From the time my children were little, I prayed, Lord, capture their hearts. Help them to know You and love You. Fill their lives with joy and fun, but also give them a seriousness of spirit—a reverence for You, for the gift of this life, for the calling You place on each of them. Teach them to fear You.
When my first child was born, a boy, I remember the hospital room. I remember how his birth had some complications—how the delivery filled with tension as the room filled with medical professionals. But even in the rush of those first touch-and-go moments, that room felt like a sacred space where the Lord was giving me a gift of incalculable worth—a son to raise. I felt the same reverence later when each of my three daughters was born.
As we present our requests to God, we seldom know what we’re asking. We might think we do, but we have no way of knowing how He will answer our prayers. In my case, I asked the Lord to give my son a seriousness of spirit—a reverence for God and the life He provides—but I did not suspect that He would answer that prayer by afflicting me.
A few years ago, when my children were between the ages of 7 and 13, I developed a bacterial infection that required urgent open-heart surgery. The whole ordeal took me out of commission for several months. It was scary and unexpected. My wife and I dealt with it by doing whatever the doctors said came next, taking one step after another. My little girls were too young to grasp the severity of my condition, but my son, who was a teenager at the time, felt the weight of what I was going through. When my life changed, so did his. Now he was the one getting things down from high shelves in the kitchen. He would carry in the heavy groceries, mow the yard, and haul the trash to the curb. In this strange reversal of roles, now he would watch over me when my wife left the house.
I asked the Lord to give my son a reverence for God—but I did not suspect that He would answer that prayer by afflicting me.
My son, who should have been spending his time playing video games or flag football, became a caregiver to his suddenly frail father. This caused him to think heavier thoughts and pray deeper prayers than many kids his age. It took away some of his innocence and introduced him to human frailty. It required him to grow up in ways that, to this day, break my heart a little.
But I know this was part of how God was answering my prayer. The Lord was using my affliction to give my son a serious heart. My weakness played a role in engendering a reverence for life, faith, and God Himself—both in my child and in me.
What is reverence, exactly? The word the Bible often uses means “to fear.” This is not fear in the sense of being terrified of evil. It is a posture of deep respect and awe. God is completely “other.” He is not like us. He is perfect in holiness, majesty, authority, and power. His beauty exceeds the grandest vista. His worth is greater than the largest, purest diamond. His power is like that of a storm—magnificent to look at from a distance, but dangerous if we presume to draw near unprepared. To revere God is to regard Him as worthy of all honor and praise.
Reverence doesn’t come easy in this world. Sometimes it comes by way of affliction, when God interrupts our otherwise busy, noisy lives. But even reverence learned in seasons of hardship can dissipate over time. It’s something we have to practice in much the same way a musician practices an instrument—repeatedly and regularly. The things we need to do aren’t difficult; it’s just that they can get so easily squeezed out when our day’s margins are already thin. How, then, can we practice the art of reverence in our lives?
First, we can ask God for it. The One who formed and named the stars commands us to honor His name and keep it holy (Ex. 20:7). Asking God to cultivate reverence in us is a form of reverence itself; we are offering up our hearts and asking Him to mold them according to His design. It is important to remember that when we ask God to deepen our sense of reverence for Him, He may do so by bringing us to our knees, as He did with me. As He did with my son. Sometimes God makes His glory known by illuminating our weakness. This can hurt our hearts for a time, but Proverbs says, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof” (Prov. 3:11 ESV). When the Lord bends us low, He does so with a loving hand.
Second, we can make stillness and silence a regular part of our days. These are noisy times we’re living in. One of the biggest forces working against a spirit of reverence and awe is the constant flood of information, images, videos, social media feeds, podcasts, TV shows, movies, playlists, and news stories we consume on a daily basis. It is hard enough to have a complete thought with all the information coming at us, let alone a worshipful one.
We need to set aside time to be still. I know if I don’t, such thoughts won’t happen. It’s amazing what you can do with 20 minutes of quiet. You can pray, read a psalm, slow a racing mind, or quiet a noisy one. Psalm 46:10 (NIV) says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” What are the words “be still” linked to in this verse? Knowing God as one who is exalted over all the earth. In other words, stillness is linked to reverence. We do well when we make quiet moments a part of the week’s rhythm.
Third, we can put ourselves in the path of beauty and truth. “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20 ESV). Are we paying attention to God’s glory? Get outside. Go for a walk in the woods. Watch a sunset (or even part of one). Step outside when it’s dark and look at the moon and stars. Read poetry. Go to museums. Stop and read historical markers on the side of the road. We live in a pretty amazing world. There is so much beauty around us, and beauty is one of the surest ways to awe.
The ways we practice reverence can get so easily squeezed out when our day’s margins are already thin.
Fourth, serve others. One of the biggest obstacles standing between us and reverence is self-centeredness—thinking only of ourselves, or of others only in terms of how they relate to us. We can keep this kind of self-absorption going perpetually. It’s the reason Annie Dillard said in her book The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Spend your life. Give it away. Serve people with special needs. Volunteer to help the poor. Most everyone I know will tell you the experience of serving others showed them more of their own need, not less, awakening a deeper sense of gratitude to God. And what is gratitude if not honor aimed at a particular person?
Fifth, we can worship. The best place to start is church. But don’t just go to church; prepare to go to church. Before you arrive, ask the Lord to give you a sense of His power and greatness. Ask Him to give you ears to hear and eyes to see. Ask Him to give you a desire to feast upon His Word, to repent, to receive the assurance of His pardon, and to come to the Lord’s Table spiritually hungry. Remember, God is the audience of our worship.
Sixth, we can kneel. Hear me out. Recently I started kneeling in prayer. I don’t do it every time, I don’t do it for long, and I don’t do it in public. But I find that kneeling helps foster a spirit of reverence in my heart. It is good for me to be on my knees in the presence of the Lord. The physical act of putting myself in that position to talk to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe helps me remember who I am and who He is. When I kneel, it doesn’t feel at all like cowering. Instead, I feel as if I’m in the proper position to delight in the majesty and greatness of my God.
Reverence is a virtue, like patience, purity, and decency. Virtues are behaviors that reflect character, and they do not exist in events, but in people. There are no reverent moments, only reverent individuals. There are many situations that call for reverence—corporate worship, visiting the sick, celebrating birthdays, going to reunions, encountering beauty, saying goodbye to loved ones, observing anniversaries of all sorts. But just because a moment calls for reverence, that doesn’t mean people will answer the call. Virtues are learned skills as much as they are personality traits. As any parent of small children can attest, we’re not born with patience. We have to learn it. The same is true for reverence.
God talks about reverence as a learned skill and calls us to practice it well. No, He commands us. Psalm 33:8 says, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.” Deuteronomy 6:13 says, “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.” Ours is a jealous God—not jealous with the pettiness and misplaced pride that drive our crooked hearts, but jealous to be given the glory and honor due His name alone. God calls us to practice the art of revering, serving, and depending on Him.
For us as believers in Christ, the greatest reason to revere God is because of what He has done to redeem us. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God extends salvation, which only He can give, to His enemies. He seeks and saves the lost, the hurting, the broken, and the needy. Is there any better response than reverence to a grace so great?
Illustrations by Sr. Garcia