How to worship God

4 Now Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” … 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  (John 4:4-24, NIV)
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:19-24 ESV)
Bible translating is really hard. I certainly couldn’t do it. It’s an enormous undertaking that requires a lot of people who have done a lot of studying. We are so blessed that we have access to a great number of really high-quality translations, and the men and women who diligently work in translating Scripture deserve our honour and appreciation.

But it’s not an exact science. There’s layered meaning in Greek or Hebrew words that might not quite correspond to the English words that are used to translate them. That’s why different Bible translations are different. John 4:23-24 is a great example of this. Some translations have Jesus teaching us to “worship in the Spirit and in truth” (i.e. it’s about worshipping through God’s Spirit in us), whereas other translations have Jesus teaching us to “worship in spirit and in truth” (i.e. it’s about worshipping with integrity, expressing what is really happening in our inner being). The Greek text can actually be translated both ways, so which option is correct?

The answer is both! It’s not an either/or. Whenever Scripture can be interpreted in two ways, it usually means that God wants to teach us both things. As the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside us, he unites himself with our spirit and begins to transform us into true worshippers of God. Jesus is therefore commanding us to “worship in the Spirit as he changes your spirit so that you can truly worship”!

Paul explains this a little more in 1 Corinthians 6:17, where he writes that “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” Again, the Greek text is deliberately ambiguous. We are united with the Lord in his Spirit, and the Lord is united with us in our spirit. Whether we translate the verse as “the Spirit” or as “spirit” doesn’t matter, because it refers to both. Paul is saying that, through faith, God has united his Spirit with our spirit.

This then helps us to understand what Jesus is saying to the woman at the well in John 4. We worship God with our spirit and God’s Spirit, which are both united inside us. The Holy Spirit transforms us from the inside out (in the words of Jesus in this passage, he becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” within us). He helps us to worship God in the way that he has designed us to do. Our worship is the overflow of our spirits. If our spirits are not in tune with the Holy Spirit then we will be distracted, misled and deceived into worshipping things other than him. But when we are allowing our spirits to be shaped and nurtured by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves worshipping God in every part of our lives, just how we were created to do.
  1. This takes some thinking to really understand and to live out each day. So how would you summarise what you have learned today? What do you think it means to worship God in spirit? Note down some ideas.
  2. Since we are united with God’s Spirit in our spirit, how does that affect they way we worship God?
  3. How are you doing? This is a difficult season and our world is full of distractions trying to drown out the Holy Spirit. This is a good time to take stock. It might be a good idea to try and give yourself a score from 1-10. It’s not a competition, but it can be helpful to focus our prayers and to create in us the “thirst” that Jesus mentions to the woman at the well.
Father God, thank you that it is your work that enables us to worship you in spirit and in truth. Lord, I admit that I am sometimes distracted from worshipping you, but I know that the time has come where I can worship you in my spirit. Please help me to commune with your Spirit in my spirit and to worship you in the way that you want. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were written by Freddie Ingle, who leads our Kingston congregation.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.
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