Are You Awed By God?
James C. Denison
It was my first day on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth. I parked my pickup truck outside our church in Mansfield before driving to school. The only parking spot I could find was adjacent to President Russell Dilday’s car.
I happened to see Dr. Dilday come and go two or three times during the day; once it seemed that he looked in the back of my truck, but I thought nothing of it. When I came out at the end of the day, I saw what he might have seen: the empty 12-pack beer carton someone had thrown in the back of my truck when it was parked outside the church that morning. Not the best way to start a new career.
Most of us have been awed by someone we respect or fear. Your first meeting with the president of your college, or the CEO of your new company, or the famous athlete you happen to meet. The first president I ever met was Jimmy Carter. I would see him for five minutes one day at the Carter Center in Atlanta. I worried all week that I would do something to embarrass myself for the rest of my life.
When last were you awed by God? This summer we explored the church, the people of God. Now let’s meet the God of the church. Recent movies have brought us Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty–now we’ll meet God Almighty. Each week we’ll be introduced by a person who met God and was never the same.
We start with a man who was awed by God. He is ready to show us that we have not experienced all God can do in and through our lives until the same thing happens to us. Where do you need divine power and presence today? What you need even more is to be awed by God.
Let me show you why.
Being awed by God
One of the most pivotal events in human history occurred in one of the most mundane settings imaginable. The region was known as “Horeb,” a Hebrew word meaning “desolation” or “desert.” The traditional site is called Gebel Musa, “Moses’ mountain,” an elevation of 7,467 feet. Here Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law when he heard the voice of God.
From within a burning bush, God called Moses by name (v. 4). It is an astounding thing to realize that the Lord of the universe knows your name and mine. He is watching as you listen to these words. He knows your thoughts and heart. And he loves and accepts you anyway.
He called Moses to venerate his holiness by removing his sandals. Slaves were typically barefoot; here Moses humbled himself to the lowest level of social importance. He bowed before this holy God in the reverence which is his due. And God revealed himself in greater detail than any human had yet known him. But it all started when Moses was awed by God.
Are you awed by God?
“Fear not” is the phrase God says to humans more often than any other in the Bible. He said it to Abram when he first called him: “Fear not, Abram–I am your shield and very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). He said it to Hagar in the desert (Genesis 21:17). He said it to Isaac: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Genesis 26:24). He said it to Jacob: “Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there” (Genesis 46:3).
He said it to Moses when he was afraid of his enemy (Numbers 21:34). Gabriel said it to Zacharias in announcing the coming of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13); he said it to Mary in announcing the coming of the Messiah (Luke 1:30); the angels said it to the shepherds in announcing the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:10).
Jesus said it to his disciples when he called them to fish for men (Luke 5:10). God said it to Paul before his shipwreck (Acts 27:24). The exalted Christ said it to John on Patmos: “Fear not” (Revelation 1:17).
All through the Old Testament we see the same pattern.
When Isaiah saw the Lord he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). When Jeremiah heard his call he responded, “Ah, Sovereign Lord! I do not know how to speak–I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1:6).
When Ezekiel saw the Lord he fell facedown (Ezekiel 1:28). When Daniel received the vision of God, he says that his face “turned pale” (Daniel 7:28). When Hosea heard the word of the Lord he called the people to repent (Hosea 14:1-2).
Joel called the sinful nation to mourn and grieve in a solemn assembly before Almighty God (Joel 1:13-14). When God spoke to Amos, the prophet recorded, “The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers” (Amos 1:2). Every prophet had the same message: repent before the God of the universe.
The Old Testament closes with these words from Malachi 4: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (vs. 5-6).
But this is the God of the Old Testament, a God of law and legalism and judgment, we often hear. The New Testament God of grace is different, some people say. Those people are wrong.
When Jesus first demonstrated his miraculous power to Peter, the burly fisherman pled with him, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). At the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus revealed his heavenly glory to them, his disciples “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (Mark 9:6).
When the battle-hardened soldiers came to arrest him in Gethsemane, Jesus “went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.” To which Jesus responded with the divine name of God, the Great I Am: “I am.” And “when Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:4-6).
When Paul encountered the risen Christ he was thrown from his horse and blinded for three days (Acts 9:1-19). When John saw the glorified Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).
Do you see the pattern? Every time someone sees God as he is, that person responds in awe, fear, and reverence. The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). When we “fear” or reverence God, we approach him as he is. When we don’t, we don’t.
How can you be awed by God?
When last were you in awe of God? Why aren’t we awed more by him? If we see him as he is, we cannot help but feel our inadequacy and his superiority, our sin and his holiness, our need and his greatness. Why isn’t this more our experience of God?
Bad theology is one reason. If you see God as a benevolent grandfather watching us play in the yard, “gentle Jesus meek and mild,” a kind and gracious God who loves us all and would never judge our lives, you won’t be awed by God. If you see him as a Creator but nothing more, a kind of apathetic clockmaker who watches his world run down, you won’t be awed by him.
If you approach the God of the universe as someone who must account for his actions, who must explain himself to you before you’ll worship him, you’ll not be awed by him. If he’s a genie in your spiritual bottle, a God who exists to help you with your problems and make you feel better today, you won’t be awed by God.
But if you see him as he is–as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who gave you your life and your next breath, the One who rescued your soul from hell for heaven and has given you “every good and perfect gift” in your life (James 1:17), you’ll see him properly. When last did you get on your knees before the Lord? When last did you exalt him in your own heart? When last were you awed by God in worship?
Broken relationships are another reason. Sin blocks our fellowship with God. It keeps us from seeing him in his holiness. When our attitudes, thoughts, words, or actions are disobedient to his word and will, they distance us from the Lord.
And when we’re wrong with each other, it’s hard to be right with God. You cannot hurt my sons and love their father. It’s hard to be awed by someone you can barely see. When last did you spend time in confession and contrition before the holy God of the universe? When last were you awed by God in repentance?
Busy lives are another reason. The truism is true: if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. Spend an hour on Sunday morning to check the religion box. Pray over meals and when you have a problem. Read the Bible when you get a moment. None of these are how to see God.
When last did you spend time listening to God? Time walking with God in his creation? Time waiting for his Spirit to speak from his word to your soul? The more time we spend with God, the more we’ll be awed by him. When last were you awed by God in prayer and Scripture?
The bottom line: do you want to be awed by God? Do you want all of God there is in your life today?
Do you want him to be as powerful in his body now and he was in his body 20 centuries ago? Do you want to see him do today what he did then? Do you want him to do in our church and community and lives what he is doing around the world?
He’s looking for another Moses to lead his people out of spiritual slavery to the Promised Land of his joy. He’s looking for someone else willing to throw down his rod and let it become the “rod of God.” He’s looking for someone who will stand up to the Pharaohs of our day and change history for his glory.
God wants people who are so awed by God that they believe he can use them for a greater purpose than they can see; people so awed by God that they trust him with their plans and future and lives; people so awed by God that they will settle for nothing less than being surrendered to him every day; people so awed by God that they want nothing more than to please and serve him with every part of their lives.
Do you want to be awed by God? Will you exalt him as your Lord, and repent of your sins against God and his children, and spend time in his presence, and surrender to his purpose? He can use and bless only the people who are close enough to him to be used and blessed. He cannot give what we will not receive. He cannot lead those who will not follow. But if we will pay the price to be awed by God, we will find in him all that our souls need and more.
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light has been much in the news recently. The book makes available for the first time some very personal letters she wrote over 50 years of struggling with spiritual darkness and loneliness. Serving in one of the most impoverished, terrible places on earth, her discouragement is understandable.
Dealing with doubts and spiritual depression became part of her ministry to the Lord Jesus and to his people. But through this long “dark night of the soul,” she never lost her love for her Lord or her awe of his majesty.
For instance, she was hospitalized in 1983 after a fall. During her recovery she began to meditate on Jesus’ question we explored last week from Matthew 16: “Who do people say that I am?” She wrote her own answer. Discovering it this week was so moving that I learned it, and share it with you. I hope you’ll chose to be as awed by her God as was she:
“Who is Jesus to me? Jesus is the Word made Flesh. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Victim offered for our sins on the Cross. Jesus is the Word–to be spoken. Jesus is the Truth–to be told. Jesus is the Way–to be walked. Jesus is the Light–to be lit. Jesus is the Life–to be lived. Jesus is the Love–to be loved. Jesus is the Joy–to be shared. Jesus is the Sacrifice–to be offered. Jesus is the Peace–to be given. Jesus is the Hungry–to be fed. Jesus is the Thirsty–to be satiated. Jesus is the Naked–to be clothed. Jesus is the Homeless–to be taken in. Jesus is the Sick–to be healed. Jesus is the Lonely–to be loved. Jesus is the Unwanted–to be wanted. Jesus is the Leper–to wash his wounds. Jesus is the Beggar–to give him a smile. Jesus is the Drunkard–to listen to him. Jesus is the Little One–to embrace him. Jesus is the Blind–to lead him. Jesus is the Dumb–to speak for him. Jesus is the Crippled–to walk with him. Jesus is the Drug Addict–to befriend him. Jesus is the Prostitute–to remove from danger and befriend. Jesus is the Prisoner–to be visited. Jesus is the Old–to be served.
“To me–Jesus is my God. Jesus is my Life. Jesus is my only Love. Jesus is my All in All. Jesus is my Everything. Jesus, I love with my whole heart, with my whole being.”