By Greg Allen
Jesus had traveled half the distance between Judea and Galilee, and was resting in Samaria beside a very famous well. A Samaritan woman arrived at the same well. We do not know her name, but I call her Sam. Jesus and Sam had a short conversation about water, which gave Jesus the opportunity to tell Sam something that could change her life.
He told her if she continued to drink only well water, she would continue to be thirsty. But if Sam would drink from the living water Jesus gives, her thirst would be quenched . . . forever.
We know from studying John 4 and 7 that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit when he spoke of the living water. We can also deduce from John 4 that Sam was struggling to find a meaningful relationship, as evidenced by her five previous husbands and a current live-in to whom she was not married. So we can think of several truths Jesus could also have told Sam.
Physical relationships will not ultimately fulfill, but a relationship with the Holy Spirit of God will quench your thirst . . . forever.
I am fairly confident Jesus traveled to the water well that day to meet Sam and give her the thirst-quenching relationship she longed for but could not find. Jesus seemed to do that sort of thing often. By the way, did you notice there were previously six men in her life, but it was the seventh, the perfect man, who would bring fulfillment?
Jesus went on to tell Sam that God seeks true worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth. As a worship leader, I believe thirst-quenching worship is experienced when the worshiper is totally focused on the spiritual more than the physical.
As a worship leader and as a worshiper, I know how terribly difficult it is to focus on the spiritual and not be distracted or dictated by the physical. It is easy to say a certain worship service was “anointed” or “spiritual” when the physical components of that service suited our taste. If our taste of worship liturgy leans traditional, we tend to be complimentary of worship services that have organ and hymns and leaders who wear more formal attire. If our preference is more contemporary, we tend to love those services that have band and choruses and leaders who dress more casually. Funny thing is, there are several more categories, but the principle is the same . . . what we like in the physical is what we enjoy in worship. Problem is, I don’t think we can say any physical style is more spiritual than any other. But we do.
All Ages Are Guilty
Younger people struggle with this as much as middle-aged and older adults. I am as guilty as anyone. I must admit that if I moved to another city and was faced with choosing a church to attend with my family, my decision would be strongly influenced by my physical preferences in worship style.
Here is the question: Is there anything wrong with having strong preferences in worship style?
Of course not. This would be a boring world if there were only one radio station. I think the same goes for worship styles. Variety is a beautiful gift from God. We should embrace the gift.
But the problem is we do not embrace the gift. Further, we are often critical of the worship style that we do not prefer. We must remember that Scripture does not address worship style. We must be patient with, and even appreciate, the styles we do not prefer.
But this article isn’t really about worship styles, but what Jesus taught Sam. The lesson speaks to all of us, all ages, all worshipers, lovers of all styles.
I want to be focused on the living water, the Holy Spirit of God in worship, and not distracted by the physical style of a worship service.
Whew! That is hard! I admit it. But it is what Jesus taught and it is still true. Jesus taught that our hearts will be filled to overflowing when we are focused on the living water, not the well water. That means if my worship satisfaction is limited to the physical parameters of style, I may be satisfied for an hour, but I will be thirsty again soon.
So What to Do?
I really hate to offer “practical” suggestions here, mainly because I do not have the answers. But I am growing, so I will share the few lessons I am learning:
Pray. Before attending any worship service, we must pray that God keeps us focused on the truth in worship, which is Jesus. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying that he is the truth. So my prayer should be that the Holy Spirit will keep me focused on Jesus as I sing, pray, share Communion, give my offering, listen to singers, and study the Bible as the pastor teaches. Pray to be focused on Jesus.
Love God. Remember that the worship service is still primarily for God, not for us. I don’t want to be hard-nosed on this point, but we must remember that what we are singing, praying, and teaching is for God. And I am fully confident he does not care if it is accompanied by organ or drums, or by instruments at all. Since he looks at the heart over the outward appearance, I am fairly confident God is not concerned with our formal or informal attire.
God, too, is focused on the Spirit, not the physical. He is looking to see if our purpose, intent, and motivation for being in worship that day is for him, or for us. And believe me, he knows our motivation. So I must ask myself as I enter the corporate worship experience, “Am I here for God, or me?” And you know that it is equally true that if we go to worship for God, our needs will be met!
Love people. And finally, as I worship with the church family, I find that the whole experience is better when I try to love the people, all the people, as much as God loves them.
Can I be patient and lighthearted with those who criticize me when I do not include enough hymns for them, or sing those hymns in the same meter and tempo they sang them in when they first learned them?
Can we all simply leave our comments about the physical well water of worship outside the worship service? Can we transfer the energy burned on “worship wars” to heartfelt concern for the lives of people?
Can we take our eyes off screens, stages, attire, and liturgy and focus our attention on loving the one with whom we share the bread and cup?
I am fairly certain I would have to give myself an average grade on all three suggestions I give here. But I pray that God continues to transform my heart so I am drinking living water that wells up in me into eternal life. And in the meantime I might even enjoy more corporate worship experiences!
Greg Allen is worship minister with Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky.