EBWU Conference - Lisbon, Portugal - 10-13 October 2024

Worshipping in Spirit

By TaNikka Sheppard

John 4:1-26

This narrative begins with a controversy regarding baptism. As Baptists, such matters of regarding baptisms may be important to many of us, yet as we move on through the rest of this chapter we see that it is such a small part of the story.

This story is about worship and it is one of my favorite narratives. Not just because it is about a woman’s encounter with Jesus. I love this story because Jesus’ acknowledgement of her affirms her. Jesus risked scandal, and had a theological conversation with her. It is also the most powerful and in depth conversation Jesus has on the topic of worship. Truly, it is a conversation. It is neither a dictation, nor a lecture, but a true conversation that includes His declaration.

It excites me that the most exhaustive conversation Jesus has about worship is with this unspecified anonymous woman. She is often identified by two things: being a Samaritan and a sinner. Some readers, preachers and Christians love to focus on her marital status, but Jesus did not. Many scholars have shamed her because she is at the water well alone at noon, but she was at the right place at the right time to have an encounter with Jesus. During this encounter Jesus declares that He is the Messiah that she has been waiting for.

Here are three reminders about worshipping in Spirit and in truth:

1. God is still seeking persons that worship in Spirit and truth. The fact that God is seeking (searching, looking, pursuing, etc.) indicates that these worshippers are not readily obvious or common. Our God, who sees all, knows all, and who transcends time and space, is searching for true worshippers that worship in Spirit and truth.

There are vast numbers of worship services happening around the world. Yet God is still searching. There are billions of Christians who inhabit this earth. Yet God is still pursuing. Among these believers, we celebrate that there are millions of Baptists in the world. Yet even among our numbers, God is still seeking true worshippers that worship in Spirit and in truth.

Therefore, each time I read this passage I ask myself: In His pursuit, will God identify me as a “true worshipper”? Will God count us among those who worship in Spirit and truth? Are we aware of what pleases the Lord? Are our priorities in tune with the Spirit of God, or have we allowed unimportant matters to get in the way? Have we allowed ourselves to major in minor things? Do we focus on the issues that God cares about? In this age of commodification and materialism have we allowed ourselves to forget that God is a “who” and not a “what”? Has worship become a thing that we own, or is it something we offer freely to our Heavenly Father? Even as we seek to worship in Spirit, do we abide in God’s truth? As I ask all of these questions I do it with the conviction that we cannot worship in Spirit without acknowledging and worshipping in truth, for they are inextricably and eternally tied together.

2. Worshipping in Spirit supersedes the importance of our location. Today, many of us are like the Samaritan woman in the Bible story and her contemporaries, who defined worship by location and traditions. Too often we confine worship to a place. We conform it to music and programs. There are many beautiful churches and magnificent buildings that will one day be dusty museums. Therefore, our location cannot determine the essence of our worship.

We were reminded of this in our trek to the Anabaptist cave. I wonder, are we willing to risk what those believers risked? More importantly, are we willing to risk what Jesus risked? By conversing with the woman Jesus risked scandal. In this narrative Jesus shows us that worshipping in Spirit brings people together. This includes assembling people who do not normally associate with one another, people who think differently, people from different social statuses and political affinities, people of different creeds, cultures, and races, and people who are in opposition. In order to do this we must have greater loyalty to Christ than to any political party, tradition, culture, habit or temptation.

It may surprise you that I say this at the BWA Congress, but in His pursuit of true worshippers, God is not seeking “Baptist” worship. The Lord is not seeking a specific musical genre or denominational liturgy. Worshipping in Spirit and truth examines the state of the heart and the condition of the soul. It is openness to the Holy Spirit and an offering of our entire life to God. Worshipping in Spirit and truth is a way of living in submission to the work of the Spirit. This requires obedience to the call of God, honesty, transparency, and unashamed acceptance and celebration of the Living Gospel and the Saving grace of Jesus Christ.

3. Worshipping in Spirit involves a transformational encounter and connection with Christ. I love this Bible passage so much that it inspired me nine years ago to call one of our worship services “The WELL”. The service was developed to be a gathering for young people to have an encounter with God, and like the Samaritan woman, leave so inspired that they share their testimony of what Christ has done for them with others. The sharing of their experiences is not an oppressive form of evangelism, but an opportunity to spark other people’s interest in the God they encountered at The WELL.

Nevertheless, over the years I realized that each time I read this story my concept of the “the well” expands. After one such worship service, a female student asked me this profound question: “Can I be the well.” We reread the passage together, and I excitedly respond, “YES! We can both be the well.

Today I wonder, is there a well among us? Is the Baptist World Alliance a well? Are our departments, ministries, auxiliaries, and organizations wells? What about each of us who have attended this gathering?

Is there a WELL here today?

Souls throughout this world are thirsty. Is there a living well where people can find the Living Water and have a moment of transparent awakening? Is there a well where people can find enlightenment…where their soul’s questions can be answered…where their thirst for purpose and the meaning of life can be satisfied and where their hope can overflow?

Are you the well, full of Living Water springing forth to eternal life, where people can have an encounter with Christ for the first time?

This world is in desperate need of living wells for the many yearning persons who are being ostracized for their decisions, persecuted for their beliefs, oppressed by tyranny disguised as religiosity, burdened by life, and condemned for their conditions.

I wonder: do we live in a way that inspires others to seek Christ? Are we committed to living in daily submission to the Spirit as a lifestyle, having no other god or idol before our Creator? This is what it means to worship in Spirit.

So I end with these two questions.

Are you that well? Are you the true worshipper that God is seeking, who worships in Spirit and in truth?