Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria in the Gospel of John provides one of the most significant statements about worship in the Bible.
The Father seeks, Jesus says, those who worship him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).
To worship “in spirit” involves bringing a certain vitality and energy into our worship.
On the one hand, this calls for a focused discipline and practice. On the other hand, this involves flexibility and fluidity.
“Living water” is the image Jesus uses in the conversation with the Samaritan woman to speak of our encounter and relationship with God.
Living water is always moving, changing, surging; it eludes manipulation. We can’t control or confine God’s Spirit, who is the initiator of the spiritual life. Living water requires living worship.
I heard about a pastor who took his Boy Scout troop on a tour of his church, where they met for their meetings. He explained the meaning of the stained-glass windows and some of the symbols.
One of the scouts asked about a plaque that hung in the foyer, displaying a long list of names.
The pastor told him that this was a rooster of names of church members who had died in the service of the church.
The boy asked what seemed to him to be the next logical question. “Was it in the early service or the late service?”
Too often this reflects our perspective on worship as bland, boring and disconnected from our daily lives.
By contrast, Jesus offers us “living water,” which calls for living worship that inspires us to share in God’s ongoing work in the world.
To worship “in truth” requires nurturing a healthy, holistic relationship with God. Truth here is not simply factual, propositional, creedal or doctrinal, it is relational. To worship in truth is to worship sincerely, honestly, humbly and genuinely.
We worship not because God needs to be praised, but because we need to praise God.
Worship is what we need to do in order to cultivate a relationship with God. Worship, I believe, is a human need, not a divine need.
Soren Kierkegaard, the famous 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian, compared the church of his day to a barnyard full of large, overweight geese that had lost their ability to fly.
Once a week they would waddle over to one corner of the barnyard, where the biggest goose among them would stand on a stump and proclaim the glory of being geese.
Occasionally, while this goose would be sermonizing, they would hear the honking of wild geese overhead, flying above them so high they could hardly be seen.
In a hushed silence, the barnyard geese would pause for a moment until the honking could no longer be heard, then the sermon would resume extolling the joys of being geese.
It seems to me that worship is intended for the “wild geese” among us who fly high, take risks and seek to live out the good news Jesus proclaimed and embodied.
Our gatherings for worship should follow times of engagement and ministry, of embodying and representing Christ at home, work and play.
As we live out our discipleship to Jesus, it is not unlikely that we will come to worship wounded, broken and in need of God’s healing touch.
Thirsty for living water, hungry for a living word to sustain us on our journey, we will gather to be refreshed and inspired to carry this living water and word to others.
We do not worship because God needs to see us bow down or hear our praises. We worship because we thirst for the living water and hunger for the bread of heaven, and we need to connect with God to receive this nourishment.
We worship because we need divine power to live a life that incarnates grace and truth, love and compassion, justice and peace.
Chuck Queen is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, A Fresh Perspective, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @KentuckaChuck.