Have we lost our sense of awe?

Our heavenly Father is also the Almighty God, Creator and King, yet we sometimes forget who he really is, says Rev Andy Twilley

“It is Sunday morning, and with bated breath, trembling excitement and a real anticipation of meeting with the living God, I set out to go to church.”

How many of us experience genuine awe as we meet to worship?

Unfortunately, in our enthusiasm to be contemporary and relevant, maybe ‘Almighty God’ has been displaced by ‘All-matey’ God. If that is the case, then we are unlikely to be overwhelmed with a sense of awe when we gather to worship.

Awe is defined as “respectful wonder” or “an overwhelming feeling of wonder and admiration, reverence, or respect”. Let’s begin by looking at the Bible where we find that throughout the Old and New Testaments, a sense of awe was associated with God. Awe was not a contrived emotional state but rather a genuine response to a real encounter with God.

On the one hand, awe was evoked through a knowledge of God. The Psalmist states: “How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great king over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2). The very thought of who God was, flowing from the experience of what he had done, resulted in a sense of awe.

Habakkuk 3:2 declares: “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD”, and Job writes: “Out of the north he comes in golden splendour; God comes in awesome majesty” (Job 37: 22).  

Even the very name of God filled the people with awe. They are told of the consequences if they fail to treat God’s name with reverence because it is “glorious and awesome” (Deuteronomy 28:58). With the passage of time, this command became so feared people ceased to ever speak the true name of God –  “Yahweh” – just in case they uttered it without the reverence God expected.

And as people encountered God’s presence, they fell on their faces out of fear, reverence, respect, awe and wonder.

Today, there is a high level of interest in the spiritual dimension of life and people are presented with a plethora of options. Many alternative spiritualities focus on ‘looking within’ to find ‘their god’.

Such consumer spirituality, like sexual promiscuity, condemns people to perpetual frustration. They are never able to climb out of their introspective search for experiences long enough to experience the wonder of a real and meaningful encounter with the one who is the source of all true spirituality.

This search within is a trap into which Christianity can also fall when it emphasises the individual and their belief, their faith, and their response to God. And with a high emphasis on a personal relationship with God, he can almost become our best mate, rather than a holy and majestic King.
So can we rediscover a sense of awe towards God?

A true sense of awe will never be engendered through navel-gazing nor abstract contemplation, but rather through a realisation of who God is. Consider people you have heard about who have done great things or achieved amazing feats – athletes, man walking on the moon, the person who has struggled to survive against the odds . . . 

We can rightfully feel a sense of awe towards such people for what they have done. We may never have met them; we may know very little about them, but their achievements fill us with awe. Then how much more is this so when we think about God.

He is holy, supremely powerful, a just judge, all-knowing  . . .  so many qualities above and beyond our human imaginings. These qualities should fill us with a sense of awe.

The very fact that he is the only God, leads us further towards feelings of wonder and awe. Just as monogamy produces meaningful sex, so too Christian monotheism (belief in one God) produces good worship because we focus solely on him. This focus on one supreme being and the expression of devotion to and trust in that one God, results in the deepest and most intimate of relationships with him.
Next, add to the equation all God has done: Creator of the universe, with its immensity and minute detail; the spectrum of colour and the variety of species; the seasons and all its constituent elements. Consider too all God has done through history, climaxing in the sending of his Son the Lord Jesus, whose death and resurrection remain a pivotal point in history.

Yet, an authentic sense of awe must go deeper than purely a cognitive assertion of concepts. A true sense of awe flows from a personal encounter with God and a relationship with him.

Take Moses. He knew all about the God of his forefathers, the covenant relationship established with Abraham and the promise of land and a people. Yet nothing could prepare him for his encounter at the burning bush.

Saul is thrown from his horse and blinded when he encounters the risen Lord on the Damascus road. Isaiah collapses in a gibbering heap crying, “Woe is me” and the disciples, on the Day of Pentecost, rushed out into the streets exploding with excitement, overwhelmed by their experience of the unleashed power of God, going way beyond their petty projections, preferences and pieties.

Genuine awe can never be created simply by stirring songs, mystical smells, spiritual images or religious postures. Just as tanning lotions give the impression of a suntan, it remains a cheap imitation, not the real thing.

Awe can’t be engineered. Trying to do so becomes a fake reflection of the authentic – totally unsatisfying with no benefits.

However, there are things we can do to bring us to a greater sense of awe. There are no short cuts, it takes self-discipline, but it is not rocket science!

How to rediscover a sense of awe

  • Develop your knowledge of who God is. Spend time discovering all you can of this amazing God revealed through the pages of the Bible, who has been encountered by millions through the ages.
  • Develop your relationship with God. Stop playing religious games. Stop simply going through the motions of faith and replace those actions with a genuine commitment to journey with God, taking him seriously without counting the cost. Stop ‘playing around’ with other gods of this age, which are constantly trying to entice you to submit to their seductive charm.
  • Develop a sense of expectancy. As we approach church, do we expect to meet God, or do we resign ourselves to singing songs (which we love or tolerate) and listen to words which smack of spirituality but often leave us cold? Yet God can break in, irrespective of what is being performed around us and despite the distractions.
  • Create a space. We are most likely to meet with God in a private place, devoid of distractions. This requires creating space in our diaries, finding a quiet location where we can simply and profoundly focus on God. A sense of awe becomes a reality as we suddenly realise we are indeed standing on holy ground, resulting in authentic worship flowing from this genuine encounter with the living God.