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. John 4:23–24
Jesus’ words to the woman of Samaria are His first recorded teaching on prayer. They give us some wonderful first glimpses into the world of prayer. The Father seeks worshipers. Our worship satisfies His loving heart and is a joy to Him. He seeks true worshipers but does not find many. True worship is that which is in spirit and truth. The Son has come to open the way for this worship and to teach it to us. One of our first lessons in the school of prayer must be to understand what it means to pray in the spirit and in truth and to know how we can do it.
To the woman of Samaria our Lord spoke of a threefold worship. There is, first, the unlearned worship of the Samaritans: ‘‘You Samaritans worship what you do not know’’ (John 4:22). The second, the intelligent worship of the Jew, having the true knowledge of God: ‘‘We worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews’’ (John 4:22). And then the new spiritual worship that He himself has come to introduce: ‘‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth’’ (John 4:23). From the connection, it is evident that the words ‘‘in spirit and truth’’ do not mean, as is often thought, ‘‘earnestly, from the heart, in sincerity.’’ The Samaritans had the five books of Moses and some knowledge of God; there was doubtless more than one among them who honestly and earnestly sought God in prayer. The Jews had the full revelation of God in His Word as had until then been given; there were among them godly men who called upon God with their whole hearts. But worshiping ‘‘in spirit and truth’’ was not yet fully realized. Jesus says, ‘‘Yet a time is coming and has now come’’ (John 4:23); it is only in and through Him that the worship of God will be in spirit and truth.
Among Christians we can still find the three classes of worshipers: some, in their ignorance, hardly know what they are asking. They pray earnestly but receive little. Others, with more knowledge, try to pray with all their mind and heart— often most earnestly, but do not attain the full blessing of worship in spirit and truth. We must ask our Lord Jesus to take us into this third class; we must be taught of Him how to worship in spirit and truth. This alone is spiritual worship. This makes us the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. In prayer, everything depends on our understanding and practicing worship in spirit and truth.
‘‘God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth’’ (John 4:24). The first thought suggested here by the Master is that there must be harmony between God and His worshipers; as God is, so must His worship be. This obeys a principle that prevails throughout the universe: we look for correspondence between an object and the organ or body to which it reveals or yields itself. The eye has an inner fitness for the light, the ear for sound. The man who would truly worship God, who would find, know, possess, and enjoy God must be in harmony with Him and have the capacity for receiving Him. Because God is spirit, we must worship Him in spirit. As God is, so His worshiper must be.
What does this mean? The woman asked our Lord whether Samaria or Jerusalem was the true place of worship. He answers that from this time on worship is no longer to be limited to a certain place: ‘‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem’’ (John 4:21). As God is spirit— not bound by space or time but in His infinite perfection always and everywhere the same—so His worship must no longer be confined by place or form, but be spiritual as God himself is spiritual. This is a lesson of deep importance. How much our Christianity suffers because it is confined to certain times and places! A man who seeks to pray earnestly in the church or in his prayer corner spends the greater part of the week or the day in a spirit entirely at variance with the spirit in which he prayed. His worship was the work of a fixed place or hour and not of his whole being. God is spirit. He is the everlasting and unchangeable one. What He is, He is always and everywhere. Our worship must also be in spirit and in truth. His worship must be the spirit of our life. Our life must be worship in spirit as God is spirit.
The second thought is that this worship in the spirit must come from God himself. God is spirit; He alone has spirit to give. It was for this He sent His Son to fit us for such spiritual worship by giving us the Holy Spirit. It is of His own work that Jesus speaks when He says twice, ‘‘A time is coming,’’ and then He adds, ‘‘and has now come’’ (John 4:21, 23). He came to baptize with the Holy Spirit; the Spirit could not be poured forth until He was glorified (John 1:33; 7:37– 38; 16:7). It was when He had made an end of sin and entered into the Holiest of all with His blood, that He there on our behalf received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33) and could send Him down to us. It was when Christ had redeemed us, and we in Him had received the position of children, that the Father sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to cry, ‘‘Abba, Father.’’ The worship in spirit means the worship of the Father in the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of sonship.
This is the reason Jesus here uses the name Father (John 4:21, 23). We never find one of the Old Testament saints who personally appropriates the name of child or calls God his Father. The worship of the Father is only possible to those to whom the Spirit of the Son has been given. The worship in spirit is only possible to those to whom the Son has revealed the Father, and who have received the spirit of sonship. It is only Christ who opens the way and teaches worship in the Spirit.
In truth does not only mean in sincerity. Nor does it only signify in accordance with the truth of God’s Word. The expression is one of deep and divine meaning. Jesus is ‘‘the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’’ (John 1:14 NKJV). ‘‘For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’’ (John 1:17). Jesus says, ‘‘I am . . . the truth and the life’’ (John 14:6). In the Old Testament all was shadow and promise. Jesus brought and gives the reality, the substance, of things hoped for. In Him the blessings and powers of eternal life are our actual possession and experience. Jesus is full of grace and truth. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. Through Him the grace that is in Jesus is ours in deed and truth, a positive communication out of the divine life. So worship in spirit is worship in truth, actual living fellowship with God, with a real correspondence and harmony between the Father, who is a spirit, and the child praying in the Spirit.
The woman of Samaria could not immediately understand what Jesus said to her. Pentecost was needed to reveal its full meaning. We are hardly prepared at our entrance into the school of prayer to grasp such teaching. We will understand it better later on. Let us take the lesson as He gives it. We are carnal and cannot give God the worship He seeks. But Jesus came to give us the Spirit. He has given Him to us. Let the disposition in which we set ourselves to pray be as Christ’s words have taught us. Let there be the deep confession of our inability to give God the worship that is pleasing to Him, the childlike teachableness that waits on Him for instruction, and the simple faith that yields itself to the breath of the Spirit. Above all, let us hold on to the blessed truth that the knowledge of the fatherhood of God, the revelation of His infinite fatherliness in our hearts, the faith in the infinite love that gives us His Son and His Spirit to make us children, is indeed the secret of prayer in the spirit and in truth. This is the new and living way Christ has opened up for us. To have Christ the Son and the Spirit of the Son dwelling within us and revealing the Father makes us true spiritual worshipers.
Blessed Lord, I adore the love with which you taught a woman who had refused you a cup of water what the worship of God must be. I rejoice in the assurance that you will no less instruct your disciple who comes to you with a heart that longs to pray in the spirit and in truth. O Holy Master, teach me this blessed secret.
Teach me that spiritual worship is not of man, but comes from you; that it is not something of times and seasons but rather the outflowing of a life in you. Teach me to draw near to you in prayer with a deep awareness of my ignorance and of my having nothing in myself to offer, and at the same time of the provision that you, my Savior, make for the Spirit’s breathing into my childlike stammering. I bless you that in you I am a child and have a child’s liberty of access, that in you I have the spirit of sonship and of worship in truth. Teach me, above all, blessed Son of the Father, how it is the revelation of the Father that gives us confidence in prayer. Let the infinite fatherliness of God’s heart be my joy and strength for a life of prayer and of worship. Amen.