must lock in on the theme of this passage, which is that our worship must find its source in Jesus as our living water and seek Him in spirit and truth.
Worship is a central part of our relationship with God, and encompasses much more than music or singing. It’s something that should be done throughout the day, in how we talk to others, interact with friends, and how to act when no one is watching. It is in our reading of Scripture, prayer time, and sharing of our faith. It encompasses all parts of our lives. True worship makes God the foundation and object of everything we do. Let us reflect on some questions. Are we seeking spiritual fulfillment from Christ or from somewhere else? Is true worship being offered in spirit and truth from us? These are who the Father seeks. Are you one?