“In Spirit and in Truth”

As the Samaritan woman became more convinced that Jesus was an inspired teacher, she brought up a question about religious observance. “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain,” she said, referring to Mount Gerizim, which Moses had blessed before the children of Israel entered the promised land (see Deuteronomy 11:29, Deuteronomy 27:11-13, Joshua 8:30-35). In contrast, she acknowledged, Jesus’ people, the Jews, believed “that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). Since it was just after Passover, she may have guessed that Jesus was traveling home from Jerusalem, where many Jews would gather for that holy day. The Samaritans, in contrast, celebrated Passover at Gerizim, as they still do today. (See David Rolph Seely and Jo Ann H. Seely, “Behold the Lamb of God,” Ensign, April 2013.)

By highlighting this distinction, she was implicitly asking the question, “Which tradition is right?” Jesus responded by deemphasizing the method of worship and focusing on what really matters: the heart of the worshipper. “Woman, believe me,” He said, “the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” As important as those locations may be to two groups of worshippers, they are merely means to an end. “Ye worship ye know not what,” He added. “We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” A correct understanding of God is more important than the location from which we worship. Then He taught:

The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24, Joseph Smith Translation

Did Jesus care about Jerusalem? Of course He did. He had journeyed there to celebrate Passover. While there, He had dramatically cleansed the temple, casting out the money changers and commanding them to treat His Father’s house with respect. (See John 2:13-17.) Sacred places mattered to Him, but He wanted us to understand that the attitude with which we worship is more important than the logistical details of our worship.

When the poor among the Zoramites were not allowed into their synagogues, they wondered what to do. “We are cast out of our synagogues,” they lamented, “that we cannot worship our God” (Alma 32:5, 9). The prophet Alma responded with two rhetorical questions: “Do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?” and “Do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?” (Alma 32:10-11). He then made this shocking assertion:

It is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.

Alma 32:12

What a spiritual journey they were on! Being excluded from a house of worship was actually bringing them closer to God, because it was helping them achieve an appropriate attitude for worship.

Alma taught the Zoramites that they can pray in many places, citing the prophet Zenos. (See Alma 33:2-11.) His companion, Amulek reiterated that principle with a list of places they should pray. (See Alma 34:20-27.) Then, Amulek invited them to act on what they had been taught:

Humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and…live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.

Alma 34:38

Sacred times are important. God has commanded us to worship on the Sabbath Day. Sacred places are also important, and we benefit from treating them with reverence. But as Jesus taught the Samaritan woman, and as Alma and Amulek taught the Zoramites, the ultimate goal is communion with God. An excessive concern about how to worship may distract us from the more important point: remembering Who we worship and drawing closer to Him.

Today, as I participate in worship services at church, I will be grateful for sacred times and places to turn my heart and mind to God. I will be grateful for fellow believers who strengthen me and motivate me to continue my spiritual journey. I will also remember that it’s ultimately not about the place or about the time or about the people I’m with. It’s about my heart. It’s about my spirit. It’s the sincerity of my worship in the end that will allow me to connect with God.

2 thoughts on ““In Spirit and in Truth”

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the reminder that while the ordinances are important forms of worship…they’re all tools that ultimately are meant to point us toward having a RELATIONSHIP with God


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