Sometimes, as true followers of Jesus, we have to stand alone.
Now I’m not talking about standing alone against the onslaught of evil in our society or the corrupt individuals in our government or even the forces of darkness that align themselves against us. No, I mean to “stand alone” when it comes to worshiping our Lord in the manner He is most pleased with, in a way that brings Him the most glory.
Let me explain.
True Worshipers vs False Worshipers
When Jesus was confronting the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar He made a statement about true worship that has rocked me to my very core. And it should have the same effect on you if you are one of those who truly desires to leave the spiritual lukewarmness of our Laodicean heritage that has become the mainstay of much of what we call church today. His words have put a longing in my heart for more of Him, that “I may know (1097 – ginōskō) Him and the power (1411 – dynamis) of His resurrection, and the fellowship (2842 – koinōnia) of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). And it’s my prayer His words will do the same for you.
So what exactly did Jesus say to the woman at the well?
Their discussion was about worship. The woman was playing on the inherent prejudice between Jews and Samaritans regarding the location where proper worship should take place, either on Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem (John 4:20). But Jesus would not be goaded into a fruitless argument. Instead, He said:
“Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship (4352 – proskyneō) the Father. You worship (4352) what you do not know (1492 – eidō); we know (1492) what we worship (4352), for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship (4352) the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking (2212 – zēteō) such to worship (4352) Him” (John 4:21-23).
Did you catch that? Jesus said the hour is coming when the true worshipers, as compared to false worshipers, would worship the Father in spirit and truth and that the Father is actively seeking true worshipers to worship Him that way. In other words, there is a type of person who worships the Lord in a way He actively seeks, that He earnestly desires, that He is striving to find. And it’s possible, even probable, for you and I to become that type of worshiper.
But what does that mean? And what does that look like? And what does that have to do with “standing alone” in regards to true worship?
Standing Alone in Worship
Fast forward a year or so and we now find Jesus coming back to Bethany just six days before His last passover. He’s at a party given by Simon the Leper (Matt. 26:10) along with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha (John 12:1-2), and His disciples. After supper, Mary quietly comes up behind Jesus and breaks an alabaster jar of very costly oil of spikenard and begins to anoint the head and feet of Jesus and then wipe His feet with her hair (John 12:3). The sight of Mary’s raw, open, unashamed devotion to her Lord was unnerving to both those at the party and to us had we been there. It’s far too extravagant, way too lavish, and an extremely unwise use of money. It was a classic example of financial irresponsibility, especially when you consider her gift of spikenard would cost about $25,000 in today’s dollars.
In fact, those who also loved the Lord, His disciples, felt like we probably would about what Mary did. Their conviction at her love and devotion, and embarrassment at their own lack of love and devotion quickly turned to anger, condemnation and judgmental indignation. In fact, they called the anointing of Jesus, their Lord and Master, a “waste” and said the money could have been spent better on the poor, on a stranger, on someone less deserving that they didn’t even know (Matt. 26:8-9).
But Mary kept on worshiping her Lord by wiping His feet with her hair while the whole “house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3), with the sweet aroma of her worship to the One who meant more to her than life or reputation or acceptance or the approval of her family and friends.
No one came to her defense. No one said, “Hey man, cut her some slack. If she wants to worship our Lord that way, so be it. It’s a free country, she can do what she wants.” Even Peter, who just a few days later would categorically deny any knowledge of the very existence of Jesus, stood with the others in condemnation of her appalling and disgraceful actions. And even John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), remained silent.
No one came to Mary’s defense. No one stood by her side. No one offered a kind word of encouragement or a nod of understanding or a polite smile. She was standing alone among those who also loved her Lord but were indignant and resentful of the way in which she chose to express her love for her Lord.
But in the midst of that hostile crowd, someone noticed Mary. It was the same someone who permitted her to worship Him the way she did and even defended her actions. Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always” (John 12:7-8).
Jesus graciously accepted Mary’s act of worship and devotion. He was pleased at her willingness to give so sacrificially and recognized that Mary understood the whole picture of why Jesus came, she grasped the rest of the story, she got the point. Mary knew that Jesus was born to die. And this lavish, loving, costly gift of hers was in honor of His death and burial.
And I think Jesus wanted Mary to know that He knew that she knew that He was soon to die.
But she had to worship Jesus alone. In the midst of friends and fellow committed followers, those, like her, who had given their all to Jesus, she still stood alone in her worship.
And sometimes, so will you.
Often the greatest enemies of a faithful follower of Jesus are those who claim to be His faithful followers, but aren’t. Our churches are sadly filled with lukewarm, half-hearted, tepid, followers of the one and only Son of God. When confronted with an act of devotion like Mary’s, these Laodicean church members will criticize and denounce the true worshiper only to make their lukewarm efforts seem worthy. They will viciously tear down others to make themselves feel better. They live in the gray, the shadows, and are frightened of those, like Mary, who live in the light.
After all, didn’t Jesus say the same?
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
So understand this, if you truly desire to know Jesus more and more, you will find you’ll make some enemies along the way. And often, actually, more than not, those enemies will be found nestled in your church and family and among your friends. Why? Because they have a vested interest in keeping your spiritual temperature about where theirs is. Lukewarm. And if you get too hot for the Lord and make them feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed, you’ll face, like Mary did, their indignation, rejection and condemnation.
In essence, you must commit yourself to leave Laodicea at all costs and run, full speed, into the non-lukewarm world of fervent worship directed to an audience of only One. And His name is Jesus.
So if you truly desire to be the kind of worshiper the Lord seeks as His worshiper, you may have to do that alone. And that’s totally OK.
1097 – to know intimately or by experience, to place favor upon, to choose, a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
1411 – explosive, dynamic, achieving, miracle working strength, power, or ability.
1492 – to know cognitively, to perceive with the mind, to comprehend, to understand.
2212 – to actively seek after, to look for, to strive to find, to desire earnestly.
2842 – participation in, communion, partnership, the close association between persons, emphasizing what is common between them, being a member of a family.
4352 – to worship, to fall or prostrate before, to kiss as a token or respect or homage.