Remembering Reverence

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: The U.S. flag is a respected symbol of this nation's freedom—and rightly so. USFlag.org provides the following standards of flag etiquette, among others: it must never be dipped to any person; should not be used merely as decoration or advertising; should not be marked on or embroidered onto any temporary item. It is not to be part of a costume or athletic uniform. It must never be used as a receptacle for holding anything. It should remain clean and no part should touch the ground or any other object when lowered. It should be received with open arms and folded neatly and ceremoniously. How much more so should we treat God's Word?

Something to Learn
During a recent trip to Chile, a friend took me to visit some old churches. Virtually all the towns in Latin America are laid out with a plaza in the middle with a church standing as a central focus of that town square. Once inside these mini-cathedrals, I was amazed how quickly the atmosphere transitioned from the noisy streets with the commotion of traffic and flea market vendors. Inside the church, I was met with an awesome silence. Sometimes only a handful of people would be praying, but they still maintained an air of extraordinary reverence.

In these churches, they have a deep concept of God as holy. God is to be revered; you are to come trembling before His presence. I wonder if some Protestant churches are losing an important aspect of real Christian worship by ignoring the issue of reverence. I believe there's a special message of reverence that God wants to go to the world in the last days.

An Important End-Time Message
In Revelation 14:7, we hear the first of the three angels' messages; it is a special admonition to "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come."

We often understand the word "fear" in terms of terror—to be afraid. But the word used here as "fear" is the Greek phobeo (the root word of phobia.) It doesn't mean only to be afraid of something—like claustrophobia or some other phobia. This word also translates, according to Strong's, as "to be in awe of, to revere, to fear exceedingly and to reverence."

I believe God is telling us that in the last days, the church is to teach the world to revere Him—to be in awe of their Creator. But to a great extent, the church has lost this attitude of reverence. Reverence is also defined as "a feeling of profound awe, respect, often love, veneration, honor." The Bible tells us that it does not come naturally to the proud, fallen hearts of man. Humans need to be taught reverence for sacred things. So let's address some areas where we as Christians can better demonstrate and express our reverence for God. Titus 2:1–7 says: "But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior. … Likewise, exhort the young men to ... [show] integrity, reverence" (NKJV, emphasis added). It is obvious from these Scriptures that God wants us to be more reverent, more humble, and show more respect to Him and others.

Reverence Is Happiness and Strength
Worship is a central theme in the Bible. "For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). It's very important to exhibit reverence during worship; it demonstrates your concept of the level of greatness of the one being worshiped. The devil hates when we revere God. He wants us to jeer and be sarcastic or indifferent regarding holy things—the opposite of reverence. If we do not make a conscious effort in remembering reverence, Satan is going to do everything he can to chisel away at the foundation of our worship, which is a sense of awe and respect for God and His greatness.

Yet reverence is not something that should make you sad or somber. Proverbs 28:14 says, "Happy is the man who is always reverent" (NKJV). Isn't that good news? Being reverent isn't supposed to cast a cloud on your worship experience. It's supposed to enhance the true happiness of your worship experience.

"Reverence is a sign of strength," someone said. "Irreverence is a sure indication of weakness. No man will rise high who jeers at sacred things. Real strength can be verified in reverence." This reverent strength can be demonstrated in many ways.

What's in a Name?
"Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy." —Psalm 99:3

First, let's consider this foremost sign of reverence: God's name. Psalm 111:9 says, "Holy and reverend is His name." I once had a meeting with ministers from various denominations, and I was given a nametag that said, "Reverend Batchelor." That's more like an oxymoron, isn't it? I felt really uncomfortable with it. I remembered Psalm 111 and felt convicted, so later I flipped my nametag over and wrote "Pastor Doug." That sounded more like where I belong on the scale of things.

In recent years, great prominence has been placed on Jesus as our Friend. And He is our Friend: "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:14). But He's also our Creator and King. We must not forget that. I believe this overemphasis of Jesus as our casual buddy has diminished our sense of awe and veneration for Him. I believe that angels are sometimes grieved by the casual and glib way some Christians speak of God.

Taking God's name in vain is a sure sign of irreverence. I have a Russian friend who, during World War II, served in Japan as a translator. He literally spoke for the Emperor when reading messages. He said, "When I spoke Japanese, I spoke as they did. But whenever I spoke for the Emperor, I used a different voice." They actually trained him to use that voice, which was supposed to sound like a god speaking. In the same way, we should never say the name of God in jest or a flippant manner.

God's name should always be spoken with solemnity on our lips—for He is the highest Monarch in all of the cosmos. We need to revere His name. The Levites were chosen as the priests of God because when other Jews worshiped the golden calf, Levi's family refused to because they revered the name of God. "My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, And I gave them to him that he might fear Me; So he feared Me and was reverent before My name" (Malachi 2:5 NKJV).

Augustine said, "God is not greater if you reverence Him, but you are greater if you serve Him." Reverencing God's name doesn't make God more holy—He's great no matter what you say or think. But you are greater when you revere His name.

God's Word
"For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." —Psalm 138:2

Imagine that! This Scripture says God Himself exalts His Word above His name. So we need to treat the Bible, His Word, with particular reverence. I've watched preachers shake, pound, and throw their Bibles like some puny pulpit prop when they preach. The Bible isn't just some Christian "policy book." It's a sacred revelation from God.

At home, the Bible should be placed somewhere where you won't just pile things on it. Would you do that with a rare photograph of someone you love? Of course not! The Bible is much the same: It's a sacred love letter from God to us. During family worship, we demonstrate to our children a reverence for God's Word. We take time every day to read from the Bible.

In our church in Sacramento, we stand during the Scripture reading. The reason for this is found in Nehemiah 8:5; when Ezra opens the book in the sight of all the people, they all stand up out of respect for the sacred Word. You stand when you greet a person of honor; it's a gesture of respect and esteem. So when God is getting ready to speak, should we show Him any less honor?

The Bible is a holy book; its words are precious. They should be spoken clearly and accurately. Remember that Revelation pronounces a curse upon anyone who alters His Word (Revelation 22:18, 19).

Consider also how God placed ultimate respect on His Word when He delivered the Ten Commandments to His people. They were set in a golden safe, the ark, in the center of the temple called the holy of holies. In fact, each of the Ten Commandments addresses reverence. Think about it: They deal with respect for God's position and Person, His name, His Sabbath day, for parents and for life, marriage, truth, and property.

God's message to us in the Bible is full of reverence, so let's show His Word the kind of reverence that He expects and deserves from His creation.

Showing Honor in Worship
"God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints." —Psalm 89:7

In the conversion experience of Isaiah described in chapter 6:1–8, he sees God seated in His temple in regal holiness, and the house shakes with the voice of God. Six- winged seraphim hover around the throne of God, covering their faces and feet and perpetually singing "Holy, holy, holy." (Like that wonderful hymn!) Someone once suggested that "holy" is sung once for the Father, a "holy" for the Son, and a "holy" for the Holy Ghost. Whenever God says something three times in the Bible, He is emphasizing its eternal quality. When beholding this awesome scene, Isaiah responded by falling to the floor before the Lord, saying, "Woe is me! I am undone." Please don't miss this truth that a picture of the holiness of God brought about the conversion and the call of the prophet Isaiah! We diminish these converting powers of our services when we are irreverent in worship. Daniel and the apostle John also fell down like Isaiah when God appeared to them in visions. They revered God in their worship.

What would happen if God Almighty suddenly appeared before you right now? Would you survive? He said to Moses, "No man can see my face and live," which is why He put Moses in the cleft of the rock. He covered Moses' eyes with His hands so he couldn't see God's face. The Bible says man will someday see God the Father, but right now in our impure condition, we can't endure His blazing glory. This is the most glorious, powerful, awesome Being. When we come together to worship Him, there should be a sense of awe in His presence.

Reverence during worship means our posture and conduct too. Adults should sit up in church, and not sit with their feet up on the pew or slouching like our skeletons have been removed.

I also believe we should be respectful in our attire. Now I'm not saying you need expensive clothes to show reverence—the Bible doesn't teach that. But the Bible does say that we should come before the Lord clean. When giving His Law, God told the people, "Wash your clothes before you meet with the Lord." Furthermore, if we have good clothing—wear your best for God. Some people wear a suit through the week, yet they come to church in their gym clothes. If that's all you have that's fine, but don't give God the leftovers. Don't be more respectful for your employer than you are for your Creator.

There's a real danger that unless we remind ourselves of this awe, our sense of reverence can evaporate. How you worship God says volumes about who you think He is. If we worship God in a disrespectful manner, we send a message to unbelievers of a diminished concept of God's greatness. Josephus said in his writings, "The Jewish temple was held in reverence by nations from all over the earth." You can tell a lot about people by how they take care of their houses, can't you? A front yard can reveal much about the family that lives inside.

The Sound of Silence
"Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few." —Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2 NKJV

There are many ways reverence in worship can be demonstrated through quiet contemplation and listening. For instance, the words we say in church should be few and carefully chosen. Children should be taught to sit quietly. (I've got a litter of kids; I know it's a challenge!) People shouldn't blurt out or talk loudly in times of solemn assembly. You know, an important sign of intelligence is learning when to speak and when to be quiet. "But the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him" (Habakkuk 2:20).

Sometimes while the Word of God is being proclaimed, I think the devil deliberately creates a disturbance through loud children and restless teens to detract from our sense of reverence during worship. How can it not distract when a cell phone rings or someone starts to snore! It's offensive when adults are gabbing during the sacred service in God's holy place. We need to remain humble and quiet during worship, because this is how we respect our teachers in school and our judges in court. Why would we do less for God?

In Prayer
"O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker."  —Psalm 95:6

It is not necessary to always kneel when you are praying. Nehemiah prayed while working, and Peter prayed while swimming. Indeed, we are to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We'd be crawling on our knees wherever we went! But I also think that at the start of formal worship service and especially in your personal devotions, if you're physically able, you should kneel before God. Of course, some people cannot kneel because of knee or back problems. And sometimes when we get older, once we get down we can't get back up very easily. God knows that. He's a loving God. God is more interested in the posture of your heart than your body. But if you're able, it's appropriate to get down before God. Posture represents a sign of reverence, an attitude of worship. If not before Him, then whom?

And reverence in prayer needs to be taught. In the Batchelor family, sometimes before prayer, the kids are playing with their toys. We say, "Put the toys down when we pray." We ask them to fold their hands, even though the Bible doesn't command us to do that. But you know what? They're less inclined to fiddle with their siblings or toys when their hands are folded. So there's some good theology in that custom.

We also ask them to close their eyes. The Bible doesn't say you have to close your eyes. When you get older, you can pray with your eyes open. I do sometimes. You might even pray while looking up. The Bible talks about that. But when they're little and so stimulated visually, they can be easily distracted. We'll often hear, "Mom, Nathan's eyes are open." And we're thinking, "Well, Stephen, how did you know? Your eyes must have been open too." And then sometimes I catch myself: I'll be peeking at them to see if their eyes are open, and they're peeking at me to see if I'm peeking at them! This is all part of the learning process. But you know, you have to teach it. It's disrespectful when someone is speaking to you and you are not paying attention. Likewise, in prayer, when communing with God we should keep focused.

Remembering the Holy Sabbath Day
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." —Exodus 20:8

God calls only a few things holy; those things should absolutely be revered. The Sabbath is one of these very holy dimensions of worship to God. It's not a day for common conversation or activity.

Through the week, my mind is always racing with work that needs to be done around our house. But on the Sabbath, I say "God, it's your Sabbath now. Help my mind stay on sacred things." If you pray this, the Holy Spirit will help you. And whenever I catch my mind starting to drift away to the next construction or repair project, the Holy Spirit will say, "Doug, it's the Sabbath." I respond, "Thank you, Lord. I don't have to worry about those things now." Our minds need to rest, and to keep the Sabbath holy in your mind is where it all begins.

Keeping reverence for Sabbath is also a matter of the way we spend our time and money. The Bible says we should prepare our food and other needs in advance so that we don't scurry and hustle about on the Sabbath. In Exodus 16:23, God rained down the bread from heaven for six days, but He stopped on the Sabbath. Why? He set a precedent for gathering food in advance. "Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves and all that remains, to be kept until morning" (NKJV).

We should also keep the Sabbath as a sign of reverence to others. We shouldn't go out to eat on the Sabbath and hire others to work on a day when we know God wants His people to be an example to others. Having this kind of reverence is a powerful witness. Many like to argue specific points on what is permissible on the Sabbath; I believe when in doubt, don't do anything you even think might dishonor God. Pray, and God will provide the answer.

Conclusion
"And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell."  —Hebrews 11:32

If space permitted, I could talk in detail about the lost reverence for life that is seen in the insensitive way the secular world views abortion and euthanasia—or reverence for creation that has been lost to the polluters and litterbugs. I could also address reverence for our bodies that would revolutionize our thinking in everything from healthful living to pornography. And I could also discuss the reverence needed in our giving that would influence better offerings and prevent the looted tithe so many bring to God. The list is a long one, and it would all be about reverence! So remember that in every thing given by our God, be reverent and respectful for what it is: a holy gift. People pay big bucks to go to the symphony. They dress up in formal clothing. They shut the doors and turn off cell phones before the concert begins. Perhaps they think Mozart's musical creations are so beautiful that they feel they owe this respect. But why are we doing this increasingly less for the Almighty?

Are we losing this concept of what is truly great and awesome? Let me tell you, God is awesome! Have you ever had one of those epiphanies where suddenly you're reminded with the reality of God—like something in His creation that makes you go "Wow!" In Chile, I visited some huge volcanoes high in the Andes Mountains. Steam puffed out from these majestic, beautiful snow-capped peaks. And it is breathtaking. Seeing that splendor pulled back the veil and helped me glimpse the greatness of God, the Creator of the infinite cosmos. And I thought, "This is the God who loves me. Who died to save me!"

Would you like to have a closer relationship with Jesus? Do you want to have a joyful experience with Him both here and when He returns? Well then, don't forget that "Happy is the man who is always reverent." I believe if many of us would rediscover and experience a revival in our reverence, God will meet us in a special way. I truly believe that when we remember reverence, it will invite the angels into our homes and churches and seal God's throne in our hearts.

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