There is a really negative trend that has plagued the western world for at least one hundred years. We can recognize it plainly as we observe the things going on around us; and we can even see it in the church. It seems that even the people who claim to believe in Christ, don’t live like He is entirely sufficient to meet every need. We get so focussed on the things we want and the the things we think we need that we forget to actually have any level of faith. In the western world, we are concerned with providing for ourselves and gathering things up for ourselves and we don’t want to share with others. We don’t want to practice hospitality because we don’t want people to take advantage of our generosity. In the church, we do the same thing. Somehow the church has gotten to this place where it depends completely and utterly on one or more pastors and tries to raise them up to God’s place. In many, many instances, the church doesn’t even believe that Christ is sufficient because it places all of its faith in human ability and organization.
As we live on this earth and as we endure all of the things that this world burdens us with, I have to wonder if we have become dependent on our human leaders (politicians, presidents, community leaders, and even pastors), raising them up in our hearts to the very place of God, or have we depended completely and utterly on Christ and Christ alone? What if we don’t even understand what it means for us to place all of our dependence and our worship in the person of Jesus Christ?
John 4:1-26 (HCSB)
When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to travel through Samaria, so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.
“How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”
“Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
“Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
“Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”
“I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
“Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
“I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”
Jesus left Judea and was traveling to Galilee. On His way, He passed through Samaria, where He met a woman at a well. During the course of their conversation, Jesus mentioned that He could provide water that would become a spring, welling up to eternal life.
The woman got really excited, “Give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water!” The reality is, this Samaritan woman did not understand what it meant to receive this living water from Christ, and I don’t think many in this world understand it today. There are a couple similarities between our response to Christ and the response of the Samaritan woman:
For some reason, people expect that Christ will make life on this earth easier. Just as the Samaritan woman automatically assumed that she would no longer have to travel to the well to draw water, so we assume that a great burden will be lifted off of our shoulders without any work on our part. Jesus demonstrated very quickly that this is not what he meant when He described the spring of water that begins to flow within us. He asked her to go and retrieve the man she was living with. This required more work on her part and it required that her shame from her sinful lifestyle be brought into the open, exposed to the light. We might find this ironic and even humorous, but Christ brings to light something very important for us to realize about genuine faith in Him. He never promises to make life on this earth easier. This world is in opposition to God. If we serve God, we should expect life to be difficult on this earth. We should expect to give of ourselves without visibly receiving anything in return. We should expect to work harder and to invest more because we have been called to do the very work of God.
People today also expect Christ to be tied to a physical place or person. The Samaritan woman assumed that there were two places to worship, one for Samaritans and one for Jews. Christ told her that the day had come when the true worshippers would worship the Father in Spirit and truth. In fact, He states that these are the types of worshippers that God seeks. In the world today, we have the same bad habit. We depend on physical location to present our worship to God. We also depend on physical people to be Christ to us.
We can take Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman and apply it to our own lives since we see the same types of responses to Christ in our world today. A man named Dale Robbins published an article that might help us to understand the unreasonable expectations we might have concerning Christ.1 These don’t just have to apply his ideas to our participation in the organizational church, but we can apply them to all of life as we are the church in this world:
He quotes Psalm 62:5, in order to argue that we shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations of the organizational church, but, again, it can be applied to all of life. I will also quote more than Robbins does so that we can get a fuller context.
“Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken. My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge. Selah. Men are only a vapor; exalted men, an illusion. Weighed in the scales, they go up; together they are less than a vapor” (Psalm 62:5-9 HCSB).
Robbins has this to say on the subject, “…some people come to expect the church to meet all their material needs or pay their bills like the early church did. Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible unless everyone agrees to sell all their property and possessions and give them to the church like the early believers (Acts 4:34-35).”
The reality is that when we expect the church (or anyone else for that matter) to provide everything for us, we are guilty of placing the church body in God’s place. While we should provide for each other as much as we possibly can, we are guilty of worshipping people rather than God when we make it our expectation that others constantly provide for us. This is true, also, when we expect the government to provide our every need when it comes to things like healthcare and welfare. The Samaritan woman was also focussed on having her material needs met, but Jesus quickly shifted the conversation to Spiritual matters. This spring of living water that Christ places within us means that Christ alone is our sustenance. There is not a person, a government or an organization on the earth that can provide for our spiritual well-being and provide nourishment to our souls. Only Christ can do that. We cannot depend on our pastors, teachers, or the organizational church to be our sustenance. We cannot depend on human government, charity, or even our workplaces to provide everything we need. Only Christ can genuinely sustain us.
Robbins goes on to say this, “Neither is it realistic to expect the pastor to spend all his time with you, to attend every social function, or for him to show you constant attention. Instead, learn to place your expectations upon God.”
Now, I love spending time with church members and I love spending time at community events meeting people. There is this one simple truth and I can be honest about it: I am neither omniscient nor omnipresent. Not only is Christ the only one who can sustain us, but He is the only one who can satisfy us. One of the many things that I’ve learned in life is that I cannot be in all places. I can’t be everything to everyone. I can’t fulfill everyone’s expectations. I can’t please everyone. I can’t fulfill everyone’s preferences. I can’t always be with everyone. I can’t be God. If I can’t be these things, then I must not expect anyone else to be these things for me. If you cannot be these things, and no human person can, then we would all do well not to expect it from anyone else. It is so humbling. I come to the place in this life where my only satisfaction can be found in Christ, not in my pastor, not in my friends, not in other people; only in Christ.
To find our sustenance or our satisfaction in anyone other than Christ is to commit idolatry. I must urge those I serve as a pastor to not make me an idol by expecting me to be in the place of God. We must strive together not to make idols out of our political leaders. We should not place anyone in God’s position in our lives. When we place our faith genuinely in Christ, he places a well of living water within us and provides us with spiritual sustenance and satisfaction on this earth that add up to eternal life!
Just the other day, I was browsing through Facebook to see what everyone was up to. I saw a post where someone was complaining about what republicans were doing and planning to do with the Affordable Care Act. The rant sounded almost as if the world would end if the Affordable Care Act was suddenly gone or defunded. To treat any political matter this way is to say that we depend on human government for our sustenance and our satisfaction. If we find our sustenance and our satisfaction in human government, then we have not found it in Christ. For those who dread what the Trump administration will do, our satisfaction is found only in Christ anyway. For those who will celebrate what the Trump administration will do, we would do well to remember that this is not where we find our sustenance and our satisfaction. To expect people to be God, either in our criticisms or our worship, is to commit blatant and unapologetic idolatry.
Those who have Christ, then, don’t have to live a life where they are siphoning everyone else’s water. There is a spring within them that wells up to eternal life. We can victoriously experience with Christ what no person can possibly provide. It is the thing we yearn for: life and vitality.
Worship in Spirit and in Truth
This leads us to discover what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. It is absolutely amazing, here, that Christ does not tell us that we will worship in the key of G or in the presence of stage lights or in the midst of an emotional experience. He does not tell us that we will worship in hymn or enveloped in the presence of a certain instrument. When we define worship that way, we prove to be so shallow in our worship to God. Christ insinuates that no matter what the world looks like around us, our worship is the same. Our worship is not responsive to the world. Some people will say something to this effect, “I worship better when there is great contemporary music and when everyone around me is raising their hands.” This statement is fallacious because that type of worship is responsive and depends on human people. If that is our mentality when it comes to worship, then we are guilty of making an idol out of music style and we are placing people and organization in the place of God. The same goes for hymns and what instruments are played in a music service. Music can never sustain us and can never satisfy us. Christ can!
When we engage with our brothers and sisters in Christ, this includes our pastors, we don’t look to see what we can get. We don’t want to be leeches in the church. No, we look to see what we can give out of the abundance of the spring welling up within our own lives. Christ is the only one who can satisfy us and sustain us. To look to anyone else to fill that role is to put someone else in the place of God.
To worship in spirit and truth, then, is to follow God no matter what opposition may come against us, no matter which of our preferences have not been met, no matter what we have to give up, no matter how we have to change our thoughts; it is to look to Christ, not to what is popular or what may have been popular at one point in time. Strip away everything, and we are left with Christ. If we would not be satisfied and sustained without all of the things that we have, if we would not be satisfied or sustained in a church were there was no music and no preaching, if we didn’t have computers and cell phones or even houses, if (like the samaritan woman) we don’t have a significant other, and it would cause us to be unsatisfied or unsustained, then we have not followed Christ. We do not have this spring of life within us.
Don’t assume that I don’t think music and preaching is unimportant, but the Word of God is still the Word of God without someone to preach and teach it. Our satisfaction and our sustenance cannot be found in the style of teaching or in the style of music. Our satisfaction and our sustenance can only be found in Christ.
After this, Jesus revealed that He was the messiah and this Samaritan Woman believed Him. She was exposed to the light and she went back to her town to tell others about the Christ.
John 4:39-42 (HCSB)
Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
The savior or the world
In this moment, Jesus did not fill any physical needs. He did not perform any healing. Yet, the people were satisfied. The Samaritans believed in Christ because, some how, He made them whole in a way that no one else or nothing else could. They even recognized that Jesus was the savior of the whole world. If you know Christ, you know what I am talking about when I talk about the spring of life welling up within us. It really does provide us with a satisfaction that is beyond description because there is nothing else that compares to it: I won’t even try. It is by the power of Christ that we can live satisfied. It is by the power of Christ that we can be life to those who need life. It is by the power of Christ that we don’t need any human person to be everything for us. It is by the power of Christ that we can live, always being filled and always being sustained. Praise God for that! Praise God for that!
1 Robbins, Dale A. “How to Keep From Getting Hurt in a Church.” Victorious Publications. 1990.