“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
John 4:23-24 MSG
The woman at the well was a Samaritan, but as we know Jesus was a Jew. There is both a cultural and gender tension as they encounter each other. However, the woman understands that Jesus is a prophet. He knew her deep and painful past—the reason she was at a well alone.
She takes advantage of this situation to raise one of the cultural tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus responds to her and redefines the meaning, practice, place, and priority of worship. God is always more interested in the worshipper than in the place where one worships.
Mountain or temple, the place is not the issue. God defines the worship of a person by who is courageous enough to worship with their true and whole self. The sound, style, space—none of these mean anything unless the worshipper is being authentic.
This is the power of worship. It is the honest offering of the authentic self before God. Unfortunately, far too many people bring to God their perceived self or even their invented self. However, true worshippers are the people that God is looking for. He is looking for those who honestly present themselves.
When Jesus says that God is looking for “those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship,” He opened a connection between himself and the woman and between the Jews and the Samaritans. He gives her the beauty of acceptance, the privilege of connection, the affirmation of identity, the strength of human bonding, and the liberation of spiritual connectivity.
This all means that not only do we belong to God, but He belongs to us. This is what Jesus means in John 14 when He says, “I am in the Father and My Father is in Me.” This bonding creates undeniable proof of spiritual connection. There is no style, space, sound or space that makes us worshippers.
To be true worshippers, we must bring our honest selves. When we do this, God accepts the honest worship that we bring, not the perceived worship that we fashion.
Job 2:2-8 (AMP)
Have you ever been the victim of circumstances out of your control? Anger that comes from nowhere against you. A crime. A breach of trust. That’s what happened to Job. He did not know he would be a sacrifice to show the goodness and power of his God.
Satan is on a mission to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). He wants to steal your life, kill your spirit, and destroy your faith. He’s convinced that if a righteous man like Job is hit hard enough, he would curse God to his face.
But God called Satan’s bluff. He knew Job trusted Him and that His love can’t be manipulated.
So, Satan kills off all of Job’s children, all of his livestock perishes, and his entire body is covered with boils and sores.
Our main character goes to sit on a rubbish heap (a pile of ashes and dung) and begins to scrape his sores with a broken piece of pottery. He’s trying to absorb it all. An important point here is that Job is not thinking about next steps. He’s not cursing God.
Stuck at the Top of the Ash Heap
He’s in a place many of us get stuck—pain and unforgiveness. He is the portrait of spiritual unforgiveness. He’s stuck trying to decide to not feel the pain or to move forward. This may be the hardest decision you’ll ever have to make.
But there’s a secret you need to know about Job and about you. If you are one of God’s special treasures, one of His children, you can’t sit on that ash heap. You can’t decide not to feel. Job hasn’t done that. He’s still scraping. He’s still got some fight in him.
How to Get Off the Ash Heap
The key to getting up from the ash heap is forgiveness. You have to make the choice to forgive. Forgiveness is not a spiritual gift. It’s the ultimate gift and it was given to you when Jesus died on that cross. God wants you to wake up in the morning and exercise forgiveness. We live with His undeserved forgiveness.
That’s the truth that brings all Christians together - we all carry the revelation that the only reason you’re alive today is because a good God forgave you of your sins.
Did you hear that? You’re alive. Satan attacked Job. Satan attacked you. But he didn’t take you out. You’re still alive.
That’s why I’m inching up next to you on that ash heap, to share some good news. You have no business on this heap. You’re allowing your unforgiveness to steal precious time from an otherwise blessed life. You’ve got too much to live for.
The Grace of the Ash Heap
Pain is real. Job’s pain is real. We have to acknowledge that. The grace on the ash heap is Job scraping his sores. He still wants to feel. That’s the grace. He decides not to check out. And if you’re there—angry and stuck—know that you can come back. Own the grace that you still have fight in you. If you have passion enough to be angry, you can make the choice to forgive. And remember, pain is a season. You will not be here forever. God wins.
It is easy to miss what opens the environment of this scripture. Just before John the Baptist is going to be arrested and killed, the scene is Jesus praying after He was baptized. Before Jesus prayed, it was just another baptism. Many people were being submerged in the waters of conversion to a life of chasing God. However, when Jesus prayed, this baptism turned into God’s expressed presence, showing up in a form like a dove. A voice called out, announcing Jesus as God’s presence on the earth.
The voice did not come while the people were being baptized. Instead, it came when Jesus started praying. The heavens were opened. The spirit descended and said, “You are my beloved son. In you I am well pleased.” What opened the heavens was not the baptism—it was the prayer.
Prayer is being forgotten for many of us. When facing life and fighting challenges, it is easy to forget that one prayer can open a heaven full of options. Prayer gives us strength, clarity, and power, so it is important to focus on the power and efficacy of prayer. We are only as strong as our prayer lives.
Our prayers stand us under an open heaven. When we pray, we access the eternal, which addresses all of our temporal needs. Life throws a lot at us, with its stressors and demands. In Jesus, we exist in a perpetually open heaven. Our prayers are never bouncing off the ceiling. When we pray, our prayers go straight to the throne of God.
The stronger our relationship with Christ is, the easier it is to access the openness of heaven. We must govern our lives as if we live in an open heaven. We should live our lives, pay our bills, go to church, have family time, enjoy a meal, but we must remember that we live under an open heaven. This heaven is not blocked by human demands and cannot be manipulated by mankind’s wiles. We don’t need to be perfect to access this open heaven; we just have to believe in Jesus and believe in prayer.
Whenever and however we need God, He is always available for us if we trust Him in prayer. We don’t just have access to the power of God through prayer, we live in that open heaven. We live in a place of power. We live with access to God. We live in heaven while walking through earth.
Luke 2:25-35 (NIV)
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
God makes a promise to Simeon, so he appears in the temple to behold Christ’s manifestation. Luke tells us that Simeon is a devout and religious man, living with the promise from God that he would not see death until his eyes were cast upon the Messiah Himself.
While God’s promise is awesome to receive, it is frustrating to endure. There is a reason that Aristotle said patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. The time a promise is first articulated to you and the time it comes to fruition could be a mighty long time as we can see was the case for Simeon. But no matter how long Simeon had to wait, he knew that God hadn’t forgotten.
It’s hard to wait for our dreams and exercise patience in this instant, everything world. It’s hard enough waiting for a website to load or our lunch to finish heating up in the microwave. We want instant spirituality. Instant faith maturation. Instant spiritual manifestation.
Maybe you aren’t passively waiting, either—maybe you’re praying, attending church, forgiving your enemies, waking up and giving God praise. God owes you, right? But still, He is making you wait. The text shows us that God is powerful enough to do some things immediately, so why hasn’t He given you what you want? Evidence shows us He can. We see it when our neighbors have their desires fulfilled. We see it when our friends receive all that they asked from God—even when we asked the same of God at the same time and we’re still waiting.
If God makes you wait, you have to offer patience and endurance, knowing that He hasn’t forgotten. You might struggle not to shout when you see Him fulfilling your same desire in another person. Instead, you need to shout because He is working it out. He is lining everything up, just as He lined everything up for Jesus’ arrival. Don’t deny your feelings of anger, frustration, nervousness, and jealously. God knows you’re struggling. Open up to Him. Go to church anyway. Pray anyway. Be kind anyway. Be patient anyway. Keep believing God and keep making an effort.
You might think you can wait a little longer if God would just tell you why you’re waiting. Let me ask you this: did God tell Simeon why he was waiting? No, He didn’t. When patience can’t feed on confirmation, it has to rest on God’s providence.
We don’t know why God makes us wait, but patience is an offering we give God as an expression of gratitude. Simeon remained faithful while anticipating the coming Messiah. He felt blessed to be trusted with a vision and a promise that required patience. We would all do well to do the same.
Sometimes the waiting ends up being more important than the outcome. Sometimes we grow more by the waiting than we do by the receiving. Perhaps waiting is the gift He gives you.
Acts 16:25-26 (AMP)
But about midnight when Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.
The apostle Paul writes quite often about the mystery of the gospel. He reveals truths to us about why Christ came and what His Kingdom means. The disciples were short-sighted enough to think that He was going to overthrow the Roman government and bring the Jews back to power in Israel.
Jesus told them all along the way that they were made for more than an earthly king. He said, “The Kingdom of God is near,” repeatedly.
In Luke 21:34-36 (NIV), when Jesus speaks of the signs of the temple destruction and end times, he warns the disciples:
Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Paul understood why Jesus used this peculiar statement: “The Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus said it so that when trouble comes, we can access its power. It’s near because when you receive the gift of salvation, you become a member of the Kingdom. You take on the Spirit of Christ. That Kingdom lives within you.
Jesus wants you to access it when the “anxieties of life” weigh you down.
In today’s focus scripture of Acts 16:25-26, that mystery Jesus revealed to His disciples is exactly what keeps Paul and Silas going through a tragic time in their ministry.
They were en route to a time of refreshment and reflection at Lydia’s house (she was a businesswoman) and a servant woman with a demon in her followed them on their way. She’d been following them for days and kept yelling at them.
Acts 16:17 reports that she is following them, screaming and shouting: “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!” (Acts 16:17, AMP).
That’s actually good news, but it was becoming a major distraction to Paul’s mission—to preach the Gospel. He reacts and casts out the demon.
The townspeople turn on him and Silas because they profited from this woman’s ability to tell fortunes. So, the two disciples are arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.
They’re in prison for preaching the gospel and freeing a woman from a spirit that twisted her spirituality. Paul and Silas are in an uncomfortable situation—beaten, under guard, and uncertain of their future because of what they preached.
However, instead of dwelling on their misfortune, they do something mysterious and remarkable. Let’s recall the second part of today’s passage, which reports that “…suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened”(Acts 16:26, AMP).
It’s easy to get caught up in the miracles here. Chains broken. Doors opened. A prison destroyed. But the really great stuff here is the peculiar thing Paul and Silas were doing in their circumstances of misery—they were praying and singing instead of fearing, worrying, doubting, or lamenting.
Our lives all have that annoying voice—circumstances, trials, emotional turmoil, physical ailments—following us around, yelling at us. It’s enough to make you snap. But Paul and Silas do something different. Here’s a guideline for all of us for how to find God in the midst of all of the distractions around us:
1. Fight for your position as a child of God. When you are saved, you are given an inheritance as a co-heir with Christ. Own that identity. When circumstances scream at you, scream back with this truth.
2. Live in the Kingdom of God. You are full of the Spirit. That’s His job in you—to remind you whose you are and for whom you were made—eternity with God.
3. Remember the Spirit is a permanent resident in you. Surrender to the Spirit and not your problems and circumstances. That’s how Satan grabs a foothold with you.
4. Make your eternity more important than your today. Take care more of eternity than you do of time. That means it’s your job to focus on faith today instead of the minutia of this world.
When you simply keep your focus on God, He will be your protector, and the troublesome days you experience will only be temporary!