We had a podcast not too long ago in which awe was the theme, because there was an article that had been published in the Washington Post that asked the question, Do you Feel Awe? I loved this topic so much I did a sermon about this last Sunday. Below are some of the notes. If you don’t want to read this lengthy article, then feel free to listen to the message here.
The article defined awe as “what we feel when we encounter something vast, wondrous or beyond our ordinary frame of reference. It evokes a sense of mystery and wonder.” And they said that, “given its documented benefits, awe might be our most overlooked, undervalued emotion.” They showcased a Psychologist named Dacher Keltner, who spent years studying the beneficial effects of awe on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. He said that having a sense of awe, “makes us curious rather than judgmental. It makes us collaborative. It makes us humble, sharing and altruistic. It quiets the ego so that you’re not thinking about yourself as much. It also calms the brain’s default mode network and has been shown to reduce inflammation.” In other words, negative emotions produces inflammation of the brain, which produces poor health over time. But positive emotions, peace, joy, love, awe and wonder, reduces inflammation of the brain and produces better health. In any event, Dr. Keltner says, “don’t underestimate the power of goose bumps.” That’s actually healthy for you!
The article also encouraged 15-minute “awe walks” for increased positive emotions and less distress in their daily lives. I’d encourage everyone to have at least 15-minute “awe studies” in your Bibles for increased positive emotions and less distress in our daily lives. What would be an “awe study?” I’d say it’s anything related to who God is, the love of God expressed to you in the sacrifice of His Son, in all the grace He’s showered upon you, especially in everything He’s made you in His Son, and in all the glory to come. How can you not feel awe about the God of this universe wanting to have a relationship with you?
Awe in the Bible
The Holy Spirit uses the word “awe” 3 times in our King James Bibles, all found in the book of Psalms, and I would argue that each verse is a timeless principle across all ages for all believers for all time.
The First Awe in the Bible
Psa 4:3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. Psa_4:4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
I love these verses! All believers are to stand in awe of the fact that God Himself has set you apart for His good use because you are Godly. Is that not amazing? The God of this universe has set you apart for His good use! How can you not be in awe of that?
Let’s dissect these verses and start with the word “Godly.” What does that mean? Godly is God-likeness. To be holy like God and to model His attributes in your walk out in the world. So what did that mean for the OT saints? How did they become Godly? Did they become Godly if they became really good at obeying the old Mosaic law? No. They became Godly the moment they came to God in faith exemplified by Father Abraham. Rom. 4:2-3. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
What does that mean exactly – counted unto him for righteousness? The word, counted, is the same Greek word translated as imputed in vs. 22 when he says, “it was imputed to him for righteousness.” So righteousness was imputed to Abraham. Well, what does that mean? What is righteousness? Righteousness is simply the rightness of God, His moral standard of holy perfection in everything He wills and does. What does “imputed” mean? To impute something is to write it down, to have it credited to your account. When God imputes righteousness, He writes His righteousness onto your account, which means you are saved because of your faith, you are now Godly because of your faith, and you are sealed in Him forevermore because of your faith. The very phrase “imputed to him for righteousness” means that that person has eternal security. Just as it is for us, so it was for them in time past, that there is nothing anyone can do to get that righteousness unimputed or to have His righteousness removed from your account once you are declared righteous by God because of your faith in His Word. To have His righteousness imputed to you has always been a declaration by God that you stand righteous in God’s sight because of your faith in Him, and nothing can ever take that away.
And what does David tell us? He writes in Psa 4:3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. Now that you’ve become Godly because of your faith in Him, the Lord will hear you when you call unto Him. And in light of all this, in light of the fact that because of your faith, God has set you apart for His good use, God will hear you when you call unto Him, and David says in Psa. 4:4 to Stand in awe of all of that. You marvel for the rest of your life in the fact that God, the creator of this vast universe, has literally made you holy and Godly because of your faith. The God of this universe has literally set you apart for His good use. The God of this universe will literally hear you when you call upon Him in prayer. Is there ever a point when that very thought doesn’t inspire awe in every one of us?
And David doesn’t say to simply BE in awe of those truths. David says to STAND in awe of those truths. You’re to stand. You’re to stand on the promises of God, to build your life upon the promises of God to you, to make your life a living sacrifice, or as Hal’s wife would say, “a living thank you” for all He has done for you, and to stand is also how we do battle in a great spiritual warfare. We do not retreat. We do not advance. We stand. We remain firmly planted upon God’s truth. We stand and withstand the fiery darts of the wicked. We hold our position, and we defend the truth. And David would tell believers to not only stand upon the truth of God but to stand in awe upon His truth, to stand with reverential fear of God, in reverence to the One who called us by His gospel of grace to the obtaining of the glory of His Son, the One who delivered us from this present evil world, who translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, and who set us apart for His good use. We stand in awe of those precious truths.
But David would suggest even more than this. He would say to “Stand in awe, and sin not”. That application is logical. Why wouldn’t we try to “sin not” in light of all these truths?
It’s no secret I have a thing for a doctrine called identification. That moment you believed, His death became your death. His burial became your burial. His resurrection became your resurrection, and we should, therefore, walk in that newness of life, because we’re living in His newness of life. And our identification through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection has freed us from the condemnation and bondage to sin, because he that is dead is freed from sin (Rom. 6:7). Why should we want to live in sin when we’ve been freed from it? We’re now free to go and sin no more. Why would we not want to live free from sin as a “thank you” for the freedom God has given us from the power of sin? And why wouldn’t we want to, as a “thank you” to God, go out into the world and sin no more because of the freedom He’s given us from sin?
And why wouldn’t we look at these thoughts of David in Psa. 4 and not feel a renewed sense of motivation and awe for the fact that God has set us apart for His good use because of what He accomplished for us at Calvary, because of what He accomplished in us the moment we believed, because of what He made us in His Son, freed from sin, and we then stand in awe of those truths. We sin not. We perfect holiness in our walks. We model Christ Himself out in the world. Why? Because the creator of this universe loved us enough to do all these things for us, in us, and through us.
I also love the fact that David in Psa. 4:4 would say to “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” The Washington Post article had a few interesting points to make about phones & apps. They said that “…most of the apps we use are not designed to make us feel awe… Nor do they prioritize our well-being. Instead, ‘they’re designed to keep us in front of the app.’ In addition, the social-evaluative nature of social media is at cross-purposes with the healthy ‘smallness’ that comes with awe.” In other words, “If you want to feel the benefits of ‘noticing things like the flowers blooming or the light filtering through the leaves on the trees,’ Anderson says, ‘your attention can’t be wrapped up in a phone.’”
There’s a lot to be said about that. The awe that some feel about technology is not the healthy kind of awe that improves your life like the awe you feel in your meditation on God and His Word. And here, David is saying to take all the distractions of your life, put them aside for a time, and be still. There is value in stillness and communing in your own heart upon your bed about God, about His promises, about His Word, about what He made you in His Son, and also communing in your heart to God in prayer.
Of course, how can you not think of Psa. 46:10? We have in this passage this busy world around us filled with distractions and the Lord says here to Be still, and know that I am God… We cannot understate the value of stillness and meditation upon God and His Word. I dare say, that is a lost art. Nobody is still anymore. But what does that verse mean to be still and know that the Lord is God? Well, this verse is often cited apart from the context. We would find a couple verses before this in Psa 46:8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. Psa 46:9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. And then he says, Be still, and know that I am God… So to be still means properly to be relaxed, calm, free of anxiety, free of physical exertions, especially the hands. You’re putting yourself at rest and into a trustful mindset toward God and His Word. And in that state of trust and stillness, you behold and consider the works of the Lord, all of which affirms the fact that God is all that He said He is demonstrated by His mighty works. He not only speaks truth in His Word, but He is also able to do all that He says He is going to do, just as He’s demonstrated in all the times He delivered Israel from all her enemies.
H.H. Snell had written that “unbelief is restless and plodding” but “faith is quiet before God and casts all care upon Him.” Isaiah would tell the people in Isa. 30:7 that “Their strength is to sit still.” When you embrace the value of stillness, to study the Word, to behold the works of the Lord, to repeatedly affirm within yourself the fact that God is all that He said He is demonstrated by those mighty works, that process becomes a source of strength for you because you’re drinking into your soul the truth of all that He is, which not only brings you comfort and patience and peace, but it also builds you up in the faith and deepens your faith and love to God because God is all He says He is, which reinforces 1 Thess. 5:24 “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Snell would write, “What an unspeakable privilege is it thus to be quietly stayed upon God, remembering His word.” Right? His strength comes from peace and stillness.
The Second Awe
Psa. 33:8 Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
First, we were told to stand in awe of the fact that God has set apart the Godly for His good use. Now we are told to stand in awe of who He is. Stand in awe of all that He is. This is more than just what He is. What He is – He’s all-powerful, all-knowing. Eternal. He’s a Spirit. He’s immutable. He’s omnipresent, omniscient. But He’s more than that.
We did a message a few weeks ago on “the God of” expression in the Bible. I can’t help but think of that message. You might recall that Moses sang in Deut. 32:4 that He is “a God of truth and without iniquity.” God didn’t invent the truth. He is truth. He abides in the truth. He thinks only truth. He speaks only truth. Everything He thinks, says, and does, operates within the reality of truth. He lives in the truth. He loves truth. He sees only truth. He is the source of all truth. He is the embodiment of all truth. And this makes Him the “God of truth.”
But then David would take the whole “God of” expressions to a whole new level. One of those references was Psa. 4:1 Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness… David would tie the righteous nature of God to his own walk. He’s basically saying that any righteousness in my ways are His ways because I learned about who God is and I learned the deep wisdom of His ways in all things. And all of that makes Him the God of my righteousness. He is the source of all righteousness. He only acts righteously, because He is incapable of acting any other way, and I have made it my cause to have His righteous ways be my own.
Paul would write in Rom. 15:5, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus…” Long story short, in the context, he’s telling us that if we study the OT, we’ll gain patience and comfort from the God of all patience and comfort. God didn’t invent patience and comfort. It’s part of His nature to be patient. It’s part of His nature to always be at peace about everything, to always be assured about how everything will turn out. So Paul expresses this hope that God would enable the saints to also be patient and comforting to each other. He wants those attributes of God Himself to live out in the saints in Rome when they interact with each other.
In Rom. 15:33, Paul would call God the “God of peace” but he doesn’t do that only in Rom. 15:33. He would call Him the “God of peace” five times in his epistles. No one could understate the importance of God wanting His own internal peace that He feels to be the same internal peace we feel. But Paul, in 2 Cor. 13:11, would also call God “the God of love and peace”. God is love, and it’s a reflection of His nature that love exists in the world, which makes Him the source of all love, which makes Him love itself. God isn’t loving. He is love itself. That’s who He is. That’s part of His nature. Love is the eternal active energy of His essence. His love isn’t temporary. His love isn’t conditional. His love doesn’t fluctuate. His love doesn’t stop. His love doesn’t require any effort because He is love itself.
And, of course, we find in Rom. 15:13 that God is “the God of hope.” God doesn’t just give us hope. He is hope. All hope exists in Him. Hope is part of the eternal essence of who He is. God has perfect confidence in the sureness of everything He will do, which He will do perfectly. And so what Paul is talking about is God’s own confident expectation of a sure thing becoming our own confident expectation of a sure thing. When we get close to feeling His level of confidence in the fulfillment of all His promises, the inevitable result is joy and peace in believing, abounding in hope, which is the power of the Holy Spirit operating inside of us when we study His Word, all of which helps us to feel what God Himself feels.
And of course, Peter would tell us in 1 Pet. 5:10 that God is “the God of all grace.” He didn’t invent grace. He doesn’t just extend grace. He is grace itself. The God of all grace. Grace is His nature. That’s who He is. And so when we study His Word, we drink into our souls the Word of the God of all grace, which empowers us, which makes us strong, and which ultimately, produces His grace in us, and we can be strong in that grace. We are to maintain the vivacity of His grace operating in our hearts. We are to keep that inspiring, transforming, attribute of God alive in us all our days. We allow His grace to motivate everything we do, ensuring that His grace lives out in us, and we are strong only as much as we allow the power of His grace to work in us.
So when we look back all that God is, God of truth, God of comfort, God of peace, love, the God of all grace, how can we not like David say, “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him?”
The Third Awe
Psa. 119:161 “SCHIN (the beginning of the 21st section of this Psalm). Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.”
First, we were told to stand in awe of the fact that God has set apart the Godly for His good use. Second, we were told to stand in awe of who God is. And here, how can we not feel as David felt when he writes that my heart standeth in awe of thy word?
Let’s start with exegesis on the verse. Notice the contrast between the princes persecuting him and David’s immovable feeling of awe toward the Word of God. There are no trials in this life so great that we should ever lose our sense of awe and wonder when it comes to the Word of God. The trials of princes for King David wasn’t enough to shake him of that awe-inspiring feeling he had as an adult toward the Word of God. The trials of life never broke him from feeling awe about the Word of God.
And when David said that he standeth in awe of thy word, it wasn’t his mind that stood in awe but his heart, his thinking heart, the emotional reactive heart. Awe is not some intellectual assent to a truth. Awe is an emotional response of your whole being starting with your heart feeling this reverential adoration toward God.
We often talk about renewing the mind, as we should, but the heart is also an integral part of our spiritual lives. It’s “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom. 10:10). Rom. 5:5 tells us that “the love of God is now shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Eph. 3:17 tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. We learn in 2 Cor. 1:22 that God “hath also sealed us and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” In Gal. 4:6 we learn that “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” We have Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the love of the Father in our hearts. Yet, Paul’s letters indicate that there is also a kind of renewing of the heart that takes place when we study His Word.
In 1 Thess. 3:13 Paul’s prayer request was that, through study, the Lord may “stablish our hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” There is a process in which study helps to establish our hearts to be functionally unblameable in holiness, which we pursue until the Rapture. 2 Thess. 3:5 talks about the Lord directing our hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. Also, through study. Timothy was commanded twice to be a model of charity out of a pure heart. Pureness of one’s heart is not automatic. But pureness of heart is something we can achieve by studying to such a degree that our hearts are operating blamelessly in light of His Word which renews the mind and guides the heart in how to operate in pureness of charity toward everyone.
The big point – when you renew your mind, your heart cannot help but stand in awe of His Word. Your mind can be blown but it’s your heart that’s filled with awe about who God is, what He is doing in your life, and the sheer brilliance of His wisdom in His Word.
And there are so many points to be made about His Word that makes it so awe-inspiring. We could talk about Bibliology, and the subjects of Revelation, Illumination, and Inspiration, which would inspire awe. I love the fact that, when it comes to verbal plenary inspiration, God so moved men by the Spirit to write in their own language, with their own words, and in their own styles and yet they would all write in their own way the very truths God wanted said. That is just amazing! Or you could talk about the some 300+ prophecies from all these different writers fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ through multiple writers which perfectly complement each other, which is amazing. Or you could just talk about the brilliance of wisdom of God’s words themselves.
You know, Paul never spoke of feeling awe in our walk, but he oftentimes exhibited awe whenever he broke out into a doxology. He would feel such overwhelming awe about the brilliance of God’s wisdom, he would just break out into a song of praise. My favorite was the one at the end of Romans 11. Consider everything that came before it. The brilliance of the gospel. The brilliance of everything God made us in His Son. And then you arrive in Romans 9-11 and the brilliance of God predestinating before the world was even created that He would set Israel aside for a reason and for a season and He’d interrupt the prophetic program so He could implement this amazing period of grace, and that He literally moved Heaven and Earth because He wanted to have a relationship with you… Paul becomes so overwhelmed by all of it, he cries out in Rom. 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Rom 11:34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Rom 11:35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? Rom 11:36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
For me, what makes the Word truly awe-inspiring is the power of the Word to transform lives. I mentioned on a podcast a couple of weeks ago an article on the Wounded Tiger, the conversion of a Japanese man named Mitsuo Fuchida. He was the pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbor.
There was also an American pilot, Jacob DeShazer, who had a fierce hatred of the Japanese because of Pearl Harbor. He was part of the “Doolittle Raiders,” which were daylight bombing raids on Tokyo. Well, his plane ran out of fuel. He crashed. He became a prisoner of the Japanese. For 40 months, he was starved, beaten, and brutally tortured. The article said that “While DeShazer was in prison he begged his captors for a Bible, and that’s when he came to Christ. He said, ‘I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity. I realized that these people did not know anything about my Savior.’”
Can you believe that?
The Word completely transformed DeShazer, completely transformed his white-hot anger toward his captives into loving pity while he was still a prisoner and while he still being tortured! Is that not amazing? Only the Word of God can do that! That is real power. No other words can do for a man what the Word of God did for DeShazer while he was being tortured. And the article went on to say that “After the war, DeShazer returned to Japan as a missionary, and that’s when his life intersected with Mitsuo Fuchida.” He led to the Lord the very man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, the very man who provoked all his rage in the first place. Is that not amazing?
How can we not like David cry out my heart standeth in awe of thy word?
Do you still feel a sense of awe and wonder when it comes to the fact that God Himself has set you aside for His good use? Do you still feel a sense of awe and wonder about who God is? And do you still feel a sense of awe and wonder when it comes to His Word? You should. It’s good for you.