Chapter 3

When Do We Worship?

The words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman help us understand not only where we can worship but also when. As we consider what Christ said, we’ll discover that our worship is acceptable to God when it is offered through his Son, assisted by the Holy Spirit, expressed from our hearts, carried out according to truth, and done in such a way that avoids the errors of the past.

It isn’t true that there are multiple roads to God, as many believe. According to the Bible, Jesus is the only way. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (john 14:6). The Scriptures teach that all of us are sinners needing a Savior (romans 3:23). Jesus was sent by the Father to be that Savior (1 john 4:14). By the sacrifice of himself for our sins, he provided the only way for us to be restored to God. And those who receive him by faith become true worshipers. Our worship begins when we receive the Son of God and become right with God through him.

When we receive Christ as our Savior, we’re given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible identifies him as our “advocate” (john 14:16). His work is to assist us in all aspects of our relationship to God—even our worship (philippians 3:3). When we allow the Holy Spirit to work unhindered in our lives, we enjoy true fellowship with God. It is life-sharing relationship in which God reveals himself to us, and we respond with adoring worship.

When Jesus explained worship to the Samaritan woman, he said that it was to be “in john 4:23). Worship must come from the heart. More specifically, it must come from a heart that has been made alive by the Holy Spirit. This helps us to understand that our worship isn’t just a matter of saying the right words or using the right form. We must be sincere. It must be the true expression of our hearts. Hebrews 10:22 states, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.” Our worship must spring out of the depths of our inner being.

As important as the emotional side of worship is, emotion cannot take the place of truth.

Much of our worship today is done either in spirit or in truth. But Jesus taught that it is not a matter of “either/or” but “both/and.” The emotions of our heart must be trained, channeled, and prompted by the truth of the written and inspired Word of God.

Our worship must be intelligent. It must be informed. And God has given us his Word so we can learn the truth and worship him.

When our worship is wrong, God won’t accept it. A number of examples in the Old Testament prove this to be true.

The book of Genesis contains the record of two brothers who worshiped God. Both Cain and Abel gave God an offering, but only Abel’s was accepted (genesis 4:1–7). Apparently his gift was offered in faith and Cain’s was not (hebrews 11:4).

Shortly after coming out of Egypt, Israel failed to worship God properly. While Moses was on the mountain receiving instructions from God, the nation worshiped a golden calf (exodus 32:4). God rejected their worship and punished them by killing thousands of Israelites.

Much later, the prophet Malachi described the abuses of Israel’s worship and called for someone to put an end to it.

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and ‘Its food is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” the Lord Almighty.

“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. (malachi 1:10–13).

From other parts of Scripture, we learn that God rejects worship . . .

  • When it uses images or other misrepresentations of God (exodus 20:3–5)
  • When it ignores the explicit instructions of God (leviticus 10:1–2)
  • When it substitutes human tradition for the commands of God (matthew 15:3–6).
  • When it verbalizes empty words without inward reality (matthew 15:7–9)

According to the Bible, we can’t worship God just any way we please. If we’re going to give him the worship he is looking for, it must contain the right elements.

Thinking It Over. Have you taken the first essential step to becoming a worshiper of God by coming to the Father through Christ? What kinds of things hinder the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and, therefore, hinder our worship? (ephesians 4:29–32; 1 thessalonians 5:16–22). How can you keep good, religious traditions from becoming dead rituals? Singing spiritual songs can assist your worship, but do you think about what you’re singing?

God desires our worship. And the kind of worship he is looking for recognizes him as its only true object. It’s given to him because he deserves it. Such worship can be entered into anytime, anywhere. When it is given through his Son, by his Spirit, from our heart, according to the truth of his Word, and avoiding the errors of the past, then our worship is acceptable to him.

With the psalmist, let us say:

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care (psalm 95:6–7).