Spirit and Truth

“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” - John 4:23


We live in a day where evangelical worship is no longer rooted in the character, glory, and knowledge of God, but in experience. When the music is good and stirs up emotions, we feel more alive and assume we have worshipped God well. When the music leaves us bored and disinterested, many are tempted to feel distant from God.

But is that true? Is true worship of God dependent upon human experience? I do not believe it is.

But before we go any further, I need you to hear me out… Feelings are not the problem  with corporate worship and they most certainly should be present in God-honoring praise. A dull worshipper is a gross contradiction in terms!

The point, then, is not the need to abandon our feelings when we gather and sing, but the need to put our feelings in their proper place. Feelings are not the goal of God-honoring worship; God is. His glory and His renown is why we gather and it is God who should captivate us; not our fickle feelings.

Yet, it’s this all too common and unholy quest for emotionalism that has become the defunct god of many worship services these days. Instead of seeking to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, the maxim for God-honoring worship in our day has eroded into mindless experience.  

Paul Washer has described this phenomenon this way:

“Because of all of this, I would submit to you that it would be better not even to have a Sunday morning service. Sunday morning is the greatest hour of idolatry in the entire week of America because the great mass of people are not worshipping the one true God. They, instead, are worshipping a god formed out of their own hearts, by their own flesh, through satanic devices, and through worldly intelligence.”

Washer is making an obvious point. If the songs we sing do not align fully with who God has revealed Himself to be in Scripture, then we are worshipping a god of our own creation and choosing. That is the Biblical definition of idolatry. Why do we do this? It would seem that we do not really love God for who He says that He is, but only a version of Him that fits our needs.

Is it any wonder God says in Malachi 1:10

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors (of the temple), that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.”

Based on this text alone, I believe God would rather some brave soul run boldly up to the doors of our churches and board them all shut than to allow us to go on worshipping Him incorrectly. Instead of worrying what instruments we should be playing, men after the heart of God ought to be grabbing a hammer and nails, canceling our services, until such time that we can honor God again.

All this leads us to the question that we must wrestle with, how does God want to be worshipped?

Our opinions and preferences aside, does God have a prescribed method in His Word on how He intends for us to worship Him? Or shall we go on like Cain bringing whatever offering we think best while dishonoring Him with our ignorance?

In the passage above, Christ lays out the three-fold foundation for what true and Biblical worship should be. Let’s take a look.  

“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” - John 4:23

The first thing we learn is that

1. The Father seeks true worshippers

God seeks us; we do not seek Him. This is the main reason why the seeker-sensitive movement fails Biblically, because God is the only seeker. Human beings do not seek after God, God seeks after them. This is why it is utterly foolish to create services with "seekers" in mind, because human beings do not seek after God. The Bible says no one, not even one, seeks Him (Rom. 3:11). Instead of attempting to make worldly people comfortable, we ought to make our services pleasing to God! 

For God, “worship” is not a musical tool to attract worldly-minded people to our gatherings. “Worship” is the true and natural consequence of those whom He seeks and He finds. When we are found we worship and not the other way around. This manifests itself in two ways.

2. The Spirit motivates true worshippers

The first evidence that God has sought and found a true worshipper is that He deposits His Spirit inside of them to help them worship. Jesus assumes that we cannot, by our own silly machinations, whip ourselves up into true worship. We need God's help! We may assemble the most talented team of musicians, purchase the best equipment, and put on the best production, but if the Spirit of God does not author our praise; there will be no worship.

The point is simple, if the Spirit moves not, we worship not.

3. Truth undergirds true worshippers

The second evidence that God has sought and found a true worshipper is that they worship Him in truth. This goes beyond mere rote memory to a love for and pursuit of truth that informs at least 4 areas of our lives.

True worshippers endeavor to know God.

If we want to worship in truth, we must know God. If not, we would only be worshipping an image we had created. Instead, God calls us to worship Him in truth, getting to know who He is in the pages of Scripture, in prayer, and by getting plugged into a healthy church that faithfully preaches and teaches the Word of God.

To the degree that you endeavor to know Him, will be to the degree you rightly worship Him!

True worshippers test every lyric they sing against Scripture

We can no longer make any assumptions with the songs we sing on Sunday. We must test everything! Why?

Because it used to be that faithful theologians would compose the songs and then faithful pastors would review them before ever allowing a member of the church to sing them. These men of old cared for their flock by protecting them from untruth and error. In spite of good intentions, this is no longer the case.

Now, Christian record labels use all the same criteria as the world to define what we sing. Instead of drawing on truth, character, and righteousness, they draw more on talent, body size, and tightness of jeans. And, because many pastors generally know very little about the music industry, they sign off on a host of songs that everyone likes to sing but really ought to be forbidden from Christian worship.

This leaves men and women who want to worship God in truth with 2 options. Leave your current church and find a pastor you can trust to pick those songs. Or, learn how to think deeply as a Christian and test every lyric you sing against Scripture itself.

True worshippers speak up when songs dishonor Him

As we grow in our love for God, we will also become more and more zealous for His glory. Just like I would never allow anyone to mischaracterize my bride, we must not allow songs to misrepresent our Lord. John Calvin said it like this:

“Even a dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”

There is obviously a loving and Biblical way to go about that conversation, but the point is to not remain quiet when it comes to truth.

True worshippers joyfully revel in God through song

As we said before, a dull worshipper is a contradiction in terms. Loving God does not produce boring worship it produces whole body praise that flows from the Spirit and is always consistent with truth. For, as we get to know God, by the Spirit’s power, we will grow to love Him more and more. This will cause praise to well up in our hearts to such a degree that we cannot contain it. That is true worship!

So, as you seek to grow more in love with the God who sought you and found you, my prayer is that you would surrender to the Spirit and be vigilant on truth. Do not check your mind at the sanctuary doors on Sunday. Love God with ALL of your heart, ALL of your soul, ALL of your mind, and ALL of your strength! That is true worship!

endall Lankford is the lead planting pastor and teaching pastor at The Shepherd's Church and is eagerly praying for and working toward revival in New England.