JESUS encountered many individuals during His earthly ministry. One such person was the unnamed Samaritan woman who had the great privilege of meeting Jesus alone at a well in Sychar in Samaria (Jn. 4:4-42).
Jesus invited her into the kingdom of God and she gladly accepted His gracious invitation. In the course of their conversation, Jesus also taught her about true worship. We can learn much from that life-changing conversation that the woman had with Jesus, her Saviour (and ours too).
Let us begin by taking a short detour to a sermon preached by John Wesley. One of Wesley’s favourite sermon texts was Mt. 6:33 – “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” He used this text in several of his sermons, urging people to turn from their sinful ways and to turn to God. Wesley not only used the Scripture text evangelistically, but also used it to encourage the early Methodists to maintain the focus of their lives.
In one such sermon, Wesley reminded his listeners about the spiritual condition of the Samaritans. When Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century, many Jews were exiled, and the king of Assyria brought many foreigners to settle in Israel (2 Kgs. 17:24). The resulting mixed race of Samaritans emerged. Their religion was a syncretistic or adulterated one. They retained some elements of Hebrew worship, but also embraced many mported idols. Their condition is described in the Bible: “Even while these were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols.” (2 Kgs 7:41).
Wesley pointed to this verse and observed how Christians were often guilty of the same thing. He then taught that to truly worship God is to trust Him, love Him, obey Him, and to become like Him. This, indeed, is a helpful way of understanding worship.
We are to seek God and His kingdom – this should be the motivation of true worshippers of God. In many churches, this idea has been incorporated into how worship services are conducted. Worship services are to be “seeker-sensitive” in that they are to cater to the needs, questions, and quests of seekers, people who are not yet Christians but who are seeking for God. Such evangelistic ideas are noble and to be commended. But there is also a danger that when we go in this direction, we may forget the deeper purposes of our call to worship God.
Worship, first and foremost, is all about God. The centre of our attention in worship should be God, and not seekers, let alone ourselves. Human seekers often begin approaching God for self-interests. In other words, they are looking for the gifts, rather than the Giver. This should not surprise us, for that is often how most of us came near the edges of the Kingdom of God.
‘Worship, first and foremost, is all about God. The centre of our attention in worship should be God.’
But we must get a clearer picture of worship. In worship, God is the most important Seeker; He is far more important than human seekers. In His encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus demonstrated who the true Seeker is. It was He who sought the woman and brought her to eternal life. The woman came to the well, looking for water, but Jesus came looking for her. This is the way it often is. God is the Divine Seeker. He is the Shepherd who comes looking for His lost sheep. He is the One who came to seek and to save the lost.
IN HIS well-known poem entitled The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson describes our human inclination to run away from God and how God pursues us relentlessly till we turn to Him.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fl ed Him, down the labyrinthine ways …
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace, …
Thompson emphasises the fact that in truth God is the only Seeker. It is He who follows fl eeing sinners till they feel His pursuing breath and are conquered by His untiring, constant and persistent love.
This is what Jesus demonstrated at the well in Sychar. He shows a God who came seeking for us. In His conversation, He taught the woman about true worship. Like her forefathers, the woman was rather confused about worship. The Samaritans worshipped God but not Him alone. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that God is the Divine Seeker who is seeking for true worshippers. Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (Jn. 4:23).
It is clear that in worship, it is God who is the Seeker. We must never forget this if we are to remain God-centred in our worship services. If we are truly worshipping God, we will discover that it is God who seeks us; we seek only because He fi rst sought us. In the depths of our worship of God, we will come to realise that we are not really the seekers; we are the sought. What a profound experience this will be, that we have been sought by our Creator and Saviour.
Too often, we make ourselves the central subjects in our experience of God. God may be merely an object. And so, we emphasise that it is we who seek Him, who love Him. But the Bible teaches us otherwise. All have gone astray. It is God who initiates our salvation experience. It is He who first loves us. It is He who first seeks us. We must give more credit to God for our spiritual experiences. We seek only because He first sought us. We love only because he first loved us.
The celebrated spiritual writer Henri Nouwen learnt this truth when he relates how he spent much of his Christian journey seeing himself as the one who loved God. As God brought Nouwen deeper into relationship with Himself, Nouwen began to see a greater and richer reality – that he was the beloved of God. The primary experience was not he loving God, but God loving him.
It is important that God becomes the defining centre of our lives and worship. Yes, we need to be seeker sensitive in our worship, but we must know who the Seeker is.