The "Awe" in This Moment

“Whatever is honorable…think on this.” Philippians 4:8

Have you ever sat in a sanctuary or chapel by yourself? Do you know that feeling? Sitting in that sacred place, surrounded by sacred objects and symbols, awakens something in your soul.

I often had this opportunity when I was a pastor. I arrived at the church very early on Sunday mornings, even before the custodial staff. I might turn on a few lights, or I would sit in the darkness. I didn’t need to speak. There was no one there to listen, no pressure to present myself in a certain way. In the quiet I always knew I was in the presence of God.

In the single verse for this week’s GraceWaves, Paul commanded us to think about certain things and to think in a certain way. It’s a reminder that the thought-life of the Christian is deeply important. Whenever I run across someone who dismisses the Christian faith as infantile and anti-intellectual, I think “Not the faith I was taught!” I sincerely hope that such people earnestly seek out the truth that Christian thought has an intellectual elegance to it that simply cannot be honestly ignored. I want to say “Dig deeper! Ask questions! Find answers!”

The reason for this emphasis on thinking here and in many places in the Bible is clear. Our minds shape our souls in many ways. When we surrender all to God, we surrender our minds and ask Him to form and shape us through our thoughts. Right thinking is foundational to right living.

Paul listed eight qualities of thought, and the second is “honorable.” We are to think on things that are honorable. What does this mean?

The word for honor in Greek is semnos. It means to worship or venerate. Semnos reminds us of  earthly dignity but more than that. It points to the heavenly realm. The word connotes that which is majestic and awe-inspiring. Other Greek writers before Paul used the word to describe the feeling a worshiper had upon entering a temple. That’s what I was searching for in those early morning sanctuaries.

So, what do we do with such a lofty and ennobling idea? First, let’s make certain we cherish our sacred places. I have no doubt that I can encounter God anywhere and at any time. More on that in a moment. But we need sacred places and sacred times. The ongoing limitations and even prohibitions in some areas against worship gatherings because of COVID have made many people acutely aware of how much they need their church, the actual sanctuary. Thank God for Zoom! But hasten the day, Lord, when we can safely gather in our holy places.

Second, we can and must carry with us a constant awareness that we are in God’s presence. Each moment is sacred. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines are well known: “Earth’s crammed with heaven; And every common bush afire with God.” It’s a great insight to recognize that God is everywhere and in every moment.

However, it’s more accurate in classic Christian thought to say that every place and every moment is in God. Jean-Pierre Caussaude in his classic Abandonment to God’s Providence repeatedly makes the point that all things are of God and that we experience God by our obedience to His will, not just in our admiration of His work. Of course, “God’s activity runs through the universe” in Caussade’s words. He is immanent in time and space, but He is not an object in time and space. He is over it all. He is in and through every fiber of it and of you.

We are an “explaining” society. We love to figure out things and understand the workings of the universe. This is the aim of science and is celebrated and promoted historically by Christianity. Without question, however, science cannot explain everything, and the idea that science is the only way to know is very limiting. We can all appreciate the physical, but without the metaphysical we handicap our ability for awe. Beauty, truth, meaning are not just a function of rods and cones and neurons.

When we “think on that which is honorable” we open the eyes of our souls to the bright light of heaven. We become acutely aware that God is with us and we are God’s. Surrender every moment to Him. That is the honorable way to think and to live. It removes the artificial distinction between "the spiritual" and the secular." It's all spiritual. Make time to be awed.

Grace and peace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

November 16, 2020