Last June, I had the privilege of spending four days with my wife, Julie, backpacking in Golden Trout Wilderness of the Sierras. To get there one must drive north on Highway 395. Approaching the eastern edge of Sierra Nevada range gives a breathtakingly beautiful, majestic, even awesome view. Behold rugged beauty, the awesome power of God’s hand through the forces of nature, earthquakes, volcanos and glaciers, giving rise to the rugged peaks and carving out the Owens valley. We who worship the Creator should rightly be in awe and praise him. However, at 70 mph, or whatever speed you might drive this highway, all too soon you’ve passed it.
Pulling over at a rest stop or view point enables one to take it in a little more. But, the real wonder belongs to the few who get off of Highway 395 and drive as far as they can on a back road, get out of their car, strap on some boots and start walking up into the wilderness. This takes a lot of work and sweat, but it is worth it, revealing something altogether different: a tender, quiet, gentle, luscious beauty captured in streams, wildflowers, lakes, waterfalls, and forests teaming with birds and animals. The rugged majestic beauty colliding with the tender quiet beauty give one a better picture and experience of the Sierras, a reward to those who take the time and do the work of getting to know the Sierras.
Too often I think our relationship with God is like driving down Highway 395 at 70 mph and we get content there, failing to go into the back country where one truly begins to know and experience the fullness of God. Even in our worship services, we speed along, happy with the familiar views of God and not seeking a deeper understanding, a growing intimate knowledge. The familiar is a necessary starting point, but it is just that, a starting point. It is only in the back country where we gaze upon he beauty of the Lord, and in awe of him, that our senses come alive, at the same time satisfied yet always craving more. It is here that heart-engaged worship is fueled for the duration of our lives on this earth. Our wonder is awakened and we want to make that next ridge and look over the top, to discover, to rest, to know. There is no end to the wonders of God.
Over the past few months I read a book by Paul Tripp entitled, Awe, Why it Matters For Everything We Think, Say, & Do. This book inspired me to spend time thinking and studying about awe. Its basic premise is that we have been created for awe and only when we are in awe of God does every other part of our lives align rightly. Listen with your heart to what the author has to say:
“…only when awe of God rules my heart will I set everything else in my life in its rightful place. Joyful, perseverant obedience only ever grows in the soil of worship. You see, because worship is not just something I occasionally do but the foundation of who I am and because I worship my way through every moment of every day, if my heart is not given over to the worship of God, it will give itself to the worship of something else. Whatever has captured the awe of my heart will also set the agenda for the things that I desire, think, choose, say, and do.” (Tripp, p.89)
That last sentence sums it all up. My life is devoted to and ruled by whatever has captured the awe of my heart. This insight has given me a renewed personal goal and a goal for every worship service that I plan and lead. The question that must be answered is this: how do I keep my heart captured by the awe of God above all else? Then from that place, how can I help the hearts of those I lead be captured by the awe of God?
The scriptures hold the answer, recorded in a song written by King David.
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
The answer: daily gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. Reading the context of the rest of Psalm 27 reveals David, the king of Israel, the most powerful and prominent man in the nation, being vulnerable, revealing his struggles, challenges, rejection, loneliness and fears related to his work and home life. Yet he begins and ends declaring his courage and confidence in the face of it all. Where does such strength and courage come from? David knew that it was in seeking the face of the Lord. His “one thing,” was to behold the beauty of the Lord and to learn from him. And he knew that this wasn’t just a Sabbath thing, but it was the every day pursuit of his life.
While I’m far from perfect, and just a learner, here are some ways I daily gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and inquire of him.
God’s Word. For me it begins with opening his Word to see him, listen to and learn of him. I aim to spend time in God’s Word usually in the mornings anywhere from 5 minutes to a half hour. Being in God’s Word is also a weekly habit with my Small Group and with the congregation in the weekend worship service.
God’s People. Second, I see God when I fellowship with other believers who inspire awe of him. I live for lunch or coffee times with friends, young and old, who are also in pursuit of knowing God.
God’s Presence. When I was 25 years old, I prayed that God would make me more aware of his presence throughout the day, and he has. Since he is always with me, I should naturally converse with him in my thoughts, talking with him in prayer throughout my day. These are often sentence prayers of thanks, asking for help, or asking God to help others. A few times a week, I try to make a point to stop and listen, to cease striving and know that he is God. I do this by having a longer conversation with God during a walk alone over lunch or a break at work, driving to my next appointment in silence or laying in my hammock for fifteen to thirty minutes in between chores on the weekend.
God’s Work. One final activity that has greatly increased my awe of God is joining him in his work, work that is beyond my ability. This is work that sometimes takes me to the point of praying Jehosaphat’s prayer, “We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12b). Caring for the poor, the widow and orphan is a good example. Serving other’s needs, especially in my family and my work is another. Trusting God through trials always increases my awe of him.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but simply some ways I feed the awe of God in my life. I know I am far from doing these things perfectly, but the more time I spend doing them, the more awesome God becomes to me.
Concluding with Our Goal
One final result of going into the back country with God, is that once one has been there, they want to take others to see what they have seen. This is what it means to be a worship leader. To say that the other way around, I cannot expect to lead people to know and be in awe of a God whom I do not know and who is not awesome to me. Listen to David in another well known song recorded in Psalm 40.
“He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalms 40:3 ESV).
I find it fascinating that the result of David’s new song is not that people would hear it, but that people would see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. A good definition for the Hebrew word for fear is, “awe inspired reverence.” David’s desire was for his song to lead people to see his awesome Lord. And that, my friends, is the goal I have chosen for us as a worship team in this new season of ministry at Trinity Church. This quote from Paul Tripp’s book states it well.
“You could argue that every element of the gathered worship of God’s people is intended to give people their awe back again. We need a moment to refocus on the grandeur of God’s glory and grace. We need to see his awesome wisdom and power again. We need to dwell on his patience and faithfulness again. We need to be stunned by the perfection of his holiness and the righteousness of his judgment again. We need to be encouraged by the awesome truth of his constant presence again. We need to be reminded to rest in his amazing sovereignty again. And we need to be blown away by the reality that, by grace, he is all these things for us. He has unleashed his awesome glory on us! You see, awe doesn’t just remind you of who God is; it redefines for you who you are as his creature and his blood-bought child.” (Tripp, p.90)
Whether you are an artist or a technician, on stage or behind the scenes, collectively we work together to lead worship at Trinity. We have this privilege of leading kids, peers, youth, adults, guests, believers and non-believing seekers to see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. Let us make a point to frequently get off the highway and into the wilderness, serving from a place of increasing awe and wonder at the grandeur and beauty of our great and glorious God. Let us lead people to know and be in awe of a God whom we know and who is awesome to us. Let’s show them Jesus. Might we be these type of worship leaders to the glory of God in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen.