What Jesus Taught
Jesus taught that true worship must involve both spirit and truth:
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
So we must worship in truth — which means worshiping the true God as revealed in Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture. But what does it mean to worship in spirit?
Two Clues from John’s Gospel
“The Hebrew word for ‘waiting’ does not mean passive waiting; it means eager seeking.”
One clue is that John’s gospel uses the word “spirit” to refer to feelings and emotions. You can see that in John 13:21: “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit.” The other clue is that in John 3:6 the word “spirit” refers to something supernaturally produced in us by the Holy Spirit: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Putting those together, worshiping in spirit would mean worshiping with Spirit-given feelings and emotions — like joyful praise, awestruck wonder, sorrow for sin, and longings for God.
But What If I’m Not Feeling It?
What can we do when our hearts feel nothing?
What we must not do is think feelings are optional — and just go through the motions, acting as if we are feeling what we are saying and singing.
Jesus called that hypocrisy: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me . . .’” (Matthew 15:7–8)
But if our hearts are feeling far from God, and we’re not supposed to just go through the motions, what else can we do?
Learning from David
At the beginning of Psalm 40, David’s heart was not full of worshipful feelings. Quite the contrary, actually. He felt like he was in a pit of destruction, and stuck in miry clay (Psalm 40:2). But then God lifted him from that pit of destruction, set his feet upon a rock, and put a song of praise in his mouth (Psalm 40:2–3).
So what happened between feeling stuck in miry clay — and singing praise to God? David tells us in Psalm 40:1: “I waited patiently for the Lord.”
So David did not go through the motions of worship. Nor did he give up on worship. Instead, he waited patiently for the Lord to help him worship.
Waiting for the Lord
“Set your heart on the truth of who God is as revealed in Christ.”
What does it mean to wait for the Lord? We could think it means passively hoping that God will change us. But the Hebrew word does not mean passive waiting; it means eager seeking. It means taking the steps that God has promised to use to help us, while trusting him expectantly to work.
Here are some specific suggestions I have found helpful.
• Look to Jesus expectantly. Don’t focus on your lifeless heart. Instead, look to Christ with faith, trusting him to meet you, help you, and change you.
• Pray and ask him to help you worship. Be honest with him about the dullness of your heart. Confess any known sin, and be assured of forgiveness based on the finished work of the cross. Then ask for more of the Spirit’s work in your heart to enable you to feel joyful praise, awestruck wonder, and heartfelt longing for him.
• Set your heart on the truth of who God is as revealed in Christ. If worship is fire, then truth is the fuel that causes the fire to burn. The more fuel, the hotter the fire. So focus prayerfully and relentlessly on the truth in the songs, the prayers, the Scriptures.
• Continue the above steps — patiently. It’s called waiting for a reason. God might change your heart instantly — or not. But his timing is all about his perfect love for you. So humbly continue waiting for him.
And what does God promise to do as we wait for him? He promises that . . .
• When we seek him with all our hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13).
• When we press on to know the Lord, he will come to us like spring rain (Hosea 6:3).
• When we come to Jesus, our heart-hungers will be satisfied (John 6:35).
In other words, he will change our hearts so we experience Spirit-given, heart-felt worship, and once again see and feel the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
Don’t Settle for Fog
Yosemite Valley in California is one of the most beautiful places on earth. To get there you go through a tunnel which opens to an awesome view of the entire valley — El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rock. Right at that tunnel opening there is a parking area where everyone is out of their cars, looking at the view, saying, “Ooooh!!!” and “Aaaah!!!”
Now imagine you drive through that tunnel, but when you emerge all you see is fog. No awesome view, just thick, gray, soupy fog.
“Wait on the Lord. It’s just a matter of time before the wind of the Spirit starts to blow.”
That’s what happens when we are not feeling worship. The beauty of God is right in front of us. But blocking that view is the fog of unbelief — worries, or pride, or greed.
If we just go through the motions in worship, then it’s like getting out of the car at the parking area, staring at the fog, and saying “Ooooh… Aaaah…” — words, but with no feeling. Why do that?
But if we will wait on the Lord, it’s just a matter of time before the wind of the Spirit starts to blow, the fog starts to break up, we see the beauty of God revealed in Christ — and we worship.