“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious…” – C. S. Lewis
When I think of the word “reverence,” I picture a quiet, stuffy sanctuary full of people with bowed heads. It’s so somber that even the lights are turned off. No one’s saying anything, just having a little moment of silence. Maybe it’s out of respect, maybe because they are following instructions given to them by their parents when they were children. Whatever it is, no one appears very happy.
I have learned over the past few years that this joyless, going-through-the-motions attitude is not true reverence and should never be called that. True reverence has nothing to do with an outward semblance, but an inward realization of the truth. It is simply serious rejoicing over who God is and what He has done.
Some people might say, “Hold on! We’re not supposed to be sad during worship.“ That is true, but reverence isn’t sadness. It is simply serious rejoicing over who God is and what He’s done.
It seems that reverence has become misunderstood because it is confused with joylessness. Christians need to reclaim this important aspect of worship and reconnect to the stillness, the inspiring wonder and awe that accompanies the glory of God. We need to think of reverence as inner exuberance that cannot be expressed outwardly. It is being still so our hearts and souls can sing and dance.
What good does reverence do? At the most practical level, it gives us a balance in our worship. If we spend all our worship time in outward joy, it leaves no time for inward reflection. Imagine a person who sits down at a table of the finest gourmet food and proceeds to wolf it down. He is eating gourmet food, yes, but he is missing the point. If he eats a bite at a time, meditating on the taste, smell, sight, and feel, he can better appreciate the entire experience.
It’s the same with worship. If we begin celebrating outwardly every time we encounter Biblical truth instead of taking it in and engaging it prayerfully with our minds and hearts, it will take longer for the seeds of the Word to take root. These things must be deliberated, prayed over, meditated on, and applied to our hearts. Outward celebration is a great thing, but you will have more to celebrate when you’ve uncovered every treasure hidden in the Word with an attitude of reverence. Allow the quiet, inner joy to work itself out in outward celebration, from the heart outward.
Cultivating reverence is both simple and painful. Searching the Scriptures and pleading with God to reveal Himself is hard work. Actually seeing Him for who He is, and thus seeing yourself for who you are, can be enough to tear you to pieces. I remember the moment God most clearly revealed this to me early in my conversion. He graciously showed me how pure and clean, how good and perfect Christ is. Then He showed me the sin I knew was in my heart, filthy and disgusting, laid upon this beautiful Christ and destroyed with Him. My reaction then was not rejoicing, but horror. How could God do that? Jesus was too good, too clean, to touch my sins, let alone die for me! For the first time, I could truthfully say that I despised myself but loved Him.
God did not leave me there but took me from the cross to the empty tomb, where my horror became extreme joy. Never before had I experienced such reverence that came with knowing the infinite, holy God who rules every star and every atom would wallow in the mire of humanity and call me “son” and “friend”. This is where reverence comes from—the truth of the gospel. So live on this reality. Every morning when you wake up, resolve to hold onto it with all your might. Only then will your heart become reverent.