But the hour is coming, and is now here, when
the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
To me, "Worship" is defined as "the expression of adoration and reverence for God; devotion and honor given in recognition of who God is." At the heart of this particular Scripture is this question: What constitutes worship that is pleasing to God? What kind of people, and worship, is He seeking? The verse today is part of a conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. They have a discourse about worship, and ultimately, what is pleasing to God in regards to our worship. This is an issue that the Holy Spirit has recently laid upon my heart.
We are all products of our past experiences. There are those who have grown up within the environment of family worship in a familiar body of believers; they have been nestled in a church body and are comfortable with the ceremonies and rituals of their particular denominations or faith. They are truly moved by the music, the fellowship, and the message they receive of God.
Then there are those, like me, whose childhood memories of "church worship" are not as warm and fuzzy. The church "building" recalls memories of a cold or clique-y body, and the services seemed far removed from worship of God; and the rites mechanical and automatic. I felt neither adoration nor reverence for my Savior or Father. Those experiences influenced my understanding of what God desired from me in my worship of Him.
Let me say that as my faith matured, I came to realize that, as the devout 17th century commentator Matthew Henry expressed, The stress [emphasis] is not to be laid upon the place where we worship God, but upon the state of mind in which we worship him.
In the Scriptural passage in John 4, Jesus is rightly declaring the Jewish worship as superior to the Samaritan worship, "for salvation is from the Jews". But he declares that this worship is still imperfect (there will one day be no worship in Jerusalem); it is ceremonial and devoid of the inward part of divine worship. He goes on to tell her that there is a change coming in the nature of that worship; indeed, the hour is coming, and is now here.
What is that change? True worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. In other words, Christians will worship God, not in the ceremonial observances of the Mosaic institution, but in spiritual observances, infused more with God's divine power and energy. This speaks to what the Spirit has been revealing to me.
Precisely because each of us feels closer to that personal relationship with God (the purpose of our worship) in a variety of ways --- whether it be in your private prayer closet, your Bible Study Group, your Small Group/Home Church communion with God, or within your Church body --- there is no prescribed form of worship that we, the body of Christ, are all called to follow. Yes, we should not forsake assembling, and should exhort and encourage each other, for the sake of the Body and the spread of the Gospel message. But I have come to believe that God did not make us cookie-cutter replicas of each other. We are made in His image, and because He is infinite and endless, He has made us all different, and the Spirit will speak to each of us individually. I can honestly say that I enjoy worshipping Him in all of the above ways; although more in some than in others. And I have become aware that this is OK. The Holy Spirit speaks to the image of God that resides in me and I am moved to worship Him accordingly.
That is why it is more important for us to to worship Him in the spirit and truth; rather than in the ways and the building. God wants us to worship Him with the adoration and reverence as the Holy Spirit reveals His Character. And He wants us to worship Him in Truth; by focusing on Him, not ourselves; by seeking to know who God is and what He desires. When we worship Him with these goals in mind, He is well-pleased and our relationship grows. That is what worship is all about.