Worship in Spirit & in Truth via Liturgy (Part 2)

Jesus declared in John 4:23-24 that “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.” In my last article, I showed how using liturgy in worship enables us to worship in God “in truth,” as the language of the prayers and liturgy of the best Prayer Books in the Anglican tradition are steeped in and drawn from Scripture (click here for the full post). Let us now turn to the question of whether liturgy can facilitate worshipping God “in spirit.”

Much debate has occurred over what exactly Jesus meant by “in spirit and truth.” At a bare minimum, his charge implies that worship cannot simply be mental assent to things which are true, with no involvement of the heart. This type of heartless religious observance often characterized Israel’s worship of God; He had instructed them at Sinai as to the ins and outs of the sacrificial system, while calling them to love Him with their whole hearts. As time progressed, the sacrifices kept being offered physically, even long after the hearts of the Israelites had strayed to other gods. This empty worship earned them the rebuke of the prophets. Isaiah, for instance, critiqued the Israelites as a people who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Isaiah 29:13).

The contention that liturgical worship leads to same place as Israelite worship is where many opponents of liturgical worship take their stand, as I myself once did. Such worship, they contend, results in a dead faith. It is not without reason that the nickname “the frozen chosen” has been put upon those within the Episcopal tradition! Reliance upon written prayers and pre-formed service orders can result in the mindless reading of prayers and creeds. This can be as true for the clergy as for the people, with nary a heart engaged in the proceedings. While this critique can be valid, it need not be so. To see a prescription for this malady, let us look at one point of revival in Israel’s history, found during the ministry of Ezra.

In Nehemiah 8, the people of God had returned to the land after being in exile, and were gathered together in Jerusalem. There Ezra read to them from the Torah. Nehemiah 8:8-9 recounts that after the reading, the Levites “helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” This text is often used as a reference to the role and importance of preaching, and rightly so! But consider also that a portion of the Law, Genesis-Deuteronomy, contains the liturgies for Israel’s worship of God. They heard the stories of Creation and Fall, God’s preserving Noah through the Flood, His choosing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, His mighty deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and His preservation of His people through the wilderness. They heard also of all the moral laws given with the covenant at Sinai. And they heard about all of the different sacrifices and rituals they were commanded to offer up and partake in for their right worship of God. The explanation of the Levites would have needed to cover all these things. So, it was not just the explanation of doctrines and recounting of narrative, but a meaningful explanation of worship practices and liturgies as well.

Personally, I have found such explanations to be vital for worshipping God in a liturgical setting. As I have better understood the flow of the liturgy, the underlying purpose of each prayer and how each part flows together into the whole, it has greatly strengthened my heart’s personal engagement with liturgical worship. Understanding how the opening prayers and responses of a Holy Communion service, for example, repeatedly emphasize the need for the human heart to be shaped to desire God, His Word, and His ways, has helped me to pray with a heart that is engaged (for the full liturgy on this section, click here). The more I have learned the origins and purpose of each part of the liturgy, the more I am able to be engaged in worship in both spirit and in truth.

For the final, and more important corrective to dead ritual, let us return to John 4. Jesus’ words do not merely speak of engaging our hearts and minds in worship, but that above all our worship must be empowered by God’s Spirit. In regards to this text, Craig Keener notes that “only religion born from the Spirit, utterly dependent on God’s empowerment, can please God.”[i] Our hearts can only engage in true worship when they are enlivened by the Holy Spirit. After all, in John 15:5 Jesus said that apart from Him we can do nothing, which must include offering pleasing worship to God! Without the Spirit’s indwelling our prayers and praises, they are empty, regardless of their beauty and source. Education on the purposes, meaning, and flow of the liturgy is important, but it is useless without a lively faith and the Spirit’s movement.

Whenever you approach God in worship, I commend to you the following prayer, known as the Collect for Purity, which we use in our Holy Communion services at the very beginning of the service. Its words are beautiful, but more than this, it acknowledges our need for God to cleanse and direct our hearts and desires before we can offer Him true worship:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Help us, O Lord, to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.


[i] Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Volume 1, 618.

Faithful Giving as an Act of Worship

Money is an interesting topic, isn’t it?

We love to sing about it, we love to use it, and we love to have it. Whether it’s Pink Floyd or the O’Jays singing about money in the 70’s, Notorious BIG singing about more money and more problems in the 90s, Bruno Mars singing about how bad he wants to be a billionaire, or Ariana Grande letting us all know how much money she has by the fact that she sees it, likes it, wants it, or got it, throughout the decades we’re familiar with our pop-culture fixation on money and the things that it can buy.

As long as we’re talking about money in an abstract or glamorous way, everyone’s fine with it. But start talking about our specific use of money, start talking about our giving, let alone start preaching on giving, and it’s a taboo topic on par with the “who’d you vote for” question at Thanksgiving Dinner.

Though the topic of our money and giving can often be an uncomfortable and touchy matter, it is one that Scripture speaks clearly and often on. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that 1 out of every 10 verses in the Gospels is Jesus teaching on money, possessions, or giving. As we zoom out and look at the whole Bible, there are around 500 verses on the topic of prayer, less than 500 verses on the topic of faith, and almost 2,500 verses on the topic of money and possessions.

Because of our draw to possessions and our temptation to idolatry, discontentment, and covetousness, God taught often and clearly on this topic. We’re told to avoid the love of money (1 Tim 6:6-10) and to choose God over money (Luke 16:13), so that we can be generous and ready to given (Matthew 6:2-16) and put our trust in God, not riches (1 Tim 6:17-19). We’re also encouraged to plan and save (Prov 21:20) and to look after the news of our families and others (1 Tim 5:8; Heb 13:16), just to name a few of the things God’s says in His Word about this topic.

As I’ve thought on this topic recently, I want to share with you 7 principles for faithful, godly giving that I think we see in God’s Word.

#1 God sees the topic of our money and our giving as a spiritual matter, an issue relating to our heart, and an issue directly relating to our worship of Him.

One of the key passages to look at to see our money and our giving as a spiritual matter and heart issue are Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21, and 24. In these verses we see Jesus teach on the topic of giving and how we are to give, as well as establishing the principle that we cannot love both God and money. It was this very topic of giving and money that led the rich young ruler not to place his faith in Jesus (Matthew 19). And in Matthew 13, we see Jesus give the parable of the sower, After sowing seeds among 4 different soils, with only the last soil representing the heart that truly comes to Christ and bears fruit in keeping with repentance, we see in verse 22 Jesus commenting on what caused the seed thrown among the thorns to wither and die — The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.

The fact is, you simply cannot read the Bible’s teaching on money, giving, and possessions without recognizing that our money and our giving is a spiritual matter relating to our heart.

#2 God expects and commands us to give

There are numerous commands throughout Scripture that command us as God’s children to be faithful and generous givers. In fact, in Matthew 6, it’s interesting how Jesus begins his teaching on giving there. He begins in Matthew 6:2 by saying, “Thus, WHEN you give.” Not “if” you give, but “when” you give. You see, there was an exception as Jesus is teaching his disciples that of course they’re giving. To think of a non-giving disciple wasn’t even on the radar; it was an oxymoron. His intent, then, was to teach them how to give. Throughout God’s Word, he both expects and commands us to be faithful and generous givers.

#3 God wants us to give for the right reasons

There are numerous wrong reasons that people could give. In Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus address the wrong reasons of giving for people’s praise and adoration and simply to boost ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we see Paul address the wrong reasons of giving reluctantly and under compulsion. We must make sure, as we think about our use of money and our giving, that we are avoiding the wrong reasons for giving and instead give for the right reasons — with a heart focused on worshipping God in glad, faithful obedience and generosity in our giving.

#4 God reminds us that our giving is ultimately to our all-seeing Heavenly Father

Jesus is clear on this in Matthew 6:3-4. As we give to the local church and as we give to our brothers and sisters in need, our aim and goal should be one thing and one thing only — worshipping God through that sacrificial giving. If that is not our goal, we will give ourselves to sounding the trumpet before us and building ourselves up in the eyes of others. But true Christian giving is content with not a single soul ever knowing how much we gave, because our focus is ultimately on God, and we are content that our all-seeing heavenly Father sees our giving — and that is perfectly sufficient for us.

#5 God teaches that our giving should be done in light of the Incarnation

2 Corinthians 8:8-15 is key here. In these verses, Paul ties our giving to the incarnation and what Jesus did for our sake in taking on human flesh and accomplishing the salvation of His people. Just as our humility should be modeled after the incarnation (Phil 2), so our giving should be done in light of the incarnation — in light of the fact that God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, gave up everything that was highly His, became poor for our sake, so that through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we might receive the greatest gift of all through faith and repentance — His righteousness and the right to become children of God.

#6 God teaches that our giving should be in accordance with our means

God has called us to care for ourselves and to care for our families. We simply cannot give everything away and neglect those responsibilities. Nor can we give what we do not have. Rather, we give in accordance with our means. Some have been blessed greatly financially and should praise the Lord for that. Others struggle greatly financially. Whether the rich or the poor widow with two coins, we are to give generously and sacrificially according to our means.

#7 God teaches that Christian giving must be done willingly, freely, and cheerfully

2 Corinthians 9:7 is key here. The Christian should not be browbeaten or guilt into giving to the Lord reluctantly or under compulsion. Rather…

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver, which is what we must be.

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver who sees all that God has blessed him or her with and wants to give back to the Lord out of that abundance.

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees the great sacrifice of Christ and wants to honor and emulate that sacrifice in his or her giving.

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as a heart issue and wants to examine his or her heart and examine his or her checkbook to see if the use of money corresponds to what they know to be true and biblical.

And…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as an act of worship, whereby we please and honor the Lord by gladly, freely, delightfully, and cheerfully giving to the local church and to others because that is what is honoring to the Lord and what He has called us to do.

May we, as men and women of God, strive to be faithful in our giving as an act of worship of our Great God!