Worship in Spirit and in Truth
by Chris Tofilon
Artists and Authors
Have you ever asked yourself this during a worship service, “Does this feel authentic?” Most likely you have. Whether as a participant in the congregation or on stage leading the worship service, I am guessing that, as a believer seeking to please the Lord, you have at some point asked the questions: “Am I being sincere right now? How can I know this worship is authentic?”
I, for one, know that I have asked these questions many times. And that it can be distressing when you feel that you are just going through the motions, especially in something as important and holy as worshiping God.
On such occasions, we can feel overly pressured to make something happen. Perhaps the fear of man’s opinions about the music, the aesthetics, or people’s reactions can take us to the point where we can’t even concentrate on the Lord.
How is this being received? Why are we singing this song again? I don’t like that person’s outfit. Did I pick the right song? Did I nail that vocal run?
Eventually, we can spiral so far away from true worship that all we can think about is the outward form of our worship or the expression of other people’s worship, instead of actually worshiping the Lord!
As I pondered this, the story came to mind about Samuel arriving at the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons to be king of Israel.
So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16: 6–7)
Notice first that the verse is not specifically talking about David. It is speaking about the outward stature of the first son, Eliab. Samuel was tempted first to look at that which was attractive and capable. Surely this had to be God’s anointed one! It’s a very tempting thing to judge something or someone by appearance. Little did Samuel know that God had chosen the shepherd boy whom nobody was expecting. Yet it was David that was after God’s heart, a king in the making.
If our worship services could be compared to this story, we could see how many of us would be guilty of similarly judging the level of anointing by outward appearance. Generally, we want environments that are exciting to be in and that please our five senses. We like good singers and musicians. We like seamless production.
In contrast, services that are not as great by our aesthetic standards or not as exciting could be considered unpleasant. I’m afraid it is even possible to despise worship experiences that have no flare to them or even ones that have seemingly little participation. What if nobody’s hands are raised? What if the people attending seem unengaged? Is worship authentic if there was no outward evidence of it?
Let’s look at it yet from another angle: the quality of the music. This is a big one for all of us musicians and singers. Psalm 33 says we should play skillfully to the Lord. So, how do we appreciate excellence in worship experiences while not making excellence our idol? All these things have their place: well-tuned instruments, pleasant lighting, songs that are conducive for the people to sing, and excellent production.
The Scriptures even speak of using our bodies to praise the Lord. I love to lead a well- written and well-produced song. I love to feel the music and hear the beauty in the on-pitch voice. I love to be in a room with others where the lighting and style are pleasing and not distracting. I enjoy being amongst people who express their love for God by raising their hands and dancing.
Yet I can’t help but think that what God is looking for is exactly what He was looking for in Samuel’s day. He is looking for a heart after His own. And that is what David had—something that can easily escape the human eye. Something that only the Lord can truly judge and fully perceive.
Jesus told us that the Father is seeking worshipers that worship not on this mountain or that mountain, but “in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 24). I think this is what it means to have a heart after God’s. We need to be ones that strive first and foremost to have hearts ready to meet with the living God, whether we lead or participate in a service. He is the most important one.
I have been in some of the most polished worship experiences imaginable. I have led in large gatherings when it seemed like everything was on point. I have led also in impoverished, dirty, and unattractive environments with unskilled musicians when it seemed like nothing was working from an outward perspective.
Regardless of the environment, I have learned not to judge by outward appearance—the polished worship service could feel plastic and the unimpressive service is where the anointing is so thick in the room you can hardly stand! God really does see the heart!
One such instance that taught me this principle was when I was at a conference in the mountains with an indigenous tribe in Mexico. These people walked literally for days to a conference. They had no place to sleep but under the trees. They were the poorest of the poor. The instruments were out of tune and the worship music was the furthest thing from impressive. Even so, it was one of the most powerful worship experiences I’ve ever been in. I can’t help but think God was smiling widely upon His children even though outwardly it would not impress. The engagement of the people with hearts abandoned to worship God was something impressive to behold. It was in spirit, in truth, and from a heart after God’s.
Let’s strive to be the type of people that remember the most important person as we aim to be excellent in our expressions of worship. His eyes are always on us.
How can you turn your heart fully to the Lord during worship?
Chris Tofilon has a BA from Wheaton College. After five years on the mission field in Mexico, Chris joined IHOPKC in 2009. He has ministered internationally and currently serves as a primary worship leader in the Global Prayer Room. He has a passion to train and impart wisdom to young singers and musicians, so that they may have an understanding of the urgency of the hour.