December 2006 - Vol. 3


 

Worship in spirit and truth

The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. (John 4:23)

a scriptural reflection by Don Schwager

[Ethiopian Copts prepare for mid-day prayers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; photo art by Don Schwager]
 
 

How aswsome is this place!
Do you know what it's like to enter the very throne room of heaven where Jesus, our mediator, stands on our behalf, interceding for us at the right hand of the Father? When we worship God we come into his very presence and we participate in the heavenly worship where the saints and angels surround the throne of God.  This is made possible through the gift and working of the Holy Spirit.

One of the first recorded visions of heaven was given to Jacob, shortly after he fled from his  brother Essau, who threatened to kill him because he tricked Essau out of his birthright (see Genesis 28). When Jacob could run no further, he fell exhausted in the barren wilderness under a starry sky.  As he rested his head against a rock and fell into deep sleep, the Lord gave him a vision that would change his life forever.  Jacob saw a ladder which extended all the way from heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending. At the top of the ladder was a gateway into the very throne-room of God. In Jacob's dream God revealed his presence to Jacob and promised him that he and his descendants would dwell with the living God. When Jacob awoke from his dream he exclaimed: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Genesis 28:17)  Jacob's immediate response was to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.

Jesus fulfilled the promise which God made to Jacob and his descendants. When Nathaniel acknowled that Jesus was truly the Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus exclaimed to him: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" ( John 1:51). Jesus is the true ladder or stairway to heaven. In Jesus' incarnation, the divine Son of God taking on human flesh for our sake, we see the union of heaven and earth God making his dwelling with us and bringing us into the heavenly reality of his kingdom. Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection opens the way for each of us to come into a new relationship with God as his sons and daughters.  The Lord Jesus opens the way for each of us to "ascend to heaven" and to bring "heaven to earth" in the daily circumstances of our lives. Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives us direct access to the very throne of God. That is why true worship is spiritual. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are able to come into the very presence of God and to offer him "acceptable worship, with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28).

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. ... 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-24,28-29)
Come into his presence with singing!
When Jesus offered 'living water' to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well he explained to her the essence of true worship: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23-24) When we pray we come into God's presence and offer him our very selves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
We pray because we wish to be with God, to commune with him. We wish to hear his voice and to gaze upon his loveliness (Psalm 27:4). To behold God in his beauty fills us with awe, reverence, and exultant joy!  Is it any wonder that praise often breaks out into singing, and playing music, and raising loud shouts to God!
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1)
When we "worship the Father in spirit and truth" we join with the angelic hosts who stand before the throne of God offering him unceasing praise and adoration. The Book of Revelations gives us a beautiful description of the heavenly worship in God's throne room:
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 11 "Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created." (Rev. 4:8-11)

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, "To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!" 14 And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev. 5:11-14)

1 Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps, 3 and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. (Rev. 14:1-3)

No greater service than to praise and worship God
The scriptures use many words to describe what is involved in worship. When we worship God we praise, adore, extol, magnify, glorify, thank and bless God for all that he has done for us. When we worship God we acknowledge him for who he truly is the Almighty One, the Everlasting Lord, the Eternal Father, King and Ruler of all that he has made! That is why true worship is marked by reverence and awe of God.

Scripture tells us that the prayers of the saints are like incense before God (Psalm 141:2; Revelations 8:3-4). God is very pleased when we offer him praise and worship. When we pray and worship in the Spirit we cannot remain silent for too long because the Spirit of God fills us with jubilation and tongues of praise. Augustine of Hippo once wrote that "to sing to God is to pray twice!"  We pray not only with our mind and heart, but with our voices as well, even singing and shouting to the Lord, and expressing with our whole body our praise and worship of God with the lifting of our hands, the bowing of our heads in adoration, with clapping, with dancing, and with the playing of musical instruments that accompany our vocal praise and worship.

Our privilege is to praise and worship God each and every day in the power of his Holy Spirit. There is no greater service we can give him now than to praise him with all of our heart, mind, will, and strength.  And our joy and sure hope is the promise of Jesus that we will see God face to face and worship him for all eternity. Let us make the prayer of David our prayer as well: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after;  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD  all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4)

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (prayer from Psalm 84:1-2)
[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations website: www.dailyscripture.net  He lives in London, United Kingdom.]

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