Awe, as defined in a dictionary, is a feeling or emotion. It is described as a mixture of respect, fear or wonder. We often think of awe as being filled with amazement. For example, one recent article suggested we cultivate experiences of awe because tapping into something larger than ourselves is beneficial for us. Research has shown experiences of awe can reduce stress, stimulate creativity and innovation, and help build relationships.
I don’t doubt the scientific research behind this article and the benefits of awe to make us feel better, but the biblical definition of awe is quite different. The Bible emphasizes our sense of awe is always in relation to God and His work. Being awe-inspired by God is more than an emotion. The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says “that genuine awe is primarily a disposition rather than merely an emotional state.”
A number of different Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible are translated as “awe” or “awesome,” but they can also be translated “fear,” which means a mixture of reverence and wonder at who God is and what he has done or is doing.
So how can we be awe-inspired again by God and His work? When we look at the words “awe” or “fear” in the Bible, we are given clues as to how to change our attitude or the posture of the heart, so we live in reverence of God.
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1. Choose to Listen to God’s Words, and Learn from Them
In Moses' instructions to the people of Israel before they crossed over the Jordan and into the Promised Land, he commanded the elders of Israel to read the law every seven years: “Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:12).
The purpose of reading the law was so the men, women, and children would listen and learn to be in awe of God.
The same instructions applied to a king ruling over the people: “When he [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees” (Deuteronomy 17:19).
For all of God’s people and their leaders, hearing and listening to God’s law was the means by which they would fear God, and by obeying His law they would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
For ourselves, being awe-inspired by God comes with a decision to read and stay in God’s Word. We are to listen to what it says and what God is saying to us through it. We are to learn about God from what we read. Then, when we obey and follow through on what we have learned, we are showing our true reverence for God.
Seek out reliable and good ways to learn Scripture. Then this will lead to a healthy understanding and reverence for God.
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2. Consider the Great Things God Has Done for You
Samuel told the people of Israel: “be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).
In his speech to all of Israel, Samuel reminded the people of the great things God had done for them in the past. In particular, how He had brought their ancestors out of Egypt (1 Samuel 12:6), and how God had delivered the people and kept them safe when they had sinned (1 Samuel 12:11).
Then when Samuel prayed for rain and thunder and God delivered both, the people were both in awe of God but also afraid. Samuel told the people not to be frightened of God, but to have a healthy sense of awe. For God was always good, always rescued them, and never rejected them because “the Lord was pleased to make you his own” (1 Samuel 12:20-22).
The people were to look for evidence of God’s goodness and blessings in their life and this would help them be awe-inspired again.
Likewise, we are to look for evidence in our own lives of the great things God has done and is doing. Most specifically, how He has been pleased to make us His own by delivering us from our sin through sending His Son. We should consider how He willingly forgives us, how He blesses His people, and how He blesses each of us personally.
We are not to live in fear of God. We are to have a healthy respect for His power and sovereignty and, at the same time, know that God always delivers us (Psalm 34:19), always protects us (Psalm 91:14, Hebrews 13:5), and never forsakes us (Psalm 9:10).
Recognizing what God has done in your life will make you awe-inspired again so you can say: “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).
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3. Be Faithful and Worship God Only
Joshua instructed the people of Israel: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).
God had been faithful to His people in delivering them from Egypt and in leading them to the Promised Land. Now they were to fear Him, serve Him, and worship Him wholeheartedly.
Being sincere and committed to the Lord would take effort on their part. They were to throw away the gods they had accumulated from their ancestors and continued to worship. Being divided in their worship would stop them from being awe-inspired by the one true God.
Fear and faithfulness go hand-in-hand. Being faithful to the Lord and worshiping Him also go hand-in-hand.
Worshiping God with other believers and in our church communities is one of the ways we can be awe-inspired by God again. When it is hard to worship in-person, we can still be awe-inspired wherever we worship, and even on our own.
God can meet us anywhere—in our homes, walking in nature, and where two or three are gathered together. Just like the Lord met with Jacob when he set out on his own for Harran, God can meet us wherever we are. Then, we can say like Jacob: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17).
Faithfully worship God so you can be awe-inspired again.
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4. Remember God’s Love and Mercy
Nehemiah knew God was awesome because he believed in His covenant of love and the mercy God showed to those who had sinned. His prayer begins: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments (Nehemiah 1:5).” Nehemiah continues, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you” (Nehemiah 1:6b).
When we understand God is willing to forgive us our sins, that He is merciful and loving, then we can be awe-inspired by God again.
Later in the book of Nehemiah we see all these ways to be awe-inspired coming together. The Israelites gathered together “and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God” (Nehemiah 9:3).
If we choose to listen to and learn from God’s words, consider the great things God has done for us, are faithful in worshiping God, and remember God’s love and mercy, then we will be awe-inspired by God again.
Ralph Enlow, “Awe, Awesome,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 46.
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Rachel Britton is a British-born writer, author, and speaker whose passion is to help others become comfortable and confident in their conversation with God. Rachel holds a Masters in Religion from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Her blog “Praying Naturally” offers an extensive library of free prayer resources to help you deepen and develop your prayer life. Rachel is wife to Colin and mom to three young adults. She cannot live without a mug of English tea. Connect with Rachel on Facebook.