John 4:23-24 (the message)
“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.”
For me, these are some of the most freeing verses in the Bible. Not only for the point Jesus is making, but also if you read the whole chapter the amazing encounter that is taking place. Jesus, on his way back to Galilee, passes through Samaria and is so tired from walking he takes a rest by this particular well while his disciples are off getting food and such. As Jesus is sitting there a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. She is shocked because according to scripture Jews in those days would have nothing to do with Samaritans (especially a woman at that). So Jesus and this woman begin to converse and He tells her to go and get her husband. She tells Jesus she has no husband and he says, in a nutshell, that’s for sure! You have had 5 and the man you are living with now is not your husband. But as they go along in this discussion Jesus is not berating her or condemning her….Jesus offers her a drink of water that will satisfy her eternally! As she begins to quibble over the differences in the ways Jews worship versus Samaritans (sound familiar?) Jesus cuts right through with the scripture above and then lets her in on the fact that He is the Messiah she has been waiting for. He tells her in vs. 26 “I am he…You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.” Shortly after this exchange the disciples show up, shocked and appalled to see Jesus interacting with not only a Samaritan woman but “that kind” of woman as well. She runs back to her village and begins to tell the people about this man who “knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out (vs.29).” In time her encounter with Jesus at the well leads to many committed Samaritan lives.
Here is what I love so much about this story and the verses above: God is not so stuck on what we have done or who we are as He is determined we come to Him as we truly are. See, the disciples are like so many of us…we see the our mistakes (or those of others) and we inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, believe that who we are is too much for God to handle. So, perhaps we try church for a little while so we can “get right” before we expect to have a real encounter with God. Maybe we try to quit some bad habits or be nicer, but that only lasts for so long. Becoming a new creature in Christ does not come from our will power…a new heart, cleansed and free, that produces new actions and healthier character only comes by God’s power. I’ll bet anything if that Samaritan woman had known who Jesus was before she began talking to Him she would have never come near to Him at that well. I’ll bet she would have been like so many of us…cowering inwardly because of shame and condemnation with a false belief that our past or who we are can overcome the love of God…never! And I also propose that had she known who Jesus was and perhaps desperately wanted to speak with Him, she may have held back once she saw the disciples returning. You know, the “believers” who were so confused and aghast that Jesus would take time with someone like her.
Let me tell you something…Jesus is all about the people like her! He loved those disciples and He understood that they were knee-deep in the letter of the law, but He was not like that. The problem with the “law” is that often those that operate by the law lack an ability to receive and extend grace. What would it cost those men to celebrate with this woman who so obviously had been searching for love? What does it cost us to extend grace to those that are addicted or strung out…living “alternative” lifestyles that we strenuously disagree with…those that are blatant and brazen sinners living so far beneath the moral code we try to live by? What does it cost us to be like Jesus and meet them where they are…just like they are?
Jesus spoke the truth of her life to her but not so He could scoff at her! He offered her life! He told her you don’t have to wait anymore! You don’t have to search anymore…I AM HERE!! She wasn’t disqualified because of who she was or her past. I believe there is a powerfully fundamental truth in this story and if you want to be free then let your heart embrace it…This woman came to Jesus just as she was. She wasn’t trying to be better or more religous…she wasn’t trying to perform…she wasn’t trying to get all her ducks in a row and pretend she was anything other than who she was. She just came to the well with a need. Jesus saw past her physical need to her spiritual need. And because she wasn’t trying to play any games (because she didn’t know she needed to!), Jesus was able to touch her life just as she was. The real her.
God can only work with the real us. There will be no changing our hearts and lives as we pretend we are other than what we are. I love it…see, I could spin my wheels my whole life long (and sometimes I do) trying to be what I think I should be. I might get worn out and quit or eventually I may begin to just equate my Christianity with a moral code and shut the door loud and fast on those that are failing miserably. The scripture above says God is out looking for those that are simply and honestly themselves. God will change you. God will help you. God will meet you at the well of your need, be quite real with you about your life and then offer you Himself.
If a spark inside your heart ignites as you read this because you would like the freedom to really come to Him just as you are, then come. The scripture and the story of the woman at the well gives you permission–no! beckons you–to come just as you are. See, Jesus didn’t have to give her a review on the 10 commandments or a verbal lashing on the right way to live before she went her way…all He did was tell her the truth of her life and then reveal Himself to her. Jesus knows that if we will be real with Him and He is able to reveal Himself to us our freedom from the past and even the present will come.
Because He has taken me just as I am, I just cannot be satisfied to live any other way now. I don’t know how people do it except perhaps they have never known differently. It really breaks my heart to realize so many lives are wrapped up in religion and ceremony but lack any real zeal and passion that stirs our hearts to change…to know Jesus…to be known by Him…to be ourselves…to reach out to others with grace…to be a part of watching God change and heal lives. Anything less is a counterfeit. I think the devil is perfectly content with a counterfeit and watered down experience with Jesus. He doesn’t mind a little church attendance here or there…he doesn’t really mind a few songs as long as we don’t care to know what it is we are singing. The devil doesn’t care if we drive around with fish stickers on our car or wear crosses around our necks as long as we don’t actually invite people to church or reach out beyond ourselves. I don’t think he cares if we read our bibles or pray really, as long as we do it as our duty and we don’t actually expect God to move in our hearts and answer our prayers!
I desperately need to be with Jesus. I am discovering that even as He moves in my life none of it really matters if I can’t be near Him. I could work myself into a tailspin all in the name of my faith, but if I lose my time at the well with Him I will dry up. Oh I still do it…I catch myself getting worn out with trying so hard and then I have to stop. I won’t do it, Lord. I need to be with You. None of the rest of even the good things in life are worth it if I am anything other than real with You. I will keep coming to the well…just as I am…with whatever sins and faults and weaknesses I am dealing with. I do not want to live as an imposter…trying to promote something that I carry in name only. I will not come to Jesus as the disciples did…shocked and appalled at His Amazing Grace because somehow I don’t think I need it and those that do don’t deserve it. No, No. I must come to Him just as I am so He can give to me more than I could have ever hoped for…Himself.