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Insight: A Samaritan’s question helps us worship


Occasionally I begin to grow weary of congregational worship.
I feel like I have sung these same songs a thousand times. The prayers seem to be general and repetitious. Communion is a hollow ritual. The preaching seems pointless.
Usually those times occur when I am much too busy and when all my life seems overwhelming.
Those are times when I return to the Psalms to renew my perception of the God I am worshiping. When I begin to address my problems — and they are my problems, not the congregation’s — I turn again to John 4 and Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.
You recall that Jesus and his disciples were returning from Judea through Samaria. While sitting beside an ancient well, Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. She is startled that a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink. Jesus tells her the water he offers “will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The conversation turns to the life of the woman, who has had five husbands and is now living with a man that is not her husband. Jesus’ knowledge of this prompts the woman to understand that he is a prophet.
She has a worship question: Can we worship at this mountain or do we have to go to Jerusalem? Jesus tells her that the question will not be relevant in a short time. He declares: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
The power of that statement helps move me beyond the immediacy of the congregation with which I am worshiping. Worship is all about the spiritual, eternal being of God. Worship is about my bringing my spirit into harmony with the spirit of God.
Worship is the process of diminishing my awareness of myself and increasing my awareness of God, the being worthy of all honor and praise.
The songs we sing are written by men and women. They are not inspired but reflect the best efforts of a person to express praise, adoration or description of God and his workings.
In the early church, singing was usually a simple chant of a psalm or other text of Scripture. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many poets set out to compose poems to convey a spiritual truth or insight.
I grew up singing those songs, and many people of my generation still prefer those songs. People of my generation often describe contemporary Christian songs as 10 words repeated eight times. Yet I find that the simplicity of many contemporary songs helps me focus and concentrate on God.
When public prayers begin to seem flat and redundant, I must concentrate hard on making the sentiment of the prayer more appropriate for a petition or praise to our divine father. Years ago, I simply prayed on my own and ignored the public prayer, but a friend urged me to share in the prayer and try to enrich it with a more thoughtful expression — a good practice for public prayers in a non-worship situation.
I always struggle when I pray privately. I understand that God knows what I need, but my prayer is a reflection of my faith. It assumes a trust in God’s interest in and concern for what is on my heart.
When the whole church becomes more attentive to public prayer, those leading prayer move beyond vague generalization to the specific requests and expressions of thanksgiving.
Communion should be powerful in renewing our understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. I know that reminders of the beaten, bloody Christ are sometimes necessary to help communion move us. The greater power, however, comes from the reminder of the Creator becoming a sacrificial offering for my sins.
I wish that, leading into communion,we could spend at least an hour in prayer and meditation as a means of leading people to a fuller discernment of the holy offering.
As Jesus taught the Samaritan woman, and all the generations that followed her, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

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