Faithful Christians recognize that worship is an important facet of their life as a follower of Christ (cf. Ps. 96:9; Rev. 4:10-11). Contrary to popular belief, God is not obligated to accept everything that is offered to Him as worship. There have been those in the past who have either gone through the motions in worship, or done things that God did not authorize; and their worship was rejected (Isa. 1:11-16; Mt. 15:7-9).
Millions around the world gather every Sunday to offer worship to God, but many have never considered what is necessary for that worship to make it past the roof of the building to the throne of God. If we seek God ignorantly, or according to our own wishes and desires, our worship will be empty, unaccepted, and worthless (cf. Mk. 7:6-8; Acts 17:23; Col. 2:20-23).
The Son of God once engaged a Samaritan woman in a conversation about worship. She, like many today, was confused about worship and what God really wanted (Jn. 4:20). Jesus explained to her that the time was coming when it would not matter where one worshiped, as long as they met the Divine criteria for worship (Jn. 4:21-22). The Father is seeking true worshipers, and will only accept worship that is offered in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23). Jesus goes on to say this is more than a suggestion. True worship must be done in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24). We do not need to invent ways to approach God or employ things we think will be good to do. God is not interested in our creativity in worship, but in our willingness to submit to His Word.
Yet, God does not want robots who simply engage in the same task week after week without any emotion, heart, or enthusiasm. Worship must also be in spirit. The spirit aspect of worship involves offering what God has asked for with the right motives and with the right heart. We need to be concerned not only with what we do but how we do it. If we engage in worship as mere ritual and leave our heart out of it, the worship will not please God.
It is possible for us to take the Lord’s supper, sing spiritual songs, pray, give thousands of dollars, and listen to sermons for years and never worship God. God wants our heart, mind, soul, and energy (Mk. 12:30). When we come into the presence of God to worship we must strive to empty our mind of worldly care. We cannot focus fully on God if we are worried about what is on the stove at home, who is winning the football game, or what is coming up this week at work. God created the world and upholds it by His power (Heb. 1:3); yet He focuses His attention on us as we worship Him, and He is worthy of our attention.
We should prepare on Saturday night to come into the presence of our Creator. Many will, the day before an interview or big test, go to sleep early and rest their mind for the big day. However, how many give the best of themselves away on Saturday night only to offer God the scraps on Sunday morning? King David refused to offer to God that which did not cost him: “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24 ESV). What does our worship cost us in time, effort, and energy? To prepare to come into the Lord’s presence, pay the price. Wake up earlier, read a few Psalms, pray that you will pay attention. We will not worship God in spirit by accident, it must be intentional and sincere.
What is needed?
We do not need new innovations or entertainment professionals to worship God in spirit. We only need to be impressed with the awesome God of heaven. If we sing a song that speaks of heaven and the gratitude we have for the sacrifice of Jesus, we need to sing it like we believe it. If we mumble the words with distracted hearts, we will not fool God. Nor will we impress Him. When partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we do not need to play with the baby sitting in front of us. We should be reflecting on the Savior from Nazareth who hung on a tree for you and me (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26). While praying, we must fight to keep our mind focused. When the Word is preached we need to take notes, think of ways to apply the message in the coming week, and follow along. The preacher’s job is not to keep us awake. The realization that we are in the presence of God should do that.
Sometimes we speak of those present in our assemblies as the audience, but this is a mistake. There is only one audience in worship, and that is God. We do not need to be afraid of emotion or enthusiasm. God is seeking this in our worship. There is nothing wrong with saying “amen!” when we agree with prayers or points made in a sermon (1 Cor. 14:16). When we leave worship, we should be changed. If there is no passion in our worship, it ceases to be worship. Worship in truth, but do not forget to worship in spirit.