How great is our God? The phrase has probably passed your lips countless times. You’ve felt your hairs rise with the melody as the old hymn was played with gusto on an organ or by an orchestra.
But how often have you stopped to consider how great God really is? Is the question a daily experience or a sometime weekly expression for you?
People complain that in some circles and expressions of Adventism, reverence is a forgotten word.
Maybe they’re right. But which kind of reverence are they talking about?
There are two kinds of reverence. The first is one that enforces a distance. It is employed when the Queen visits, for example. Or when you go inside old temples and monasteries: shoes must come off, photos are banned and silence is enforced. It is a created reverence; a mimicry of the real thing, a counterfeit.
The other kind of reverence is a sense of awe, a sense of the disproportionate power and difference between something small and something great. It is the feeling you get when you stand in Yosemite Valley and look in awe at the granite giants around you, the smallness you feel when you look at the countless stars wheeling through the night sky. I imagine it is somewhat like the sensation of holding a child you had a part in creating, for the very first time.
That is a humbling, joyful, awe-inspiring kind of reverence. The thought that you are small in the Universe yet it seems to have been made just for you at that moment. God could zap us out of eternity, and yet He calls us co-heirs with Christ.
Unfortunately the first kind of reverence is the one so often enforced in some churches. We do not “suffer” the little children or anyone else to act, dress or play instruments in a way we think isn’t reverent enough.
Unfortunately the second kind is often lost in churches that reject the first version of reverence. They lose any sense of awe in God’s presence. Church becomes mundane and familiar.
"Know to whom you pray."
Both types of churches—but especially the second—are in danger of treating worship as entertainment. We choose churches based on the style in which we would like to be entertained rather than being in awe that the presence of God could be with us as we gather, two or three together (Matthew 18:20). That place is holy ground.
There are corporate moments when contemplation, silence and reflection are most appropriate, while at other times, excitement and praise are.
There are congregations and buildings that lend themselves to quiet contemplative worship and other groups that need to express their joy and praise in a freer form, where children have the run of the room and an interactive experience is necessary. And there are some congregations that will attempt to have both at different times.
Yet the problem is more personal. How often in our prayer life do we dwell on the greatness of God? Prayer is our connection to Omnipotence. Do we approach the throne with humility and confession? Do we give up all control or do we attempt to trap or bargain with God so that we can manufacture the outcome we desire through His power.
I think a lot of our problems would be solved by us remembering how great our God really is and by giving up trying to control Him. As my friend Louis always says, “Know to whom you pray.”
Moses was only permitted to see God’s back. Any more of God’s glory and he would have died. Being in close proximity to God’s glory was enough to make his face shine.
The right attitude in approaching God will give us the humility not to judge how other people worship God, how they conduct themselves in His church building and how they allow their children to behave.
Those who prefer a much more informal and laid-back worship service should also remember how great and mighty the God we serve is, how dangerous and set apart from us He is, and how we are called to fear and obey Him.