Missed church lately? Feeling bad about it? Let me cut to the chase and tell you right now that it is alright. You are not out of fellowship with God. You are not out of favor with God. He still loves you and He is still looking out for you. All is well between you and Him. Got that? So feel at ease and rest.

Now I’ll come to the why.

Growing up, I was a mischievous little brat caught in a traditional Presbyterian community; and my pastors never let me forget that. I was always running around, playing the fool and I would always get ticked off.

Then one day, I got so fed up of getting ticked off, I stopped going to church. What a mistake that was. From that day on, whenever I saw anyone from church out on the street, I would turn-tail and run because I wanted to avoid the tirade of why I was such a bad person for missing church.

But you know what? The more they beat me down for missing church, the more I was determined to stay away. After all, in their eyes, I was already very nearly one of the devil’s own, so might as well make their prophecies come true, right? So I stayed away, for 21 years.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not a message to tell you to stop going to church. There is reason to go to church. There is strength that you can draw from your brethren. And when you are doing well, all the more you should go to church so that you who are blessed can be a blessing to others.

But if you missed church because you were tired, because you were ill, because you didn’t feel comfortable, because you feel persecuted in church, because you find that, like me, you sin more in church because the relatives to whom you won’t give the time of day to, worship there too; then I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to beat yourself up about it, and you shouldn’t let anyone else beat you down for it either. Here’s why.

“Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”” John 4:21-24

As always, context first.

Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman. Remember her? Yes, the one who had 5 husbands and the man she was with at the time was not her husband (John 4:28). That one. When she realized that Jesus was a Holy man, or in her words ‘a Prophet’, she asked where would be the right place for her to go for worship.

And if you think about it, it’s really a lot like how we are today, isn’t it? We ask each other which the ‘best’ church is; like there’s ever such a thing. And we compare our pastors, one to another; evaluating them based on the quality of their smile, their stage presence and even, for some, the accuracy of their prophecies.

We certainly do have our own opinions on which is the best ‘mountain’ we should go to for worship, don’t we? And ours is always ‘Jerusalem’ to us. But is there such a thing as the ‘best’ church or the ‘best’ pastor? Need we even beat ourselves up if we choose not to go to church? Well, look at what Jesus said.

“Jesus replied, “Woman, believe Me, a time is coming [when God’s kingdom comes] when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” John 4:21 [AMP]

Firstly, Jesus says that there will come a time when the ‘where’ won’t matter in worship. Whether you worship on ‘this mountain’ or ‘that mountain’ or ‘Jerusalem’, it really won’t make a difference; and when will the time be?

“…[when God’s kingdom comes]…” John 4:21 [AMP]

So has the kingdom come?

Well, there is speculation over whether Jesus was referring to the day when all this is over and God unveils the new heaven and the new earth. But I’d rather go by Jesus’ own words, and this is what He said.

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”” Mark 1:14-15

This was the message Jesus came with; this was what He started preaching and declaring, and what did He say?

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

The time is ‘fulfilled’, the kingdom of God ‘is’ at hand. Now, whether or not you believe that Jesus is the kingdom of God, you cannot miss the fact that Jesus was not referring to a time in the future. He was unequivocally saying that the time is fulfilled, past test; the kingdom has come, present tense. Now put that in the context of the verse that we are studying today;

“Jesus replied, “Woman, believe Me, a time is coming [when God’s kingdom comes] when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” John 4:21 [AMP]

So when will people not have to bother about where they worship God? That’s right, starting from the time of Jesus.

You see, Jesus’ coming was a watershed in God-man relations. For this is why Christ came.

“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.” Luke 4:16-20

Now, everything that Jesus did is deliberate. There is no messing about, nothing superfluous and definitely no omissions. So there must be a good reason why the Bible records for us very clearly that Jesus stopped at ‘proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’, for this is what the passage in Isaiah really said.

“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;” Isaiah 61:2

No vengeance there, was there?

And when we check this against Jesus’ own words to Nicodemus, we find this interpretation to be consistent.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17

So Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, which He did; set the captives free, which He did; give sight to the blind, which He did; and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, which He also did. Jesus came to set right the messed up relationship that man had with God. He came to bear upon Himself the punishment for our sins so that we don’t have to. And by doing that, He brought with Him a new covenant, one where we who believe don’t perish but have everlasting life. And, if what Jesus told the Samaritan woman is anything to go by, He also came to change the way we worship God. For,

“Jesus replied, “Woman, believe Me, a time is coming [when God’s kingdom comes] when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” John 4:21 [AMP]

So what then did He change it to?

“But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshipers.” John 4:23 [AMP]

Or if we want to be even little less politically correct;

“A time will come, however, indeed it is already here, when the true (genuine) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (reality); for the Father is seeking just such people as these as His worshipers.” John 4:23 [AMP]

How should we worship God? How does God really want to be worshiped? Yes, from the heart. With actions too, sure, but what is most important is for the worship to come from the heart. For that, to Him, according to Jesus, is ‘true (genuine)’ worship.

You know, this reminds me of what God said.

“My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands;
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you.” Proverbs 3:1-2

‘Let your heart keep my commands’; not your hands, not your mouth, but your heart. And we also remember that Jesus said,

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.” Matthew 6:1 [MSG]

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” Matthew 6:5 [MSG]

Instead, “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” Matthew 6:6 [MSG]

You know, so you missed church once or twice. Do you still have God in your heart? Do you still honor Him there? Are you aware of His presence with you daily and seek Him when you need a friend to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a counselor to guide? If you do, then you are indeed giving God ‘true (genuine)’ worship; and

“…the Father is seeking just such people as these as His worshipers.” John 4:23 [AMPC]

Go to church if you feel fed and led. But don’t get hung up over rites, rituals and protocols. Don’t put the building before the God it represents. Remember,

“…For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?” Matthew 23:17

And “…which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Matthew 23:19

So which is greater? The building or the God that it was built to worship?

Beloved child of God, worship is an intimate act that exists only between you and God. Just as

“Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither [merely] in this mountain nor [merely] in Jerusalem.” John 4:21 [AMPC]

So too is worship not merely singing hymns and listening to sermons.

Therefore continue worshiping God from your heart and let your heart keep His commands, and stop beating yourself up for missing church.

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