What is awe-inspiring to you? I have never seen the Northern Lights, but I can imagine how the guy in the photo above would find them awe-inspiring. How about you? What causes you to have wonder and amazement? It is very common for us to declare that all manner of things are “awesome.” This week we’ve been studying Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, starting here, in which the Teacher has been talking about worship, focusing on three common elements of worship: rituals, prayer and vows.
Now the Teacher concludes his thoughts on worship in verse 7, asking us to consider what is truly awesome. If you read this verse in ten different translations, you will probably get ten different renditions of the verse.
One person says that what the Teacher is trying to say is that “people are prone to carry their illusions with them while they worship and also to talk without thinking. If a vow is made this way, the worshiper is treading on dangerous ground. The remedy is to fear God.” (Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentary)
The phrase “fear God” is found in the Bible a lot, and it is confusing because we don’t use the word “fear” in modern English the way it was used in older English of the 1600s when the Bible was first translated in English. So the NIV says, “stand in awe of God.”
Or as Dorsey puts it, “respect God and submit to his authority.” That’s a definition of worship in a nutshell: Respect God and submit to his authority.
When we gather for worship, this is why we sing. Singing transports us to a different plane of existence. Something about the combination of the music and the lyrics and voices together singing helps us experience a taste of the transcendence of God. When we sing, we not only make vows to God, we also stand in awe of God. Our hearts and minds are filled with wonder, as we consider who he is and what he has done.
Especially because it is not all that often during our hours and our days that make time just to stand in awe of God. We should do this a whole lot more, possibly. Back in verse 2 the Teacher told us to be silent before God, like the Quakers worship, and I said we would come back to that idea. Now we’re back, because it is not just by singing in worship that we can be in awe of God, but in silence. In the silence we contemplate, we think about who God is, about our relationship with him, and the fact that the Spirit of God is with us. In the silence we contemplate Scripture and we reorient our lives to the truth. The silence of contemplating God, being in awe of God, actually does change our hearts and minds.
The travesty of life in America is that there is so little silence.
How can we be in awe of God? It means that we need to intentionally add regular times in our lives when we turn off as much of the noise as possible. For me, in the afternoons I will either walk down to the church library or sit in the sanctuary. Those places are very quiet, and I will take time to contemplate God, trying to just stand in awe of him, thinking about him with respect and wonder.
There are more ways we can stand in awe of God. We can observe nature. Whether you like the starry sky at night, or whether the moon freaks you out like it does me (but you still look at its craters with your binoculars). Whether you love the woods, or you love the ocean. Whether you love the rolling farmland hills like we have in Lancaster County, or you love the mountains. There are so many ways that we can stand in awe of God, by getting out in nature. It is one of the reasons I love running. When I run, I get to spend time breathing our country air, passing the cows and sheep, and the manure-drenched fields. If I have the right attitude, all of it can make me stand in awe of God, even as I run.
How do you stand in awe of God? On a walk or hike outside? Looking in the eyes of your child? Maybe watching your grandkids grow up? It could be by reading a great book about God. Of course it means studying the Bible. But studying the Bible should not be an isolated practice that we always or even mostly do alone. Remember that that Teacher, in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, is thinking of a person going to the temple, something that was most often done in community, with other people. In the same way, gathering with your church family is quite important. There is something formative about being together, to sing praises together, to pray together, to study God’s word together. It forms us, changes us, helps us to grow. We stand in awe of God together.
What this requires is practice. We are called to be people who stand in awe of God. It requires the practice of observation, setting aside regular time in your life for quiet contemplation of God. Maybe you do this best in a quiet room alone. Maybe you prefer being in nature. Maybe there is a group of friends you can practice contemplation of God with together. No matter the method, the intention is to stand in awe of God, to give him credit and glory and praise for who he is and what he has done, to “be still and know that he is God” (Psalm 46:10).
But it can take practice. Are you out of practice? What do you need to change in your life to stand in awe of God? Do you need to make it an actual appointment on your calendar?
Then keep that appointment with God. Spend time listening to God through his word, through the voice of his Spirit, and then do what he says. The greatest worship you can give God is a life lived for him, at home, at work, in school, in your neighborhood.