Monday, September 13, 2010

The Awe Factor

Worshipping as a group, Courtesy of
Worshipping as a group, image courtesy of

And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe…1

As I stood in church Friday evening, I listened as a visiting minister urged the audience to enter into a frame of mind that indicated an attitude of worship. The more she stressed this outward response the more uncomfortable I became. As I tried to worship the Lord, I found my thoughts distracted by her insistent words. I asked myself,

Is God moved by the volume of my voice?

Is God exalted by how high my hands are lifted?

I took my seat, bowed my head, and began to pray. I told God that,

Although I didn’t feel like doing as I was instructed, I did honestly want to worship Him.

When I got home later that evening, I wondered,

Why does it seem that at times, there is a barrier to reaching God?

I wondered if anyone else ever had these thoughts and how they addressed them. I realize that for me, I’ve just began attending church and truthfully, I don’t really know anyone. For that matter, no one really knows me. But we all assemble at set times in a corporate effort to worship the Lord. There are worship leaders who help to frame our thoughts; the goal is that we reach an outward expression of an inward desire. At least, I believe that’s what I’m attempting to do, so I assume others have a similar mindset. But I’m really not certain because I’m the new guy.

I read this passage in Acts about new converts who were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” What really impressed me was that the bible says, “everyone kept feeling a sense of awe…” It goes on to say in the next verse,

And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common…2

I realize that in the first century, the culture and structure of the Christian church was much different than it is in our modern society, but there still has to be a sense of community, a commonality (of thought, intent and purpose), a fellowship in the things we do and share. The Greek word koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) means, partnership, i.e. (literally speaking) participation, or (social) intercourse, or (pecuniary) benefaction :--(to) communicate (-ation), communion, (contri-) distribution, fellowship.

As the Christian believers participated in the teachings, social interaction, communion and prayer, they became known by one another. Their lives were shared lives because they became invested in one another.

Correction:Yesterday, the reference I used for the word awe was incorrect. I've modified the text below after verifying several sources.
The Greek word used for awe is phobos (fob'os) which means, fear, dread, terror, that which strikes terror; reverence for one's husband; cause of fear, intimidation, respect, respectful, reverence, sense of awe.

I can understand how believers were afraid and intimidated when witnessing the signs and wonders performed by the apostles. I believe that these Christian disciples moved from the place of fear and intimidation to a position of respect, reverence and a sense of awe because they witnessed the move of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit. Thinking of the emotions I felt the first time I saw one of my children gave me an indescribable moment of joy, elation and wonder; I was in awe.

I understood that here in my hands was a life that I was instrumental in producing.

I believe that no matter how old our children are, there are those moments when we are in awe of them. It doesn’t have to be anything they say or do; we just don’t have words to describe the emotions they evoke in us.

I wondered what this has to do with a community of believers being in awe and I began to realize that through Christ, God has produced in me new life; this new life is the life of Christ. I realize that this is no great revelation but to understand that God has placed His life in me, a life as real as the life of my children, gives me a sense of awe that I cannot describe.

But this is at a personal level and I’ve yet to continually experience this in group worship.

I’m wondering if this is because I don’t share in having all things common yet.

I believe that if I’m to penetrate this worship barrier, I will need to integrate myself within the church and allow myself to be known by others that are a part of this community of believers. I will continue to devote myself to the teachings, fellowship, communion and prayer.

This is the path of trusting God, being transparent to those within the community of believers I am a part of. Part of being in awe is fulfilling my responsibility as a believer: to learn from instruction, to become known and to know others like me, to participate in communion and to come together and pray.

These aren’t unique to the first century church, they are transcendent over time. I want to experience this awe every time (whether) I’m in or out of church. At home, I find it much easier because there are no distractions (I cannot control) but in church I’m discovering I can become distracted. I suppose what I’m saying is that I don’t want to come to church and parrot what I see everyone else doing. I really want my thoughts and attention on spiritual worship. My concern is that mimicking this would bleed into other aspects of my life and instead of being truly honest with God and others, I’m just going through the motions of being a Christian. I’m not necessarily talking about living a sinful lifestyle but there is a dichotomy between transparency and secrecy. I want my life to be an outward expression of who I really am.

This is where trusting the Holy Spirit becomes so vital because even in my most sincere moments, my thoughts can be distracted; but He will purify them for me to God.

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Father God,

Your word says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" and I want to have an attitude that pleases You. I want both my words and actions to be representative of Christ. I want to be genuine in my life so that others may recognize the honesty and integrity of Christ. I want to have fellowship with the community of believers where I worship You. I want to be in awe of the life You've given me; the life of Christ Jesus my Savior. I trust the Holy Spirit to communicate my worship, prayer, praise and life that you are glorified and honored. Thank You for this life. Amen.

  1. Acts 2:42-43, NASB
  2. Acts 2:44, NASB
  3. Romans 8:26-27, NASB
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Layman's Parallel New Testament, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6


Wanda said...


You've brought up some very interesting points here and I must say I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has struggles in this area. I often wonder if raising my hands in response to the worship leader prompting is right or not. I love God dearly but I too feel much freer to praise and worship in my home. Others distract me too. And I never want to just "play church" or pretend. But I can say that over time I've become more comfortable and closing my eyes tend to help me focus more on Him and not others.


MTJ said...

Wanda: I agree that closing my eyes does tend to help. The other night a guy in front of me periodically turned around looking at me. It gave me a wierd feeling and along with the urging of the guest minister, I no longer felt comfortable.

As I said, the real focus for me is to grow through instruction, become integrated into the fellowship of believers, and participate in communion and prayer.

I believe that as I become familiar with those in the local church, I will move beyond that barrier of group worship.

I did not mean to imply that anyone was playing church, I was only alluding to my own personal concerns.

lynnmosher said...

MTJ, Following the leading of a worship leader can make us feel uncomfortable. We each worship in our own way. If it feels right to you, that is right for you. Praise comes from a heart full of love and reverence for the Lord and worship, of any form, will follow naturally. Blessings to you!

PS I wish you had an email subscription. Would love to receive your posts in my inbox!

A Peculiar Person said...

Corporate worhsip can be such an interesting tug and pull sometimes, especially when we're new to a specific body or when there is a new element (like a guest minister) added to the mix. Personally, I know that the more familiar I am with the context in which I am worshipping, the easier it is for me to let go and to enter in, mostly because I can better understand and be in agreement with what's happening around me, I guess.

I believe you were aboslutely right though, it is the UNITY of the body that allows corporate worship to flow. I know that for me, although I love to worship at home, I actually find I am more likely to get "lost" in my worship when I'm in church. Not because I can sense the other people around me (in fact, I make it a point to sit towards the front so I have as few distractions as possible) but because of the spiritual outpouring that can happen when we're together and in one accord.

A Peculiar Person said...
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Sharon Kirby said...

MTJ - You bring up so many honest thoughts. I'm going to choose two to comment on. The first is your great question - "Why does it seem that at times, there is a barrier to reaching God?" I don't know how many times I've wondered that myself. I think there will always be a tug/pull this side of Heaven, as we, in our physical bodies, try to communicate with a spiritual God. I am consoled and encouraged by the fact that we share the Holy Spirit - and that in some way we CAN'T FULLY COMPREHEND, we are new creatures, and the Holy Spirit helps us reach God in our inner spirits.
The other thing I wanted to comment on was what you said about "awe." I had NO IDEA about the meaning of the word in the original Greek. How amazing! As a parent, I can REALLY relate to those feelings! As for corporate worship "awe," sometimes I feel a sense of awe as I look out at the church community because I am overwhelmed by the knowledge that God KNOWS EACH ONE of these people - their entire life story, their pains and struggles, their joys. And each one of them has been DRAWN by the same Jesus that loves me - the One who died for me AND them, who gives salvation to me AND them, who is working in me AND them. So, I guess for me, larger groups of people, including the one I sit among at church, gives me a greater sense of how BIG God really is - how His omniscience covers the world, how nothing escapes His wondrous care - How AWESOME He truly is!!

Thank you for your insightful thoughts - you faithfully use the gift of communication that God gave you to speak to me.


p.s. Read Wanda's post about spiritual armor - it was a great one - thanks for pointing it out to me!

Mariel said...

This is my first visit and I must say you have given me much to ponder...which I assumed I'd find here after reading your insightfulness over at my blog. This post really gave me more to ponder since I just began teaching ladies at my church on the topic of prayer....thank you for sharing this.

MTJ said...

Lynn: Thanks for sharing worship wisdom with me. I get that it must come from my heart, I guess I want it to be spontaneous as well; rather than a repetitious effort. I'm not certain I'm being clear in what I'm trying to convey. I may need an addendum to this post.

PS: I've added an email widget which after tweaking the code, I hope it works.

Paula: I appreciate the wisdom you share on worship. I think what I'm realizing is that during worship there can be an element of rote; which to me seems ritualistic.

I'm finding it difficult to convey my thoughts in this area Paula. I don't want to define God and the worship service as a ritual, it's not. But I imagine that God and the outpouring of His annointing differs from service to service; perhpas I'm wrong. Certainly the Holy Spirit doesn't just appear when I sing a specific song or orate the same words every time.

Some days, I feel like dancing in church, so I dance before the Lord; but just because I dance, doesn't mean I will experience an annointing.

I hope I'm making sense Paula.

Sharon: Again, I recognize that although I knew what I was saying, I failed to adequately convey it in the post.

The barrier I'm referring to is that I have the sense that the awe mentioned in Acts was the result of 1) their devotion to instruction, 2) fellowship, 3)communion and 4) prayer. These factors produced a synchronicity among them all; they experienced a deep sense of awe regarding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the area of signs and wonders.

What I realize is that 1) I'm new to the local church I'm a part of, 2) I don't know anyone at a personal level yet, and 3) I don't feel the connectedness within the body of believers because I'm not integrated yet. Because of these factors, I felt out of synch and I experience difficulty in the worship setting. The barrier may simply be my thoughts and attitudes, not necessarily with the worship leaders. As I indicated to Wanda, I noticed a guy turning and staring at me a number of times and if I was somewhere else I would have probably asked him, "Why are you staring at me?" I tried to put it out of my mind but the combination of that and the repetitious urging of the minister was distracting and I was unable to focus by following (what I interpreted were) prompts.

I need to check and verify the Greek etymology on the word awe. It was very early this morning when I penned this post and it's quite possible I was researching the wrong word. I pray I didn't make a mistake because I think that teknogoneo is a pretty cool way of describing awe.

Mariel: Thank you for visiting. My intent was to convey a perception I experienced during worship and as I thought about this over the weekend, the Holy Spirit led me to this passage in Acts this morning.

I believe the Holy Spirit wanted me to understand that if I felt a barrier during worship and praise, it's possible that the one or all of the four factors cited were the cause. Since I recognized that fellowship (koinonia) was my missing component, that is what I believed to be the reason I felt a barrier. I'm certain as I become known and as I get to know those in my local church that barrier will diminish.

Every time I'm in church, I want to experience a spontaneous fresh annointing. It's not something I feel capable of expressing in words, it's just something which I know is within my heart as a sincere desire to be in God's presence.

Wanda said...

BTW, I didn't mean to suggest that you or anyone in your congregation was "playing church". Just saying that was a hang up of mine. Whatever, I did in worship I wanted it to be from an authentic love and adoration for God.

MTJ said...

Wanda: I suppose that I didn't want anyone to think that I wrote this post as a criticism of my local church; I certainly didn't think you were stating that.

I've discovered that articulating what I felt has been difficult because it was written from a perception I experienced. I'm not speaking from a biblical observation but that of a personal one. Like you, I desire an authentic experience every time I'm in church.

I can see how my words imply that the experience I perceived was that, the worship was contrived; but I've tried to indicate that what I now realize is that I need to connect in fellowship with members of my local church. In doing that, I believe I won't experience the barrier and the disconnectedness.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post called Access in which I tried to describe the worship experience on a personal level. I have not attempted to re-create that same worship experience to feel what I felt that day. There was an annointing which I personally recognized that day, but I also realize that I did nothing to cause the Holy Spirit to operate in a specific manner for me or anyone else in the church that day.

Still, I do seek to experience an annointing when I worship. I want the experience to be authentic, spontaneous and fresh each time. I suppose even that can be perceived as ritualistic if it operates from a place of dependency.

It's like what you wrote about the morning coming. Even though I did not experience an annointing during service that night, it did not negate the presence of God. God doesn't need me to validate His presence; He does want me to enter His presence.

Lloyd said...

Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I think that all believers can relate to the feelings that you are going through. I know when I gave my life over to the Lord, my wife and I visited several local churches in the area to see which one we would feel the most welcome and comfortable attending.

Without naming any denominations, I must tell you that there were a few churches that I felt really uncomfortable in because I just could not bring myself to start waving my hands and jumping up and down to show that the "Spirit of God" was working in me. There were other churches that claimed that if I did not speak in "tongues" that I was not saved yet and did not have the "Spirit of God" in me.

To make a long story short... I finally found a church that I could show "Awe" and “Love” to God by just bowing my head and meditating on God's Word. I could also sing to the Lord without a lot of bodily movements and still feel the "Spirit of God" present within the congregation. And yes, there were folks who worshiped the Lord by holding up their hands but nobody judged me because I didn’t hold my hands up to worship God. The people were friendly and did not hesitate to come over and shake my hand and welcome me with a smile. My wife and I chose this church to be our church family.

What you need to do my friend, is to visit several "Bible Believing and Teaching" churches in your community and join the one you feel at home in and comfortable with when worshiping our Lord and Savior. Hope this helps. God bless, Lloyd

Peggy said...
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Peggy said...
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MTJ said...

Lloyd: I appreciate the wisdom you and others have shared with me regarding this post. I recognize just as each of us are different in personality, thinking and behavior, local churches have their own distinct personality, thinking and behavior as well.

The experiences you described would also make me uncomfortable because of the legalistic approach to salvation.

I've tried to indicate that there were several factors which led to the questions I pondered and the writing of this post. The primary factor being that I'm new to the church and I don't know anyone. I've waited for someone to reach out and initiate fellowship but as of yet that hasn't happened. I've now decided to reach out on my own in an effort to integrate myself into the congregation.

I may decide to visit other churches but before doing that, I want to give the Christians in this church an opportunity to get to know who I am as well as getting to know them.

Peggy: As a Christian, I believe I have the freedom in Christ to worship as I choose; but not everything I choose is the right thing to do. As you indicate, my attitude has a direct bearing on how I worship. You're also right when you say I am not there, "to worship them or for them but God alone!" However, I believe there are distinct times when the annointing of the Holy Spirit flows in the worship and praise of the congregation.

Many people close their eyes as they participate in the worship service. I often find myself with my eyes open, but this is because I am unfamiliar with the songs of worship; so I must read them as I sing. Distractions are much easier when they are visible. If you were carrying five bags of groceries, it wouldn't do much good if all I did was walk along side you; it would benefit us both if I carried some of your groceries as we walked. I also believe there is a kind of unity of thought, heart and mind in corporate worship too. I'm not saying it's a requirement, only that I recognize that it occurs.

I don't want to focus on distractions, what I'm saying is that, "I need to get integrated into the community of Christian fellowship of my local church."

I will check out the reading resources you've given. Please know that I appreciate the wisdom you and others have shared and the attitude you've conveyed in imparting your thoughts and experiences.

I've sensed a genuine Christian love from each of you and I am greatful to our Lord and to each of you for embracing me as a follower of Christ. I benefit from each of you.

Faith Imagined said...

Really excellent thoughts! Yesterday a friend was talking to me about feeling a barrier during her church's worship service. I know she isn't active in her current church and this post may help her. I am going to send her a link. I am really learning from your insights!

MTJ said...

Alisa: I pray that your friend find something of value in this post and the comments others have shared.

Karen said...

This is such an interesting discussion about group worship...and it is evident that each believer has their own preferred manner of worship...which is how it should be, I think...we all worship differently in our one on one times with the Lord, so carrying that over into corporate worship is natural...

I think that each worship service is just like our God's every day...and the type anointing and spirit changes to meet the needs of those attending...

Having been in churches all my life, I recall those bodies of Christ that did somewhat "stifle" individual expressions of worship...and those that embraced individuality and made each member feel welcomed to praise their God as each felt was easier for me to feel "connected" with the bodies that didn't pressure me to be like sister so-and-so...but expressed love with open arms and full compassionate hearts...THAT is what the world is searching for anyway...not legalistic rituals or lazer show concerts...but the family of God that accepts them...loves them...and points them to the cross....

Peggy said...

(Hi MTJ, this is a rewrite of my previous comment; I think I left in the parts that go with your comment)
WOW... This definitely is "many thoughts filled" and great reflections on your personal worship experience and needing to get integrated within your church!

I'm sorry that I always have lengthy comments because I find myself wanting to reflect & personalize what you've written that strikes me and mostly delights me from your thoughts. I do not ever want to offend anyone.

Much too reflect on here!

I love the correlation to your own children and being in AWE and new life! I do not have that birth experience of my own but I can imagine the AWE! I frequently have been in AWE of our adopted 2! There is such beauty in the awe of life!

I definitely am in AWE of God at home, here, or in corporate worship. But I am true to who I am.
I am an extrovert. And God wants us ALL, extroverts or introverts to comfortably worship Him! At some times (rarely), I sit down and take a deep reflective soaking rather than my lively self. If I am down, I sit during worship and allow the spirit to touch me. I'm sure those who expect me to dance, or move in the spirit wonder then. When I am broken, I weep openly in church!
So I guess what I'm saying is BE who you are! Yes, knowing the people around you may help but you are not there to worship them or for them but God alone! Corporate worship is necessary.

"The heart of the worship leader is to prompt what is already in the heart of believers, not to create it, which indeed he or she cannot."

I believe that you truly grasp what it is to worship in spirit and in truth and you will break through what may seem like a barrier being the "new guy".

Your prayer's as sincere as your heart and beautifully written!
Thank you for your faithfulness to being part of the fellowship of believers.

Peace in Christ,
(let me know if you'd like those resources)

MTJ said...

Karen: I do agree with what you've shared, we are all individuals whether we are at home or in church; our worship and praise will be base on our individuality.

Again, what I was attempting to articulate is that in church we come together as a body of believers to offer worship and praise to God. It is within the context of that unity that I've experienced the annointing presence of the Holy Spirit. I do not mean to say "This is the only way to experience an annointing", again to articulate my thoughts on this is quite difficult; as many of the comments have shared, the annointing presence of the Holy Spirit is experienced by individuals in church in a variety of expressions of worship and praise.

I suppose I wrote this post because I realize that I have been attending a church and I don't know anyone, for that matter, no one knows me. Not knowing the protocols within the church structure, I have waited for someone to reach out to me; that has not happened yet. Despite responding to requests for volunteers, I've still not been contacted.

I'm trying to move from a place of distrust in people to actually being open and receptive to the biblical concept of fellowship.

More than anything, I believe that's what God wants me to experience in my life.

Peggy: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, encouragement and giving me additional resources on the topic of awe, worship and praise.

Everyone: Each of you has blessed me with the sincerity, concern, and loving compassion your words impart. I believe that each of you has invested in me a wealth of spiritual knowledge that you've acquired in your walk with Christ. It is my prayer that your investment in me prove fruitful that I may do likewise.


In my opinion during "corporate worship" leaders often try to work up in their congregations to participate and if you don't you are made feel there is something wrong with you.

True worship is when you are so thankful to God it comes pouring out without some leader pushing you. You either got it or you don't.

John 4:23-24 (New King James Version)

23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

MTJ said...

Ron: I agree that true worship comes from the heart; it's not simulated. I realize this post implied a lack of genuine worship during the service but that is not what I meant to state. I only wanted to express my own personal concern about my experience during worship. I didn't want to begin doing something just for the sake of appearances.

I experienced a distraction during worship and because of that I was unfocused. This caused me to feel frustrated because I really wanted to worship but I experienced hindrances. I believe that I can minimize those hindrances by establishing a better fellowship within my congregation. I also believe that many of the comments here have offered me sound advice as well.

Ian Curtis said...

Just wanted to say hello, and to let you know I appreciate the candor. I have seldom been a church congregation type, having been unable to find a local church to fellowship with; but now I have found numerous Christians online (and off-line) that are like-minded, and it is wonderful. I pray that you do have an natural, Spirit-led integration with your church, and that you might worship without fear of distraction or doubt. Thank you for the post. Ian.

MTJ said...

Ian: Thank you for your kindness and prayers; I am appreciative. It has taken me a long time to step inside the doors of a church, and while I had reservations, I'm glad I made that choice. I lacked a sense of community and more than anything, it's what I need in my life.

Whatever obstacles you've encountered finding a local church, I pray that your path allow you the freedom in Christ to worship and serve Him.

Teresa said...

I am so with you on what you wrote:
"I suppose what I’m saying is that I don’t want to come to church and parrot what I see everyone else doing. I really want my thoughts and attention on spiritual worship. My concern is that mimicking this would bleed into other aspects of my life and instead of being truly honest with God and others, I’m just going through the motions of being a Christian. I’m not necessarily talking about living a sinful lifestyle but there is a dichotomy between transparency and secrecy. I want my life to be an outward expression of who I really am." Like you, I don't want to go to church because it's something I 'should' do on Sunday. I don't want to waste anymore of God's time; it's time to get real with myself so that God can do what He's been waiting to do; reveal His majesty in ways I could never imagine.
Thank you for this beautifully raw truth...the Lord Bless you!

MTJ said...

Teresa: It's good to hear from you my sister in the Lord. How is Tim doing? I continue to lift up your family in prayer. When we come to Austin, I would love to visit your church.

lioneagle said...

Greetings -

Be encouraged MTJ...

Psalm 52:9
I will praise thee for ever because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.

MTJ said...

Sandra: Thank you for sharing the word of God that strengthens me.