I read this week the results of a scientific study that indicates that regularly feeling a sense of awe increases a person’s humility and connection to others. It may also be good for your physical health with related research showing that experiencing awe increased a person’s positive emotions the most, which is then linked to improving the immune system and the reduction of “pro-inflammatory cytokines” (the molecules that, when chronically elevated, are linked with diabetes, heart disease and depression).
Research also showed that experiencing awe reduced symptoms of chronic mental health conditions in some respondents and general happiness and life satisfaction improved. They also had increased social well-being and felling of connection to their community.
The article (which you can read here) suggested several ways to help you experience awe: going into nature; getting out of your comfort zone; “looking up” from our phones to see real mountains and the night sky; and having an open mind to see possibilities.
I loved that article. As soon as I read it, I had that moment of recognition. Because as Christians, we know all about experiencing awe.
In the Bible, this concept is described various ways – fear, reverence, trembling and awe – but the meaning is the same. It’s a sense of wonder and amazement mixed with fear and respect.
“Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.” (Psalm 33:8)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
To fear or stand in awe of God is to recognise what he has done. That includes the work of his creation, his faithfulness to his promises as well as his daily intricate involvement in our lives.
But to fear the Lord is also to understand who we are in relation to him. It is recognising his infinite big-ness and our relative smallness. That’s why it is the beginning of wisdom.
Do you feel that sense of awe and wonder if you are standing at the look-out at the Blue Mountains? Or Kakadu? Or a sunset over a silent beach?
Do you feel like that when you contemplate God? If the answer is no, then we may have forgotten his big-ness. That’s easy for us to do because we only have puny human brains that find big-ness hard to comprehend. But God understands that. He must because the Bible re-iterates often the act of remembering. Remembering God’s character, faithfulness and work helps us to re-connect to his big-ness.
And it should be no surprise to us that the very thing that keeps us connected to God is a double blessing on us – that our reverence of God is good for our head, heart, health and community. What surprises the scientific community should not at all be surprising to us.
So yes, connect to nature (contemplate the work of God’s hands!) and look up from your phone. The means of experiencing awe mentioned by the study are by no means bad. But here’s some other ways to re-connect to God’s big-ness and experience awe:
- Read Psalm 33. Even better, read it with a friend and talk about what work of God’s hands particularly touch you.
- Go back to the cross. Read the gospel accounts and re-awaken the reality of that moment.
- Contemplate God’s work in your life, particularly how you were before and after you met Jesus
- Contemplate God’s daily work in your life – the answered prayers, the un-asked for blessings, the intricate maneuvering of people and events to bring about his purposes.
- Listen to your favorite worship songs at top volume and sing like no-one is listening
- Pray. Thank God for as many things as you can think of and don’t ask for a single thing. Just pray in praise of God.
“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
8 He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.”