3. Worship will lead to work, but work can keep you from worship.
In Luke chapter ten, we read about Jesus’ unique encounter with two sisters who incarnated both correct and incorrect attitudes toward worship. One focused on serving. The other focused on sitting. One focused on action. The other focused on adoration.
This important passage sheds light on both the heart of worship and the motivation for service. While Martha sweated and slaved in the kitchen, Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet. While Martha huffed and puffed, Mary sat quietly listening to Jesus’ voice. While Martha cooked and prepared food, Mary received spiritual food from the Bread of Life.
Luke offers us an honest glimpse into Martha’s heart in verse 40 by stating, “Martha was distracted with much serving.” The word distracted literally means “to be drawn away” or “to be dragged about.” In other words, Martha allowed the urgent things in her life to crowd out the important things. She allowed herself to be dragged away from Jesus (the important) in order to attend to a beeping oven and a burning stove (the urgent).
Now please don’t miss the point. I am not devaluing hard work and service (The Lord knows how much I appreciate coming home to a fresh, homemade meal from my amazing wife!) On the contrary, work is vital. God made us to work. He initiated work prior to the Fall. But we have predominantly misunderstood the role of work in the modern age.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that we began to see the rise of the 40-hour workweek. The mindset of “working for the weekend” and TGIF soon crept into the church. In the process, work lost its redemptive value. Fast forward to 2014. Now, this factory mindset, when applied to “Christian” work and service, has produced duty-driven ministry—a punching of the religious time card to appease our heavenly boss because it’s what good Christians do. This attitude toward work divorces itself completely from God’s intention of the work/worship relationship.
Simply put, worship will always lead to work, but work can literally paralyze you from worship. Don’t misunderstand: activity for God is a good thing, but it must be birthed out of our time with Him so that it is responsive rather than a responsibility. Or to say it another way: don’t place the doing before the being. Surrender always leads to service. When we get serious about intimacy with God, serving Him will be a natural result.
In verse 42, Jesus made one of the most startling statements of His entire ministry. He said, “But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen that good portion.” If you were to ask Jesus today what is the single most important thing I can do with my life on a daily basis, He would tell you in two words, “SIT DOWN!” God is not looking for people to serve Him. He is looking for people who want to know Him. He is looking for worshippers who will sit at His feet. Will you commit to sit simply sit as His feet?
4. Worship is about a person, not a place.
If you google the word worship, you will discover a bottomless pit of information, most of which has nothing to do with worship. Misconceptions about worship abound in titanic proportions. Most people associate worship with what happens in a church building or auditorium. This misconception runs amuck. In fact, this same misconception plagued the people of Jesus’ day.
In John chapter four, Jesus had an encounter with a Samaritan woman that completely changed her life and her preconceived notions regarding worship. Samaritans were half- Jews—Jews who had intermarried with the Assyrians—and were therefore despised by the Jewish people. Because Samaritans were forbidden to worship in the Jewish temple, they simply built their own.
Sitting at Jacob’s well under the hot Israeli sun, Jesus knowingly shattered several social and ethnic barriers in order to have a conversation with the Samaritan woman—willingly risking social criticism so that He could restore, heal, and transform a desperate woman. For this woman, the centrality of worship was a place—the temple at Mount Garazim. For Jesus, the centrality of worship was a person—Himself. Kindly and tenderly, Jesus began a demolition process on her understanding of worship that would proved to be life altering.
She argued, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:20-24).
This whole conversation now hinged on these two words spirit and truth. What was Jesus saying? Kenneth Gangel sheds some light on this. “We learn immediately that place is irrelevant and that worship is not primarily in body—through physical motions and activities—but in spirit … an attitude of the heart which acknowledges God and his sovereignty over our lives. Furthermore worship must be done in truth—honestly, biblically, centered on Christ” (Kenneth Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, “John,” p. 76).
Jesus’ challenge to the Samaritan woman was simple: If you focus on where, you miss the point entirely. Instead, worship is about who. Worship is about Jesus. Worship is about an attitude of the heart that recognizes Jesus as the center of life, and it must be filtered through the lens of the Gospel–that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman reveals this very important contrast: “Religion describes humankind’s search for God; the gospel describes the way God reached down to humanity” (Gangel, p. 77). Religion limits worship to physical places, activities, and techniques. The gospel rightly places Jesus at the center of true worship. Religion places the burden of “getting worship right” on the individual. The gospel says, “Jesus got it right, so make Him your focus.”
As you examine your own heart, attitude, and understanding toward worship, how does it align with what Jesus taught the Samaritan woman? Are there moments where you erroneously limit your understanding of worship to a particular time and place? Are there moments in your day-to-day life that you fail to identify as worship?