By Dr. Reginald Blount, Section Editor
In Spirit and in Truth
Did you know that experts say that many of us are literally dying of thirst? Doctors suggest that America suffers from an epidemic of chronic dehydration. It seems we don’t drink enough water. Some go so far as to say that heartburn, headaches, joint and back pain, and fatigue are not true diseases at all but they are dehydration-induced disorders. They contend that we are not sick, we’re thirsty.
Everything tells us we should be drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day but many of us end up substituting something else to help quench our thirst and wonder why we’re always thirsty. We fail to realize that nothing can beat the satisfying, thirst-quenching healing power of water.
This is why John 4 is such a powerful metaphor for worship. Our bodies cannot live without water. We can go many days without food but we cannot go many days without water. In the same way, worship is to the spirit what water is to the body! Our spirit dies when it is denied the opportunity to worship.
John 4 says a certain Samaritan woman came to draw water while Jesus sat near Jacob’s well. Jesus asked the woman for a drink. She’s astonished. Jesus was a Jew and Jews did not have a whole lot to do with Samaritans. Jesus goes on to tell her that she will be thirsty again after drinking the water she is drawing but he says, “whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. She tells Jesus to give her this water so that she won’t have to come and draw water anymore.
Then she says to Jesus “our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” You see, the Samaritan woman knows about God. Samaritans and Jews worshipped the same God but in different places. It seems she only knew what was taught to her.
She tells Jesus, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declares, “believe me woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Worship is defined as “the reverent love and allegiance accorded a deity, idol, or sacred object.” The Greek words for worship combine the ideas of “falling down before,” “paying homage to,” and “serving.” The worship of God involves our recognition of the worth of God and involves the offering of our honor, praise, and adoration to the One who is altogether worthy. We come to worship, celebrate, and offer our love and adoration to God.
Real worship is more than a song, prayer, scripture, or sermon. We gather together in worship to be met by God, the Creator of the universe, the One who sustains our lives, the One who wants to communicate to us, who wants to penetrate our inner self, and who desires to take up residence within us. Worship is a matter of the heart. It is the deepest part of us reaching out to the deepest part of God. We are thirsty and in need of some living water!
Jesus teaches us that God does not care about man-made debates we engage in about what is suppose to happen in church. God does not care about our denominational differences. God is not seeking worshippers caught up in the “what” and “where.” God is seeking true worshippers caught up in the “why.” Why do we worship God? We worship to offer God our honor, joy, love, adoration, commitment, and dedication to the only One who is worthy of all our praise. God is seeking true worshippers who are willing to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Many of us get close to worship but never do it. Our soul is thirsty and our spirit is parched but we never come and fully drink at the well of living water. We endure the stresses and challenges of our week, and on the only day we have off, we drag ourselves out of bed, put on clothes that make us feel uncomfortable, drive through whatever traffic may exist, and come and sit in pews that are also uncomfortable just to see someone else worship. Why would we watch others drink when we have access to the same living water to quench our souls’ thirst? If being a spectator were so good, O my God, what would it be like to actually drink?
Dr. Reggie Blount serves on the faculty of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary as assistant professor of Formation, Youth and Culture. He teaches in the area of youth ministry, Christian education, and congregational leadership. He is also pastor of Arnett Chapel AME Church in Chicago, Illinois. He speaks and teaches nationally and internationally, helping faith communities envision new and creative ways to minister to, with, and in behalf of young people; engage in transformative Christian Education; and foster congregational and community renewal. He is a contributor in Making God Real for a Next Generation: Ministry with Millennials Born from 1982 to 1999 (Discipleship Resources, 2003) and Educating for Redemptive Community (Wipf & Stock, 2015).