AW Tozer – Wonder and Awe in Worship
“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky… ” (Acts 1:9-10)
There is no doubt that the Apostles stood dumbfounded at the events that had unfolded before their eyes. The One they had recognized as the Messiah had been cruelly executed, only to appear once again after rising from the dead. And as He departed from them once more, they stood speechless and staring into the sky. Words could not express what was happening, so they stood silently as Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand.
“There is a point in true worship where the mind may cease to understand and goes over a kind of delightful astonishment …” 1 A.W. Tozer
It seems apparent from the text in Acts that the response of the Apostles was not one of resolved disappointment that Christ was leaving, but truly was a momentary inability to verbalize the situation. In fact, two angels had to jar the Apostles out of this state of astonishment and remind them to go about the task that Christ had commanded. Christ had not abandoned them, but would return in the same way. Pulled from their musings, they headed back to Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Tozer considers this kind of speechless worship.
“That kind of worship is found throughout the Bible (though it is only fair to say that the lesser degrees of worship are found there also). Abraham fell on his face in holy wonderment as God spoke to him. Moses hid his face before the presence of God in the burning bush. Paul could hardly tell whether he was in or out of the body when he was allowed to see the unspeakable glories of the third heaven. When John saw Jesus walking among His churches, he fell at His feet as dead.”
These biblical examples are but a few that could be gleaned from the pages of sacred text. There are enough of them that we must ask whether this is some kind of phenomenon peculiar to those whose stories we find in the pages of the Bible, or whether this is something that is common to believers of any age. Tozer points out that the examples he uses are “unusual circumstances,” but then makes the explicit statement, “It is always true that an encounter with God brings wonderment and awe.”
That phrase, “an encounter with God brings wonderment and awe,” stops me and makes me think. Is it “always true,” as Tozer suggests, or is he being dramatic for emphasis? As I consider his point, I can’t help but agree with his conclusion. A true encounter with the living God is life-changing and will alter our perspective on everything. This is the point of the Christian message—that Christ will transform us from within—and it is as men and women submit to that reality and their need for Him that words often fail.
Tozer finds this to be true in Christian history as well, for those pages are “sweet with the testimonies of enraptured worshipers who met with God in intimate experience and could find no words to express wall they felt and saw and heard?” Surely, the reading of Christian biographies would underscore the truth of this claim, not to mention the telling and hearing of unwritten stories that have passed from person-to-person, both past and present.
Tozer ends his comments with one exception:
“Christian hymnody takes us where the efforts of common prose break down, and brings the wings of poetic feeling to the aid of the wondering saint. Open an old hymnal and turn to the sections on worship and the divine perfections and you will see the part that wonder has played in worship through the centuries.”
Wonder in worship has played its role throughout the centuries, and it still plays a role today, but we must be careful to allow room for the experience of it. Worship in many settings is often completely focused on upbeat and exciting songs. Music that will move the emotions and the body. But we must be careful that the constant presence of sound does not drown out the wonder and awe of silence, or quiet and deliberate reverence.
The Apostles experienced a corporate sense of awe that caused communal silence as Christ ascended before them. Is Christ really being raised up in our corporate worship so that, at times, we all stop and stare in wonder and awe? What does it really mean to encounter God in such as way that we find ourselves speechless? Not only as individuals, but as a whole group of worshipers?
I don’t think that we can manufacture these experiences, and we must be careful to avoid manipulating the emotions of a worshiping community to create a false sense of reverence. These kinds of events must be the work of God in the midst of the congregation. We, as leaders and worshipers, must pray that God would show Himself to us in such a way, and then be ready to allow this same kind of gazing and dumbstruck response that we see in the Apostles and other examples we have considered.
*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day: A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).
(Original Post on April 17, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19584-wonder-and-awe-in-worship)
Posted on January 13, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, theology, Worship Leader and tagged Mark Sooy, theology, Tozer, worship, WorshipThink. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.