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What is true Worship?

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In our previous episode of Caleb’s Journal we laid down some of the context of the story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well of Sychar.

We saw how the location where the encounter occurred was a place which demonstrated the faithfulness of God. It was a place of promise, commitment and worship.

By connecting the Samaritan Woman’s thirst with her quest for righteousness, and identifying the well as symbolising the old covenant we can understand why Jesus said that all who drank from this source would remain unsatisfied.

Finally we looked at the woman and her husbands. We discovered that not only was the source from which she was drawing water unable to satisfy her thirst, but also her own distorted worship – her multiple husbands being unable to satisfy her.

In this episode we will look at what constitutes true worship, how distorted worship prevents us from expressing righteousness, and finally how we can apply this in our own lives today.

The Location of the Tue Centre of Worship

Having established that the Samaritan Woman’s thirst illustrates her desire to express righteousness, but that her distorted worship is preventing her from being satisfied the conversation with Jesus now naturally moves  to the topic defining true worship. The Samaritan woman raises this by posing a question about a key point of difference between Samaritans and Judeans – the true location of the centre of worship.

We need to understand something about the Samaritans and the Judeans. Both groups were Israelites, yet great tension existed between them. Each professed to be observing the law, and to be the true custodians or keepers of the law – the name Samaritan actually means “keepers of the law”. 

However the Judeans did not accept the Samaritans as they were considered the Samaritans to be ceremoniously unclean because of their corruption with the gods of Assyria. The Samaritans, on the other hand, considered that the Judeans worship had been corrupted, having been influenced by Babylonian traditions during their time of captivity.

So whilst both groups were Israelites, they were different, and this difference created tension. In our context today we see similar tensions exist between Protestants and Catholics in the Christian community, or between Sunni and Shia in the Muslim one. Whilst they are similar, they are different, and this difference creates tension. 

In answering the Samaritan Woman on the location of the true centre of worship Jesus doesn’t  argue for or against Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim and the corrupted political and religious structures they both represent. Instead he moves from the old to the new. 

The true centre worship will not be found on either mountain. It is not to be found through man’s attempt to satisfy the law through his interpretation of it.

Rather the true centre of worship will be found amongst those who worship in Spirit and in Truth. Doing so the focus is shifted away from the competing corrupted structures of the day and onto Jesus himself – as He is the Spirit and the Truth and the source of the Living Water.

Distorted Worship Prevents One from Seeing

John 4:25 tells us something interesting about the woman – she knew that the Messiah was coming. Yet, even though he was sitting right in front of her she was not able to recognise Him. At that stage she did not know that Jesus was the “Gift of God” who provides the “Living Water” by which her thirst would be forever satisfied.

This illustrates that one’s ability to see the Messiah is impeded by distorted worship.

As Christians today we are also aware that the Messiah is coming. However, will we be able to recognise Him when He appears? Or are we like the Samaritan Woman, and has our ability to recognise Jesus been compromised through our own distorted worship?

Distorted Worship Today

The Laws of God express His nature and character. 

When a people are governed in accordance with the Law Word of God, it is His character that will be manifested throughout society. His righteousness and justice is established, and His Living Water flows as a blessing to the nations of the world, and as a result He is glorified.

However, today, our society no longer rests on a Christian foundation. Its foundation has been socially engineered. Our society has rejected the Law Word of our faithful God, and instead embraces an opposing and competing law in the guise of promoting tolerance, inclusion and equality. As a result it gives expression to another god, another husband, from whom our society seeks its provision and progress. 

However we are finding, like the Samaritan Woman, that this husband never satisfies. We are always left thirsty.

Here in lies our problem. Our reliance on this husband to provide for us, to care for us, and to defend us prevents us from seeing the source of that which will truly satisfy.

Having distorted our worship, through the acceptance of compromise, we are not able to access the source of Living Water as we are unable to recognise Him – the Truth, the Way and the Life.

Now this may all sound like doom and gloom.

However our story contains a powerful message of hope.

A Shift in focus

Despite the sorry state of the Samaritan Woman, Jesus once again demonstrates His loving faithfulness towards her. Even though she is unable to see Him for who He truly is, He reveals Himself to her by uttering a few words:

“I who speak to you am He.”

John 4:26

By revealing Himself to her, her thirst is fully satisfied. We see evidence of this as when she leaves the scene to spread the word she leaves behind her water jar… she has no more need of it.

Her focus has undergone a radical shift. She no longer sought to satisfy her thirst by drawing on her own strength in order to get water from the Well. Nor was she concerned about discerning between the Samaritans and the Judeans. Her focus was on that which unifies. She was satisfied by the creative spoken Word that flows freely from our Saviour, and thereby she makes a huge impact in her community – as many are drawn to Christ through her.

Let us take encouragement from this today… that no matter how distorted our worship of God is, if we earnestly seek after Him He will reveal Himself. And when He does, may we, like the Samaritan Woman, proclaim what it is that Christ has done for us – by giving expression to His Words in the way that we conduct our lives, so that more will believe because they hear His voice.

This is quite radical. 

Applying this lesson in our lives today

The focus is not on our own ability to express righteousness, just like the Samaritan Woman was unable to satisfy her thirst by drawing water from the well.

Just as the Samaritan Woman left her water pot behind, so we must leave the idea behind that we can express righteousness through our good works.

Instead our focus should be fully on Jesus and on what He has done for us. We need to stand in this truth, and then walk in the new reality that His Word reveals to us.

We may not always understand the how or why, however as we act in obedience and walk down this new path, trusting in Him and His faithfulness, His righteousness will be expressed through us as He sustains us with His Living Water, and this will draw more to Him.

That is the great lesson of hope that is contained in the story of the encounter between Jesus and the Woman at the Well.