Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Heart of a True Worshiper - Part 1

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) Jesus had been talking with a Samaritan woman when He spoke these words. In the culture of His day speaking with a Samaritan – especially a woman – was something that a respectable, well-mannered Jewish man would never do. Not only was she a Samaritan woman, but her lifestyle was questionable at best. She had been married several times and was living with a man who was not her husband. Yet Jesus spoke with her! In today’s world this would be akin to going into an adult bookstore and asking the owner for a drink of water, then hanging around and talking with the patrons…not a situation many of us are likely to find ourselves in! But then, Jesus chose the Father’s will over all things, even if it meant being controversial, or running the risk of being misunderstood.

So what did Jesus mean by the statement, “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks?” To answer this question we have to look at several principles in Scripture, all of which deal with the heart – not the physical organ, but that part of us which is the center of our being, the essence of who we are. As we look together this week at what God’s word has to say about the heart, I encourage you to be open and honest with yourself and the Father about the condition of your heart. This is what the Bible calls being ‘contrite’ or ‘repentant.’

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” (I Samuel 16:7) When we consider our relationship with the Father the one thing we must keep at the forefront of our minds is the fact that He looks at our hearts. He knows our hidden thoughts. We cannot hide our true motives from Him, our ambitions, our desires, our pain, or our fears. He knows that our hearts are riddled with destructive forces (the biblical term is ‘sin’) that will ultimately keep us separated from Him for all eternity if He does not step in and help us. But here is where things get a bit complicated. Above all things, the Father wants us to desire Him! He wants a relationship with us. He wants us to get to know Him, to have fellowship with Him. He’s not nearly as interested in what we can do for Him as He is interested in us knowing Him…His love, His goodness, His provision, His perfection, His beauty. (Anyway, what can we do for Him? He is the Creator, the Almighty, the Majesty. He is perfectly sufficient unto Himself!) He desires to walk with us, talk with us. He wants to affirm the fact we are His! We are precious in His sight; He delights in us and dances over us with joy.

But our hearts are sick. The disease of Pride and Selfishness causes a blindness that distorts our senses and warps what we see, hear and say, breaking relationship with the Father. Our hearts need healing. There is only one way we can be healed, and that is to come to the place where we are willing and ready to recognize the fact that our hearts are sick and we need the touch of the Healer. More on this tomorrow!

A few days before His encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus was in Jerusalem celebrating Passover. One night a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, sought Jesus out. During the course of the conversation we learn several things from the Lord: we must be ‘born again’ if we are to see the Kingdom of God; God loves us enough to have provided a way back ‘home’ to Him (yesterday I mentioned that the Father has stepped in to help us); we find our way back to the Father by trusting and believing in His Son; Jesus did not come into the world to judge the world., but to save the world; those who believe in Jesus are not judged; those who do not believe in Him are judged, not because of their deeds, but because they have not believed in the name of Jesus, the only Son of God.

The statements Jesus makes to Nicodemus in this conversation are a death sentence to religion. Merriam-Webster defines religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” Practical religion tends to remove the most important element necessary to our relationship with God: faith. Simply put, we must believe. The Apostle Paul states it well in Hebrews 11, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” A few sentences earlier, Paul wrote, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” This, dear friend, is what sets religion apart from relationship.

The sickness that is in our hearts robs us of the ability to see reality as it truly is. This ‘spiritual blindness’ is something we are all born with, because a long time ago the very first man and woman chose to break trust and relationship with the Father by doing the one thing He had commanded them not to do. This single act of disobedience has been humanity’s demise. When we choose to trust in Jesus, believing in His words and learning Who He is, our spiritual blindness begins to lift. The more we get to know Him through His words, the clearer our sight becomes.

Have you ever experienced the wonder of flying a kite or sailing a boat? Wind is an amazing thing! There’s nothing more soothing than a cool breeze that comes just before a thunderstorm on a hot summer day. At the same time, we stand in awe of the destructive forces of a hurricane or tornado. Another thing that Jesus mentions in His conversation with Nicodemus is wind. I find this to be one of the most interesting passages of Scripture in the Bible. To quote Him directly, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) This is the most important clue that Jesus gives us regarding what our relationship with the Father is supposed to look like. You cannot see wind. You do not know when it is going to arrive. You cannot control it. You cannot make it stronger or weaker through any act of your own. It is what it is.

Practical religion is man’s attempt to bend the Wind to our own will. We set up systems of dos and don’ts, make policies and guidelines based on what we think the Wind should look like and how it should behave. Then we become frustrated and confused when we still find ourselves empty and no better off than we were before we started down the ‘religious’ road. We convince ourselves this is just the way things are, this is as good as it gets, and settle for lives of selfish misery. How unfortunate! This is not the way the Father wants it to be!

Why all this talk of religion? Because religion – man’s systems of worship – is one of the greatest deterrents to trueYet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” This phrase doesn’t make sense unless you think about it in terms of relationship. We worship in spirit (from the heart) and truth (openly, honestly, admitting our faults and weaknesses to Him and to one another). This is the only way in which we can approach the Father. worship. Remember what Jesus told the Samaritan woman? “

There are as many different types of hearts and personalities as there are people. God delights in this…He made us each unique. He loves the variety! Unfortunately one of the biggest symptoms of the sickness in our hearts is the tendency to believe – deep down – that everyone else should look like, think like, and act like we do! This perspective gets us into a world of trouble. It makes us jealous, selfish, untrusting, and ultimately unloving. This by-product of Adam’s disobedience has been exploited by the evil one to create hatred among races and family members alike, not to mention the Church. Ultimately, Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy all relationship, because he has relationship with no one!

How do we resist the evil one, or for that matter our own heart-sickness? We surrender to the Wind. We don’t try to control Him or manipulate Him or make Him serve our needs. We give up our rights and devote ourselves to serving each other. According to Jesus, the greatest command in the whole Bible is, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) The second greatest command was just as important: we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Look at it this way. In America we pride ourselves on doing just about anything that we have to do in order to get our needs met. But are we willing to do just about anything we have to do (permissible within Scripture, of course) in order to help get our neighbor’s needs met? Putting the needs of others before our own is not something we find easy to do! But it’s one of the ways we prove ourselves to be God-lovers and God-pleasers, and one of the characteristics of a true worshipper.

Another aspect of true worship is obedience. When you love someone with all your heart you find yourself wanting to do things that please them. Meeting the needs of others at our own expense without expecting anything in return is one of the greatest demonstrations of love. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me you will do as I command.” Don’t misunderstand His statement. Jesus is not trying to manipulate the disciples by saying “if you really love me, then you’ll (jump through a bunch of hoops).” He is explaining that a natural by-product of their love for Him is obedience to His Word! Jesus has every right to expect this because He is God – the Creator, the great ‘I Am!’ He deserves our obedience because of Who He is. But beyond that fact, the only way we will know true contentment and peace is through obedience! Dear friend, all that is good, all that is beautiful, all that brings joy, all knowledge, all that is noble and pure has its source in Him. Our obedience to Him, our unswerving allegiance as His servants, enables us to enjoy His nature. Obedience is for our own benefit!

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:16-17) When we become the type of worshiper Jesus described to the Samaritan woman, we become the presence of Christ and representatives of the Father’s kingdom. We no longer live for ourselves. Instead, we cast our lives to the Wind, allowing it to take us where He will. This is the life of faith. We learn to not manipulate circumstances to our own benefit, but trust the Father in all things. We run free of the expectations that are placed upon us by others, or we sometimes place upon ourselves, trading these in for the privilege of carrying out the Father’s will. Our greatest delight lies in spending time with the Lord Jesus, learning to hear the Father’s voice.

This type of life is not comfortable to the flesh; in fact, it cuts against the grain of our fallen human nature. Jesus understands this, which is why He told His disciples in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To choose Christ means to reject this present life and world-system. It is for this reason Jesus commands us to love each other. His followers, those who have trusted in Him and believed on His name, are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, strangers and aliens on this planet. Quite simply, we need each other! When our hearts connect in relationship and in worship, the world sits up and pays attention! Relationship, not programs, is the best form of evangelistic outreach!

Not once in these pages has worship been associated with the ‘externals’ we experience in our corporate weekly services. Worship is not about the bulletin, how we dress, the type of music we sing, or the pastor’s preaching style. Worship is about our willingness to engage with God at a heart level, surrendered to the truth of His Word. Out of this worship flows true relationship with one another. We support each other, believe in each other, bear with each other, suffer with each other, and endure each other’s weaknesses with joy and forbearance. These are the types of worshipers the Father seeks.

Jesus did not come to this earth to start a new religion. He came to draw us into relationship with the Father. When we choose to follow Him, obey His teachings, and trust in His name, believing He is the Son of God, we are changed from the inside out. Have you ever noticed how when you get really close to someone you begin to adopt their mannerisms, even their ‘catch-phrases?’ This is one of the reasons why married couples sometimes are said to look alike – they have rubbed off on each other for so long it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This is how the Father yearns for it to be with us! He wants to ‘rub-off’ on us so we can, in turn, ‘rub-off’ on each other! It is a divine love-relationship of the highest order…unconditional love!

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