Towards the end of my first semester in college, I was invited to study the Bible by a fellow student, was baptized at the beginning of my second semester, and joined a church of which I remained a member into my mid-20s. (Growing up, I’d attended Catholic and Methodist services with my grandmothers from time to time; but I didn’t have a definitive religious affiliation or an ongoing, formal spiritual practice.) As it was structured at the time, the church that I joined in college was a “high demand group.” Once this was clear to me and I left this church, I took a long break from all church for awhile.
Many years later, by the time I felt compelled to ease my way back into fellowship, I was craving the “easy yoke” and “light burden” that I’d read about Jesus offering (Matt 11:28-30) – but hadn’t yet experienced in my Christian walk as an adult.
Burned out by legalism and traumatized by (among other things) years of living in fear of judgment and condemnation yet yearning for a practical understanding of what it meant to be a Christian, I was also drawn to the simplicity of John 4:23-24 (NIV – emphasis mine):
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.
I’ve contemplated the principle and practice of “worshipping in spirit and in truth” for many years without coming to a definitive conclusion about what it means. Indeed, it seems somewhat purposefully elusive. After all, John 3:8 says “everyone born of the Spirit” is like the “wind blow[ing] wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” In other words, perhaps we aren’t meant to have a precise, ironclad, one-size-fits-all interpretation and application of these words. (I believe that’s the case with much of what the Bible says.)
Even so, there’s sap to Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 4:23-24:
But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.
Worshipping in spirit and in truth – I prefer that over the checklist of “Must do”s and “’Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’”s (Col 2:20-23) to which I was subject for so many years. Worshipping in spirit and in truth suggests the relational quality that is God (Father/Son/Spirit) and the relationship that He has with us. What a gift to be able to come to God honestly, as we are, without pretense and imperfect, sincerely seeking a deeper and deeper understanding of and abiding in Him. That this is what He wants! He simply wants US.
Moreover, Jesus promised that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 25-27) He says: “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life.” (John 14:6 NIV emphasis mine)
The yoke Jesus offers is easy and the burden light because God is doing the heavy lifting. The Father abides in us as we abide in Jesus through the Spirit He gives us; and God will carry on to completion the good work that he began in us. (Phil 1:6, 1 Thes 5:24) We are simply called to believe, like the royal official whose son is healed by Jesus - from a different town. (John 4:50)
(Even believing is hard sometimes, you say? Yes, I agree. Thankfully, grace is sufficient. (2 Cor 12:9))
What a blessing to walk with God in spirit and in truth!
Shannon Harris New York, NY Member of the Manhattan Church of Christ