There is a great deception in the Church today that embraces the mindset that if an assembly of believers merely does the externals of “worship” well, they’re doing worship well.
Across the landscape of Christianity there are vastly different ideas as to what it means to do the externals of “worship” well. To some it means black-painted walls, house lights down, stage light/fog machine effects up, reclaimed-wood backdrops, and a ripped-kneed worship band belting out the latest pop worship songs. To others it’s rigid pews, stained glass windows, house lights always up, and a non-emotional three songs and out song list (with no song newer than thirty years old included.) Still to others, it’s a packed living room, carpet littered with half-filled coffee cups, a couple guitars, participatory singing/song leading, “glory-cloud effects” coming from the kitchen from a pot-luck “burnt offering”, and kids snuggling on laps or coloring on the floor. Although these settings are very diverse, the groups that participate in them might each believe that their way of doing worship is indeed the most “well done.”
Similarly, in the time of Jesus, there were three main worship environments that various groups of Jews were involved in: the temple in Jerusalem, the temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, and the synagogue system scattered throughout Judea and all the lands of the Diaspora.
When Jesus spoke with a woman at “Jacob’s well” in Samaria (John 4:4-26), she sought His perspective as to where God’s people ought to worship:
“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.'” (vs. 19-20 NKJV))
Instead of replying in favor of one or the other, He pointed beyond them both to a coming, more glorious temple where all true worshipers would one day worship. That God-filled place would be internal, within the spirits of those He would redeem, not in an external here or there:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'” (John 4:21,23-24 NKJV)
Today, in the Church, we have our own worship “mountains” that we gather unto. These are most often distinguished by the diverse external environments and expressions that have been created and/or adopted. I believe Jesus would say to His people, however, “It’s neither here nor there; neither on this ‘mountain’ nor that! What Father is interested in is what’s going on inside of you, between you and Him. He is greatly seeking those who will enter into His Presence within their own spirit and worship Him there in sincerity and truth. It’s not the outward things that He’s concerned with anymore. He is seeking your heart.”
The reality is, we can have all the externals of “worship” done very well, and yet true worship before God be very poor. Although externals in worship have a place, true worship is not primarily a matter of, nor reliant on, externals done well…but on internals done well. As extravagant, impressive, and respectable as the externals of Jewish worship were in the time of Christ, and even as the externals of Christian worship are in our day, the Lord is looking for something much more glorious. It is “neither here nor there” but in spirit and in truth. May we meet with our Lord there and worship Him with all of our being, from the inside out!