A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
(John 4:7-26 ESV)
I know that’s a long passage to read, but this encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman has been foundational for me when it comes to understanding how worship works. If you Google “what does it mean to worship in spirit and truth” you will get all kinds of things. Truthfully, the passage is a bit nebulous and mysterious to me, but I have read some great stuff on this over the years that has helped shape my understanding of what Jesus is saying here. I’ll try to summarize quickly…
1) Worship of God is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Even as a believer I fight my nature to worship pretty much everything OTHER than God. Implicit in this comment is the notion that “worship” doesn’t just happen at church. It happens all day every day and plays itself out in the way I live my life. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can I put aside the other things that I worship and turn and worship God. It’s all encompassing. It’s a lifestyle. And I can’t live it on my own power. I have to have the Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings me to Jesus and enables me to worship him.
2) Worship of God is impossible without the Truth – Jesus Christ. First of all, the Samaritan woman asked Jesus to speak into what was a huge conflict at the time for Jews and Samaritans: “where do we have to go to worship God?” The Jews said one place and the Samaritans said another. Jesus answered her in a pretty unexpected way. He says a new way of worshipping God is about to be introduced. See, Jesus changed everything. In the Old Testament, people had to go to the temple to worship God because that’s where God was found. But Jesus changed that. True worship is not dependent on a place but on a person – Jesus Christ. He is the mediator between us and God and so to worship God we come to Jesus, not a temple. Jesus is the one who brings us to God. Second of all, it was Jesus who said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” JESUS is truth. This is a tough line in our pluralistic society. Some find it downright offensive to say that Jesus is the truth and that there is no other. But this is what we believe. This is what we know to be true. We aren’t worshipping a God we don’t know. We come to Jesus who was the perfect revelation of God; who makes God known to us. The one true God. We have to have the truth to worship God. And truth is only found in Jesus Christ.