From ego to awe

Developmentally, we are designed to move from ego to awe.

In our most immature state, our task is to figure out who we are as separate beings from our mothers. Our mental time is spent understanding our autonomy, which makes us highly self-conscious. As we develop, we move from self-consciousness to simple self-awareness — understanding our place within the context around us. From there we move to awareness, thinking less of self and more of our surroundings. At our most mature, we are self-forgetful as we practice the gift of awe — seeing the holy in and around every situation. From this place of awe — of worship — we have the most to offer the world.*

This is a map of spiritual maturity. This process of moving from self-consciousness to awareness of the world around us to a holy awareness of God’s presence is what Methodists might call sanctification. It is the process of “holy-fying” our thoughts and of becoming more intimately connected to God as we see him exposed in the world. He becomes our focus.

Of course, we don’t move in clean lines from immaturity to maturity. We all know adults who still relate to the world from a very self-conscious place — constantly self-referencing in conversations and tagging every moment with an internal question: “What’s in it for me?” This is the consumer’s question. “Where is God?” is the question of a giver — one who is other-focused. To advance from self-consciousness to worship requires to us to move from “What’s in it for me?” to “Where is God?” And this is a move many of us desperately need to make.

Our culture has trained us to be consumers. We tend to look at everything, even worship, as a “what’s in it for me?” proposition. The lie of this world is that we can consume our way to significance, but the truth is that material consumption only creates more emptiness. That question, “What’s in it for me?” only makes us want more.

Meanwhile, worship (or holy awe) leads to fulfillment. When we go vertical, we find life, even abundant life, according to Jesus (John 10:10). Tish Warren references the “abundant economy of worship.” It is the idea that worship is the one thing that never runs out. Start with everything else, and worship will get our leftovers. Start with worship and it will overflow and fill everything else with meaning and significance.

Worship asks one thing of us: It asks us to move from ego to awe. The pay-off for that shift is a life of abundance, a life overflowing in fullness and fruitfulness. When I make this shift from ego to awe — and only when I make this shift — I am rightly postured for the work of witnessing. David paints this poetically in Psalm 96. He begins this majestic hymn with worship: “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, praise his name! Proclaim his salvation from day to day!”

David begins with worship before calling the reader in verse three to declare God’s glory — the same glory we’ve just personally experienced — to the nations. David teaches us that if we want to find God’s heart for the lost, we must begin by developing our own holy awe. We must see the glory for ourselves first. He calls us upward, inviting us to become so overwhelmed by the things of God that we can’t help but want to proclaim them among the nations.

When we cultivate a holy awe, our witness will flow out of our worship.

Steven Cole quotes John Piper, who begins one of his books on missions by saying, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man … The goal of missions is the gladness of the people in the greatness of God.”

Cole says worship is not just the goal of missions, but the basis for it. He says, “If we are not fervent worshipers of God, we have nothing to tell the nations. If we do not exude joy in God and His wonderful salvation, why should lost people be interested in what we have to say? So worship is both the goal of missions and the foundation for missions. If we’re not worshipers, we will be lousy witnesses.”

The rhythm of Psalm 96 moves us between worship and witness. Our worship propels us out “to the nations,” to places hungering to worship the one, true God. When we get there, we proclaim His glory and our witness inspires others to worship our God. And the rhythm continues. Worship leads to witness leads to worship. Holy rhythm.

All this is to say: Missions and evangelism are not a function of self-fulfillment or empathy. They don’t exist to satisfy our own deep longings (“What’s in it for me?”) or because we have connected with the suffering of others (“What is around me?”).

Missions and evangelism exist as the overflow of hearts engaged in the holy awe of a glorious God who is worthy to be praised.

What if you spent today practicing holy awe, forgetful of self and searching in every situation for the glory of God?

 

*I learned this from Dr. Marilyn Elliott, Vice-President of Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.

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Why I Will Go To Church On Christmas

Watch for it: a plethora of opinions will be published this month both in support and in defiance of churches holding “church” on Christmas day. Because Christmas happens to be on a Sunday this year, many churches will choose not to have services that day. They will highlight the need to honor their volunteers and staff by not making them show up on this family-oriented holiday, or they may encourage their members to do something missional instead. Or they may just say unapologetically that when Christmas falls on a Sunday, church can’t happen. Its just too much.

I honor all those choices. I would even say that depending on the context, opting out is a valid choice.

I’m confident that those who choose to stay home on Christmas day have solid reasons for it. It can’t be easy to juggle traditions, church responsibilities and sheer tiredness from all that leads up to the big day. I get it.

Be that as it may, I’ll be in church on Christmas morning and while my reasons may not work for everyone, these are the reasons that work for me.

  1. Our whole message centers around the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We get two days a year to really bring home that message: Christmas and Easter. When Christmas and Sunday fall on the same day, I am not less likely but more likely to show up because I worship Jesus and I want to honor the day the honors him.
  2. Jesus has asked me in a hundred different ways in the Old and New Testaments to give my Sabbath to him. I actually think of it as a great gift to be able to go into the House of the Lord and worship him in a season when so much else points toward the secular. Even as a pastor, I count Sunday morning as part of my Sabbath. Yes, I “work,” but I do so willingly … enthusiastically even. I have learned to worship as I lead, so I count the worship of Christmas day as a high and holy privilege.
  3. Where I am physically on Sunday will say something to the people around me. Again, this isn’t for everyone; this is just me. But I don’t want my family to hear that Jesus matters … but not more than the gifts we bought or the “family feeling” of Christmas morning.
  4. I love my family a lot, but they didn’t rise from the dead for me. On Christmas morning, I’ll be sitting in the house of the One who loved me so much that He gave His only Son. And I will preach the good news about the Messiah as if it is the most important present any of us will ever receive.

It may well be that your family travels on Christmas day, or meets with a loved one who is not able to get out. What a blessing that you have that time to give. Don’t let my reasons get confused with your circumstances. My reasons may not even be good reasons but they are my reasons. I will be in church on Christmas Sunday, worshiping and adoring Jesus, the Christ. If your life allows, I hope you’ll be there, too. Then there will be at least two of us, and Jesus says where two or three are gathered …

O come, let us adore Him!

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