HOW TO BE WITH JESUS IN PRAYER & WORSHIP
John 16:21-28; 4:21-26 (K. V.: 4:24)
“‘God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’”
Thank God for His protection upon us up to this far. Amid this unprecedented corona virus pandemic, we believe God’s divine guidance is still there. That is why we continue our discipleship study. So far we have learned many things about discipleship: its definition, calling, its purpose and its method. Today, we would like to learn another method about discipleship: how to be with Jesus in prayer and worship. Prayer and worship would be instrumental to be close to Jesus and become his true disciples. May God bless us to be with Jesus all the closer through prayer and worship.
1. Gospel-Centered Prayer (16:21-28)
With social distancing and everything, being with someone is difficult as never before. However, being with someone is the core of discipleship. As a starter, we learned about how to be with Jesus in his word from Msn. Gideon last week. By holding to Jesus’ teaching, we know the truth and become wise in salvation. We can experience the power of his word and be thoroughly equipped for every good work. We will be like a fruitful branch attached to the vine.
Inasmuch as Jesus’ word being essential for discipleship, prayer is also very important. There are many passages about prayer. John 16 seems like a good beginning point to learn about prayer.
Look at verse 16:21a. What was the situation of the disciples at that time? They were full of anxiety and fear because of the uncertain future. With the sad news of the imminent departure of their master, they felt pain like a woman giving birth to a child. You never know how painful birth-pain would be. One woman of God bent the metal bar of the hospital bed, while giving birth to her son. Another pulled the hair of her husband. Perhaps, that is how we feel today with the COVID-19 situation. But one thing is very clear. Our Lord never eases the pain but helps us overcome the pain in the hope of having a new life. As Msn. Gideon once pointed out, God possibly wants us to repent and restore our relationship with Him in this painful time. So as soon as we experience the life-regenerating moment, we can possibly forget the anguish just like a mother forgets her labor pain after having her baby. The disciples would experience such unspeakable joy through seeing Jesus again.
Surely, being with Jesus warrants joy, such unspeakable joy. When we think about discipleship, we may think it is a laborious, bone-breaking process, like the training of Navy SEALs. But the impetus behind discipleship is joy. When we hold to Jesus’ teaching in our heart, we feel liberated and full of joy. Prayer life is not much different from that. Prayer amid an adverse situation like today will make us feel close to Jesus all the more and when our prayer is answered, we are even overjoyed.
Look at verse 23. “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” This is the turning point of our prayer life. Our Lord says there will come a day when we no longer ask him anything. Here, this asking is a little bit different from the second asking in the same verse (v23). In Greek, the first asking is not praying but rather questioning in the sense of getting information (like a Q & A session). So in that day we do not need to ask Jesus unnecessary questions because we would have known him better. Instead, we will have the new norm of prayer life.
Look at verse 23b, 24. So far the disciples have not asked the Father anything in Jesus’ name. In fact, no one has ever prayed in Jesus’ name or called the Heavenly Father as the Father yet. In the OT time, godly men and women prayed to God with special provisions. Prayer warriors such as Abraham, Moses, Samuel and Esther boldly asked God. All of them were heard with their earnest prayers. But they did not experience Jesus. Some of them, like Abraham, rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus’ day but couldn’t have him. Now, the disciples not only have seen Jesus’ day, but they would also ask the Father in Jesus’ name. They would be privileged to experience the power of the name of Jesus. They would glorify the name of Jesus through their prayer being answered. And the Holy Spirit will help their prayer life fruitful by making their joy complete (24b). So that is the new norm of our prayer life.
Look at verse 25. Jesus again mentions about the time when there would be no figurative speech but only plain talks. That is why there would be no need for a Q & A session. With Jesus’ plain explanation, we will know the Father all the better. Note in verse 26 that Jesus emphasizes on our direct access to the Father. He would not ask the Father on behalf of the disciples. Rather, God’s love and the disciples’ love would be reciprocated. We become close to the Father. That is the basis of our prayer. One man of God from Yonhee UBF was once a Taoism practitioner even though he attended Yonsei University, the second best one in Korea (like Yale or Princeton in U.S). As a wanna-be-master-of-Tao, he mediated on Tao day and night and exercised on collecting “chi” in his palms. Yet through the gospel message, he received God’s love and Jesus’ forgiveness. He became a missionary to U.S. in Mississippi (coworking with our family when we were in Memphis). However, he confessed to me that he had a hard time for a long period of time about prayer. He felt guilty whenever he prayed because he often felt it was like Taoism meditation. However, through meeting the Risen Jesus again and feeling the divine love of God, he no longer had the issue with prayer. He gladly prayed with the joy of spiritual fellowship. Perhaps, we may need that type of prayer, the reciprocated one based on mutual love.
Look at verse 28. What is the one truth we should remember in our prayer? That Jesus came from the Father to come to us as “God Incarnate” and left the world to go back to the Father. In other words, Jesus is the only way to the Father because he knew where he came from and where to go. That is why we pray in the name of Jesus.
Where else can we find another model prayer for us? The Lord’s Prayer can be a good one as we always conclude our worship service with that. It contains what to pray and how to pray. It helps us not to pray in a childish way but have a right direction for us. There may be intercessory prayer to learn as well because there are many passages about that such as the Holy Spirit interceding for us or Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, praying on behalf of us (Ro 8:27, 34; Heb 7:25). We need to pray for those who are in need as of today.
2. True Worship (4:21-26)
The word “worship” occurs more than 250 times in the Bible. To worship means: (1) to honor, pay homage or bow down; (2) to labor or to serve; and (3) to revere, respect or fear. As we have the worship service now, albeit online, it may be good for us to revisit the meaning of our worship, particularly with John 4. Surely, worship has something to do with being close to Jesus. Look at verse 4:21. What did Jesus reply to the Samaritan woman regarding the proper worship place? Jesus says that there will be a time when we will worship the Father regardless of the place.
It is quite surprising as we observe how the Samaritan woman suddenly opens up her heart and shows her inner desire to worship, starting from wanting to know where to worship. At that time, the Samaritans in general were ethnically despised by the Jews and decided to worship their God on Mt. Gerizim. That was the place where Moses announced the blessing on the people of God while giving them the word of God. However, the Jews contended that it should be Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was built (and rebuilt at the time of Jesus). As a commoner, she just wanted to worship God in a right place and in a right way.
Look at verse 22. In addition to explaining about the proper worship place, Jesus further addresses about the object and basis of worship. Verse 22 reads. “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Here, Jesus is not blaming the Samaritans. Rather he illuminates on the Samaritans (the woman included), saying that when they worship they should know what they worship. Do they worship the one and only true God or idols on top of God? In a sense, they may have zeal but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Ro 10:2). So they cannot worship God in a right way. Also the basis of worship is salvation. Jesus says salvation is from the Jews. This is not racial superiority to the Samaritans. It means God’s wonderful promises have been fulfilled through His people so the salvation is genuine.
Look at verses 23, 24. In these verses, we can see the nature of true worship. It is very interesting to see that the Father seeks the true worshippers first, while a person like the Samaritan woman also wants true worship. Here, the English word “worship” is derived from the root word “worth.” And anything that has a suffix “-ship” means its assignment or characterization such as friendship or fellowship (“-ship” comes from “shape,” so we are shaping each other as good friends when we have friendship). So “worship,” namely, “worth-ship,” means assigning worth to something or someone. God is worth something: something that is ultimate and of absolute value. At the same time, God the Father has accepted us as if we are worth something. Otherwise, he would not have sent us the most valuable one, that is, His one and only son. How gracious God is! A worthless sinner like me he considers full of worth.
Our life journey may be finding our worth or something that is worthy. The Samaritan woman has repeatedly tried to find worth in men, giving her everything to those five men. Nevertheless, she has been utterly disappointed every time. In fact, no man is worth her everything. Then, Jesus teaches her that true worship involves spirit and truth. This indicates that we are spiritual beings and that we need the Spirit and truth when we worship. Surely there may be some emotions like crying and laughing with genuineness but they should be always God’s word. Perhaps, worship asks us to give complete surrender to the worthy one instead of the desire of gaining something or self-improvement. That is an essential part of discipleship. When the woman points out the Messiah’s role, Jesus reveals himself as the one. In that way, the woman could come close to Jesus spiritually and completely surrenders herself to him. In a similar fashion, the disciples could come close to him and surrender themselves to him, knowing who Jesus is and knowing what worth he has. That is deepening the relationship with Jesus. Worship helps us to come close to Jesus.
In conclusion, prayer and worship are essential in discipleship as they help us come close to Jesus. When our prayer is offered in Jesus’ name and it is answered we can experience the power of his name and unspeakable joy. We feel our love being reciprocated through prayer. Worship is acknowledging God is worthy everything and surrendering ourselves to him. True worship involves the Spirit and God’s word. May God help us to true disciples through prayer and worship.