The Woman at the Well – 1.What God Wants

July 24, 2011

John 4: 1 - 24
It was a hot day. Travelling since sunrise, he and his friends had been hurrying to get through this part as quickly as possible - sweat poured off his brow as he walked along the dusty road. They came to a well on the outskirts of a small town. The man sat down on the well to rest and his companions offered to go into town to buy food. Soon he was alone. He closed his eyes and thought "if only I could have a drink of water from this well."
Soon a woman came along. It wasn't the normal time to get water, and it was unusual for a woman to come to a well alone. But this woman was different. We don't know her name, but we know that she was an outcast in a land of outcasts. All that was about to change - the man sitting at the well was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus asks her if she would mind getting him a drink - a dialogue begins (longest recorded conversation between Jesus and anyone in the Bible). When it's all over, she walks away with a lot more than a bucket of water. She walks away a new person with a new direction in life - she discovers 3 surprising truths about God.
Over the next 3 weeks, we're going to look closely at this story and discover those truths. Many of us are like this woman - we've come to the well in need of water. We've come to church hoping to find an answer to a question or a solution to a problem in our lives. It's good that we've come to the well, but God wants us to leave with a lot more than just a bucket of water, a quick fix or a simple 4 step plan on how to get your act together. He wants us to know Him, experience Him and enjoy Him. But for that to happen, we've got to understand some very basic things starting with the question ... what does God want from us? Does he want us to believe in Him in the way that Peter Pan wanted everyone to believe in Tinkerbell? Does He want us to stand on street corners with signs that read "repent for the end is near”? Does he want us to shave our heads, go up on a mountain somewhere and contemplate our navels? What does God really want from us?
v. 3 – 9 - good question because there was great hostility between Jews and Samaritans. The Jews of the 1st century considered the people of Samaria to be religious half-breeds because they had adopted the customs and gods of the surrounding pagan cultures and denied the prophets that God had sent to Israel. So, for a Jew like Jesus to strike up a conversation with a Samaritan was very unusual - to say nothing of His request to drink from the cup of someone considered to be "unclean." On top of that, it was taboo in Middle Eastern culture for a man to approach a woman in public the way Jesus had done. It's no wonder she was surprised - "why are you asking me for a drink?"
v. 10 – 15 - I think she's making fun of him. Put yourself in her place. You've come to get water. There's a guy you've never seen before sitting by the well. He crosses ethnic, gender and cultural boundaries and asks you for a drink which is weird enough, but then he starts talking nonsense about water, about God and living water and eternal life. What's your reaction going to be? I think Jesus picked up on her sarcasm and got her attention in a rather painful way.
v. 16 – 18 - explains why she's coming to the well in the middle of the day, alone. She's been shunned by the other women of the community because of her sin - makes her an outcast in a land of outcasts. Now what would your reaction be, if you were in her place? You just made fun of this guy and then he reads your mail. He puts his finger on the most needy and painful part of your existence - the deepest, darkest, ugliest sin in your life. What would you say then? I think your mouth would hang open and you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are in the presence of no ordinary human being. That's what happened.
v. 19 - "Somehow, you know these things - you know me - you know that I am in need of more than just a bucket of water - you know that I am dead on the inside and in desperate need of living water." I think she puts her bucket down and sits down next to Jesus. I think her heart is beating fast but she's ready to talk about things that really matter.
It's funny how that happens sometimes. Some of you started coming to this church looking for "water" and, in the process, the Spirit of God has put his finger on the most needy and painful part of your existence - the deepest, darkest, ugliest sin in your life and pointed out your need for living water. It scares you a little bit to be known like that by God, but your heart is softer and ready to listen, ready to understand more.
v. 20 - "If I'm going to focus on spiritual things, I've got to know what God wants from me. Where am I supposed to do the religious stuff? At the temple in Jerusalem, or here on this mountain? Where do I go?" – v. 21 – 24.
We're going to hit the pause button until next week because we've come to the first discovery, the answer to the question of what God really wants from us - for us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. It's ironic that we talk a lot about people coming to a point in their lives where they want to seek God, but God himself is the original seeker. He is seeking worshipers. The very first commandment of the 10 - Exodus 20: 3, 4.
God is seeking people who worship him. Which raises an obvious question: what exactly is it? For most people, worship means the first part of a church service where you sing and read a Bible verse or two and say a prayer. There's a lot more to it - but we also need to know what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. So, we'll take a look at that, too. One other thing needs to be asked: Why does this matter? Why does God even care if we worship him or not? What difference does it make?
1. Defining the "W" Word
"Worship" literally means "to attribute worth" ... not necessarily a "spiritual term" because worship can be directed towards any person or thing that is held in highest honour and respect. You can worship the ground a person walks on. Now, there are different ways to attribute worthiness and in the Bible there are several words translated as "worship" or "worshipper" which convey 3 slightly different shades of meaning.
The most frequent word in both the OT and NT means to bow down or to prostrate oneself - to assume an outward posture that reflects an inner attitude of humility and respect. Psalm 95: 6 - Worship implies a humility that affirms that, in comparison to God, I'm not very much. I'm not very wise, I'm not very righteous, I'm not very powerful and I have no basis on which to make any demands about life in this world. It communicates the idea of human beings assuming our rightful place at the feet of God and acknowledging that he is God and we are not. So, to worship means to confess - "God, I am nothing compared to you."
Other terms for worship in the Bible are sometimes translated -"fear." Deut. 10: 20 - But the idea is not so much terror and dread as it is being struck speechless at the majesty and greatness of the infinite God. Worship, then, means an attitude of awe and reverence towards God - Psalm 5: 7, 29: 2. Worship is an act of acknowledging the One greater than yourself in total and complete adoration. Who else is like Him? Who else created us? Who else blesses us? Who else died for our sins? Who else or what else could we worship? No one. Only God. To worship means to express - "God, you are incredible for this reason and I love you." So, on the one hand, "to worship God" means for us to humble ourselves and, on the other, it means to exalt Him.
Now, it's very easy to see how these 2 attitudes lend themselves to what Christians call a "worship service." It's relatively easy to express these ideas in lyrics, music and singing - that's why we spend time doing this. We want people to have a regular opportunity to hear that kind of language and choose to turn their hearts in that direction. However, worship is more than a song - there are also terms for worship that communicate the idea of service, surrender and sacrifice - Romans 12: 1, 2.
“In reality, I am nothing. And you are everything. You're the potter. I'm the clay. I am here to serve you - not the other way around. Nothing else makes sense. So, if you want me to live in this place instead of that one, I will. If you want me to do that job, I will. If you want me to give that much to your work, I will. If you want me to show kindness to that person, I will. If you want me to change the channel or get off the internet, I will. If you want me to give up control in this area, I will.” Each of those decisions is an act of worship - and defines what it means to be a worshipper. That's what God wants most from us: to worship him - by humbling ourselves, revering him and surrendering our whole lives to his service - whatever that looks like moment to moment.
2. In Spirit and In Truth
Well, what does that mean? It's not complicated if you look at the context. Jesus told her that the temple location was irrelevant for a true worshipper. "Worshipping in spirit" communicates that worship isn't something reserved exclusively for a church service or even a special place in your house or a special mountain in Jerusalem. It isn't something where you come in to the holy place and "turn it on" and then you "turn it off" and leave and go about "real life." To worship in spirit is a reminder that true worship begins in your heart - Isaiah 29: 13.
"Worshipping in spirit" means more than following a human ritual, which is something the Jews and Samaritans were good at. Worship is something that starts in your heart and occasionally comes out of your mouth in song and expressions of humility and awe and reverence; and always comes out of your life in actions.
What about worshiping in truth? Jesus told the woman that if she knew the gift that God had for her and who he was, she would ask for him to give her water. The Samaritans had incorporated the worship of pagan gods into the worship of Jehovah. "Whatever you want to believe, that's fine. Just worship in your own way." Jesus was telling her (and us) that true worship isn't about our opinions of God, but a response to what God reveals to us about Himself in the Bible. It means that your head is in the game as well as your heart. It means that true worshipers go beyond a search for emotional experiences and trying to make themselves feel good. They seek to know about the God they worship.
So, let's try and put it all together. What does God want most from us? He wants our worship - means engaging both our hearts and our heads in humbling ourselves, revering him and surrendering our lives to his service moment to moment. It's not just about pretty music. It's not about really moving experiences in church or on top of a mountain, although all of those things can sometimes be a part of it. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength - putting everything we are - heart, heads, bodies - into the service of loving God.
3. Why It Matters
Why is it so important to God who we worship? Why would God want us to choose him? Why would God seek after those who will worship Him? Nothing else and no one else is as worthy as God -God would be less than God to allow us to worship anything but him. It would be malicious of Him - "Hey, I don't care who or what you give your heart and head to. I don't care who or what you humble yourself before. I don't care who or what you revere. I don't care who or what you surrender to, sacrifice for and serve."
Like you as a parent saying to your children "if you want sweets go ask a stranger, they'll take care of you." We don't do that. Why? Because we're the best source. They should come to us, not some stranger. God wants our worship because it's in our own best interest to make Him and nothing or no one else the object of it.
So - what do you worship? Everybody does, you know. Everybody worships something. Satan knew this so well that he came to Jesus in the wilderness and said to him, "I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you'll just fall down and worship me. Humble yourself before me, revere me, serve and surrender to me." Satan would love nothing better than to get you and me to worship something other than God.
So, what do you worship? Do you worship things? Do you bow your knee to it, revere it, serve it and sacrifice for it? Do you worship status? Do you worship self? Do you worship your job? Do you worship your children? What do you bow your knee to, revere and serve? Whatever it is, God has a better offer - to come and be a worshipper of Him in spirit and in truth. It's what you and I were made to do. It's what God wants from us most of all for his glory and for our good.
 

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