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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Do something in church to make a dent in the darkness.

After reading Russell Moore’s exceptional post on how best to be the Church this week as we gather for worship, here is how we at Mosaic will gather tomorrow:

1. We’ll open our service by joining hands to pray over the state of our country, to repent of our own blindness and denial, and to pray by name for those who have suffered loss. We won’t wait until the “pastoral prayer” in the order of worship. To do so seems somehow contrived. Instead, we’ll treat this the way you’d treat a first meeting with a loved one who has suffered loss. We’ll immediately embrace each other as families do, leaning on one another for comfort and hope.

2. We’ll pray by name for the families of all victims killed in the last week, as well as for the family of Micah Johnson (the shooter in Dallas). We’ll acknowledge the numbers — 136 African Americans killed so far in 2016 by officers of the law, and 26 policemen killed in the line of duty. We can no longer deny reality; these are not isolated incidents. The system is not healthy.

3. We will state the obvious. Racism is not dead. We will talk as if we are all in this together, because we are. Having talked with folks in my own church, I’ll speak not for myself but for them. They tell me people have had enough of having to explain to their children how to avoid violence at the hands of the police, even telling their boys they can’t play with toy guns because of what it might look like.

Mamas are tired of losing sleep every time their sons leave the house — sons who are suspect just because they show up, sons who in the wrong context become a threat because of the color of their skin. Just their color. These are sons doing no more than what any one of us has done … driving at night, hanging out, doing life like young adults do.

People have had enough of having to teach their children how to avoid the worst consequences of racial bias, and they’ve had enough of having to defend their need to do this among those who, because their lives are not affected, simply can’t relate or even believe.

People are tired of senseless killings. The guy in L.A. who said, “Can’t we all just get along?” spoke a prophetic word, profound in its difficulty.

We thought we could just get along, but evidently we can’t. Why?

Something deep within us is broken and the church must begin praying and acting as if there is a systemic evil that has lied to us and for which the only cure is Christ. It can’t be overstated: this isn’t a fight against flesh and blood but against a power or principality that is dark and persistent, that wants us to be okay with tolerable, so it can continue wreaking havoc in the margins, in the darkness, in the futility of our thinking.

It wants us to stop at tolerable , but tolerable isn’t enough. Racism — all forms of hatred, in fact — can’t be white-washed with southern politeness. The hatred and anger and bigotry just bleed through. We can’t claim to be followers of Jesus while privately agreeing with political rhetoric that breeds fear through division. Where we have been guilty, we must acknowledge this and repent of it. There is no spiritual loophole that allows us to be coarse and angry in political arenas while preaching love in church. Love — uncomfortable, inconvenient, self-sacrificing, fear-destroying love — is the only option Jesus gives us.

4. On Sunday, we’ll pray prayers of confession and repentance — both personally and corporately — because the pathway to God’s love runs through the valley of repentance. In other words, change begins with us. Where am I refusing to face what is real? Where am I even unintentionally adding to the problems we all face?

5. And only after we have prayed and repented, will we move into worship. Our opening songs tomorrow (I Will Follow, and Great Are You, Lord) will point toward our call to follow Jesus wholeheartedly as we point our lives toward his power and grace.

6. The message will reflect our need to let God change us all the way through, because until the old person is dead real change hasn’t yet happened. Not in the way Jesus calls for it to happen. When Jesus tells us he looks on the state of our hearts, he means it. In times like these, it is not our restraint or our rhetoric that matter. It is the state of our hearts.

What does it mean to live faithfully? What does it mean to stay open to change? To stay open to truth? What does it mean to repent — deeply, fully, openly, humbly?

7. Our worship will end with a call to personal exploration and confession. Where I personally have treated people as scenery or machinery rather than as beloved children of God, Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Black lives matter. All lives matter. Am I minimizing the pain of other experiences by claiming that my own is the only one that matters?

8. Our closing song leads us toward hope. “Your love will never fail, you’re steadfast” (Rise, by Housefires). After all, we know how this story ends. We know this gospel is bigger than any one country and stronger than any enemy of our souls. This gospel works, not as a bandaid but as a transformation. We will be sent out to live as transformed, hope-fueled people of God.

The one thing we can’t do on Sunday, whatever our context, is go on with business as usual, pretending that the Church has no responsibility for responding to our national pain. When we do so, we damage the gospel by calling it irrelevant, which is the worst kind of heresy.

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