June 6, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Psalm 47:1-2 (NRSV)
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
Feel awe in the presence of natural wonders. Marvel at the glowing beauty of a sunset. Feel stunned by the power of a thunderstorm. Wonder that you are dwarfed by the majesty of lofty mountains. All of these sources of awe reflect the power and glory of God. But don’t stop with feeling awe in response to God’s creation. Rather, let your worship open your imagination to the presence and power of God, whose awesomeness dwarfs everything in the universe.
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
Several days ago I quoted a portion of the book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K. A. Smith. As you may recall, Smith shows that through worship we are able to imagine the kingdom of God in all of its fullness. He writes, “[M]y point is that Christian worship shapes our orientation to the world precisely by priming and calibrating our imagination” (p. 199). In worship we celebrate God the King, filling our hearts and minds – including our imaginations – with the truth, justice, and glory of God’s kingdom. And this can inspire and shape our imaginations.
There is another way, I believe, in which worship can fuel imagination. Let me explain what I’m thinking. Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon, in their book Imagination First, survey 29 practices that—they believe—encourage and expand our imaginations. They call the fourth of these practices “Make Way for Awe” (p. 58). “There is nothing like knowing it all,” they write, “to kill the imagination. When we become expert, or think we have, we get the benefits of intellectual shortcuts and far greater processing efficiency – but we suffer the cost of closed-mindedness” (p. 58). What is the antidote to such imagination-squelching expertise? “Make way for awe” (p. 58). When we feel awe, when our minds and hearts are overwhelmed by beauty, immensity, or intricacy, then we leave behind a “know-it-all” posture that inhibits imagination. We feel awe in the presence of that which we cannot fully know.
In my life, I have experienced a strong connection between awe and imagination. Some of the best ideas I’ve ever had have come to me while hiking in the High Sierra mountains of California. As I make my way along streams and meadows, looking up at towering cliffs, my mind and heart are expanded and inspired. When this happens, my imagination is stirred. I think of things I have not thought of before. I see my life and my work with a particular clarity and novelty. I see the world as more vibrant, colorful, and full of possibilities. Why? Because I’m filled with awe over the beauty of the natural world.
In worship, we’re reminded of the greatness, glory, and grace of God. We contemplate God’s unique beauty, sovereignty, and power. We offer expressions of worship in response to the manifold awesomeness of God. Many of the biblical psalms make a strong connection between awe and worship. Take Psalm 47:1-2, for example: “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.” As we reflect on who God is and respond with actions of worship, not only is God glorified, but also our minds and hearts are inspired. Our imaginations are unleashed through our feelings of awe in the presence of an awesome God.
So, by all means, feel awe in the presence of natural wonders. Marvel at the glowing beauty of a sunset. Feel stunned by the power of a thunderstorm. Wonder that you are dwarfed by the majesty of lofty mountains. All of these sources of awe reflect the power and glory of God. But don’t stop with feeling awe in response to God’s creation. Rather, let your worship open your imagination to the presence and power of God, whose awesomeness dwarfs everything in the universe.
When have you felt awe? What stirred this feeling in you? What was it like for you?
Have you found that awe makes a difference in how you think and act? If so, how?
What helps you to perceive the awesomeness of God?
Set aside some time in the next day to reflect on God’s awesomeness.
Gracious God, you are indeed the Lord, “I am who I am.” You are the Most High, exalted above everything else in creation. You are a great king over all the earth: powerful, wise, just, and gracious.
Indeed, you are awesome, Lord. I feel awe in the presence of that which you created. So I thank you for the gifts of nature. But may the awe I feel in the natural world open my mind to a deeper, wider, longer, and higher experience of your awesomeness.
All praise, glory, and honor be to you, awesome God! Amen.
Banner image by Dan Hoefler on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Why Do We Worship?.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.