Dec 26, 2008

Retreat to worship in spirit

by Dan Grubbs

Not long ago, I taught about the spiritual disciplines of retreat and solitude to a group of young adults. In my study and research in preparation for the lesson, I believe I had a personal revelation about worshiping God and about Christ’s words in John 4:23-24. Maybe everyone else already understands this, but I wanted to share what the Holy Spirit showed me during my study.

Worshiping in spirit was sort of vague in my thinking (admittedly, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer). When I read this story about the Samaritan woman at the well, frankly, I just assumed that Christ was focusing on the mental dialogue we can have with God. Here’s the passage for those not familiar with it. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshiper shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

I will confess to having a limited understanding of what Christ truly meant from His perspective. To what was Christ referring when He used the word “spirit”? Many will point to the corporate prayer and singing as important elements of worship.Others will remind us of giving and service as worship. I agree fully that these are examples of worshiping our God. But, I’m not convinced that is completely what Christ was talking about in this passage.

Here’s where my thoughts began to been enlarged about worship. I was digging into Christ’s and Paul’s examples of practicing retreat and solitude when I realized that these ‘spiritual’ disciplines are, I believe, largely what Christ was talking about. Paul going into Arabia; Christ slipping away into the wilderness; are examples of retreat and solitude to be alone with God to worship.

Christ was, in part, referring to worship as those times we are in communion with our Creator. It’s like the famous quote about Paul. Before his Damascus experience, Saul ‘said’ his prayers to God. After conversion, Paul ‘prayed’ his prayers. He was in connection as a personality with the personality of God.

When we retreat away from our schedules, our activities, and generally the ‘noise’ of living, and spend time in solitude with God, we are worshiping in spirit. That eternal part of us is ‘together with’ the eternal Spirit. This is exactly what the word communion means — together with. This is what Christ teaches us that the Father seeks from us.

This prompted me to quickly review other spiritual disciplines. I came to the same conclusion for each. When we can put ourselves away, and enter into a spiritual discipline, we are in communion with God and thus, worshiping Him in spirit.

You may ask, “Where’ve you been? That’s a principle the church has understood to be true for thousands of years.” I cannot deny that this truth was pre-existent to my own personal realization of it. Nor can I deny that I should have grasped this sooner. However, when I look around, I don’t see the fruits of a church who is regularly practicing the spiritual disciplines that lead to “worshiping the Father in spirit.”

In fact, what I see is a church who has come to revere time itself and put away the spiritual disciplines and salve our conscience with singing hymns and praises on Sunday and having a running dialog with God amidst the activities of our day. Do not misunderstand me. Corporate worship is vital, and we are not to neglect it.

We are privileged to be able to communicate with our God at any conscious moment. But, these things are not to replace the communion we experience with the personality of God when we (among other times) meditate, sit in silence, close the closet door, or retreat away where we will not be disturbed.

I know I’m taking a narrow picture of what spiritual worship can be. But, I think we need a foundation upon which to build other forms of spiritual worship. I’m quite sure that there are other disciplines that we could arguably focus on. But, as I said, we must begin with a foundation. Imagine the worshiper coming to Sunday service or a Bible study who has spent the week with a daily retreat. How much sweeter will our singing, our offering, our service, and our fellowship be?

We must teach our children, our youth, our young adults, our middle aged, and our elderly that we must practice the discipline of retreat to answer the call of worshiping the Father “inspirit and truth.”

C.S. Lewis put it this way: “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other…God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

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