Leaving Salem

Jesus said the worship demanded by God is worship that is “in spirit and in truth.” Now there is a phrase worth taking some time with: Spirit and truth.

True worship, as defined by Jesus is a connection of the inner person with God of the universe. It is a deeply spiritual phenomenon. True worship reaches into the mental, emotional, and the psychological elements of who we are – into the spirit.

Worship goes beyond lifting our voices in song, raising our hands, preaching sermons, or reading the creeds. It is internal, something deeply contemplative.

And it is truth. A better translation might be “sincerity” or “genuineness.” Jesus isn’t saying that our concept of God must be exactly right or completely accurate when we come to worship. It never will be, for all we have are our limited words and ideas to explain him.

But he is saying that true worship, the true worshipper, must approach God with the purest of motives. He or she must come to God with all sincerity and authenticity, laid bare before the God of creation.

The prophet Malachi echoed this theme. God, speaking through the prophet said, “My name will be great among the nations, in every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name.”

In other words, the heathen gathered around a primitive camp fire who is truly seeking God, has truly worshipped, more so that many of us who gather in Christian churches with all the proper instruction and instruments of worship around us.

Why? Because of the sincerity of heart and the pure passion that drives his worship. If we cannot come to God with sincere hearts, then it would be better, in God’s opinion, to turn out the lights and lock the doors of our sanctuaries.

So no, it’s not about having a polished order of service. It doesn’t really matter if we have a TV-worthy production for those who come to sit in the pews each week. Worship is not meant to be performance driven or entertainment driven.

Worship is an act of communion between spirits, the spirit within us, communing with each other and with God. Our worship might be a bit rough sometimes. The order of worship might be crooked. We might sing off-key. That’s OK as long as it is all incredibly honest.

For in that honesty and truthfulness we reach into the heart of God and him into ours. We are touched at a level and depth that mere music, words, or pageantry can even come close.

One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services began. The cowboy wore tattered jeans, a denim shirt, and boots with very little shine left on them. In his hand he had a much loved, much read, but worn-out Bible.

The church he entered was upscale in an exclusive part of town. It was the largest and most beautiful building the old man had ever seen. The people seated in the pews were all dressed in expensive clothes and jewelry, and they had expensive cars in the parking lot.

When he sat down, others moved away from him and watched him with a cautious eye. They were appalled at his dress and apparent disrespect. The service began with incredible music and beautiful liturgy. The pastor preached his sermon with a degree of professionalism learned only from many years behind the pulpit.

As the old cowboy was leaving the church the pastor approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor: “Before you come back here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be the appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the pastor he would do exactly that.

The next Sunday the cowboy returned wearing the same tattered jeans, denim shirt, dirty boots, and carrying the same worn Bible. Again, he was shunned and ignored. The pastor approached and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”

“Well, I did,” said the old cowboy.

“If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping here?” the pastor asked.

The cowboy answered, “Well sir, God told me that he didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He said he’d never been in this church before.”

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