In the beginning, before humanity’s great Fall in Eden, worship was undivided. The created worshiped the Creator. Pure, uncorrupted worship of Elohim God permeated the atmosphere in which humanity and all of creation existed. The knowledge of Elohim, the three in One who is One, flowed unhindered between all levels of creation and from that knowledge flowed humanity’s own identity. For Adam and Ishshah (woman) the consciousness of who they were was intrinsically linked to the knowledge of who God is, and there was no conflict.
After eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil the man and woman immediately did two things: they covered their nakedness and they attempted to hide from God (Genesis 3:7,8). From then forward humanity would filter their view of God through the lens of their own shame. And rather than existing in the previous harmony they had known with God, human beings would live in constant fear of being found out and punished by Him. The dynamics of worship had changed. Worship, spirit to Spirit, was replaced by worship through the filter of the human flesh nature. Worship in the truth of the pure knowledge of who God is was replaced by worship designed to appease a false image of Him.
By the time Jesus came on the scene, worship for most Jews had become a matter of being in the right geographical location (the Temple or synagogue), at the right time (the Sabbath and Feast days), to hear and repeat the right things (the Law and the Prophets)….not unlike the worship model followed by many modern, church-attending believers, who make their regular pilgrimage to a revered building on a designated day and repeat Christianised mantras learned from a book or led by a priest or appointed leader.
On the other end of the spectrum modern Christian worship has become a multi-million-dollar industry with its own unique branding, celebrity personalities and latest hits. Masses gather for a worship ‘experience’ that can include raised hands, tears, prostration, dancing, kneeling, clapping and various other outward displays of reverence. (By the way, I have no problem with any of these worship expressions and have worshiped using each of them).
Whatever our preferred worship style may be, the sad fact is corporate Christian worship today is often far more about the ritual, the tradition, the worshipers, the music, the leader, or the atmosphere than it is about God. Unless our corporate worship flows out of a daily lifestyle of personal, individual worship, we may simply be taking part in a ‘feel good’ crowd exercise similar to a secular concert.
The difference between spirit and truth worship and carnal worship goes back as far as Genesis chapter 4 when the two sons of Adam and Ishshah, now called Eve, came to worship God (Gen. 4:1-7). Cain, the eldest, brought a sacrifice from the fruit of his own labor. His offering was earthly, the best he could produce by his own efforts and strength, stained by the sweat of his hands (Gen 3:19). Cain’s produce, drawn from the earth, was no doubt of high quality, but it was the produce of his own toil. It was the sacrifice of a man walking independently of God, who trusted in his own strength more than God’s gracious nature. Cain’s offering was about appeasement, not worship.
Abel’s offering was the best of his flock and it was costly to him. It was unique, irreplaceable and represented personal loss. It was a higher form of life than Cain’s offering, a life that prophetically foretold of the sacrificial blood of God’s Lamb that would one day be shed for humanity’s reconciliation to the Father. Abel’s offering revealed a heart that held some revelation of a life sacrificially laid down and surrendered. It was the offering of a man actively pursuing a relationship with God as his highest motivation, whatever the cost. It was an act of faith, not human endeavour.
When worship becomes an event rather than a lifestyle, regardless of how exhilarating or comforting it may feel, the worship ‘experience’ we so enjoy with others quickly becomes an idol that we mistake for holiness. In reality this experience driven worship is more about our need to feel good about ourselves: feeling like we belong, feeling holy, feeling forgiven, feeling healed, feeling accepted, feeling emotionally ‘high’. There is nothing wrong with any of those feelings if those sentiments are deeply rooted in the growing knowledge of who God is through a surrendered lifestyle. Spirit and truth worship, the kind of worship Jesus alluded to, is a continual, conscious faith walk, out of which our corporate worship naturally flows. Otherwise we are simply bringing God an offering that, like Cain’s, is more flesh than spirit and truth.
The New Testament paints a clear picture of the Kingdom worship desired by God. First it must be ‘in spirit and truth’. The Samaritan woman to whom Jesus made this profound and radical statement had never heard such a concept. She was used to worship that was confined to a certain geographical location and had a particular order and ritual to it. Jesus introduced a purer form of worship that had nothing to do with human control. Worship in the Kingdom He had come to establish was to be solely through means of an individual’s spirit reaching out, meeting with and communing with God, who is Spirit (John 4:5-24).
Paul expanded on this Kingdom style worship, pointing out that God measures acceptable worship as lives continually offered up to Him without reservation or condition.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1 NASB)
The Message puts it this way:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Way back in Genesis Abel got it right (Heb. 11:4). There is no place in this all-out, transparent, naked kind of worship for covering ourselves with our religious efforts while we continue to hold back anything of ourselves from Him . Unless our corporate worship is the transparent outflow of an individual life laid on the altar before God it does not connect with Him.
‘Feel good’ worship may lead us to feel temporarily connected to those around us, but it is deceptive because we mistake its ‘feel good’ sense for holiness. It is self-fulfilling, not God glorifying, and as such is idolatry.
None of us can judge what’s happening in another’s heart in worship, nor should we attempt to. But we can examine ourselves before God and allow the Spirit to search us. Who are we when we are away from the crowds, or the fellowship group, or the worship team? If we are spirit and truth worshipers we will be just as much worshipers when isolated and solitary, as when we gather to worship with others. Deeper intimacy with Christ and the Father will be our highest pursuit and walking in living communion with them will be the continual, joyful focus of our life. If we were to suddenly be isolated on a desert island with no access to any corporate ritual or dynamic musical expression, this would not change.
I thank God for the gifts He has dispersed throughout the Body of Christ that allow us to come together with beautiful songs, heart-lifting, anointed music and other forms of creativity that we love to share in our times of corporate worship.
But true ‘spirit and truth’ worship does not belong to the worship leader, or to the gifted song writer or to the anointed musician. Nor is it dependent on their availability or their level of talent. If we are truly walking in Kingdom worship, with laid down lives before God, if we are not hiding, appeasing or merely seeking self-affirmation, we will also find our own unique spiritual song, psalm or hymn within (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16).
That song will emanate from us wherever we are and whatever our emotional state, like a unique, priceless fragrance that pleases the Father’s heart. That song, I believe, is the song God longs to hear rising from each of us more than any other, whether we are alone in His Presence or worshiping with a multitude.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.