He was 5 years old, and he was enthralled by the snow. He stood on the couch watching what he thought must be the biggest blizzard ever. As he pressed his nose against the window, he thought of making the biggest snowball ever—bigger than him, bigger than his dad’s car, bigger than the garage, so big that he would look like an ant next to it. The thought made him smile. Before long he was begging his mommy to let him go outside.
She was on a quest. Not just any quest. It felt like this was the most important quest of her life. Sam had actually asked her to go to the prom, and now she was on a search for a dress. But not any dress. This had to be the ultimate, most beautiful prom dress ever. As she went from store to store, she imagined the dress and the moment when Sam would pick her up and see her in that gown. He would be stunned and immediately want to spend the rest of this life with her.
He sat with the number card in this hand, listening to the all-too-rapid cadence for the auctioneers’ voice at the world’s most prestigious antique auto action. He had made lots of money in his life, but he had convinced himself that he couldn’t live without one more thing. It was the most beautiful automobile ever manufactured, and it would be auctioned next. As the bidding began, his chest tightened, his ears buzzed, and his hands got clammy. At the end of the day, he might be the proud owner of a gorgeous powder-blue 1965 Jaguar XKE.
She must have dialed that radio station’s number a thousand times with the hope that she would get free tickets to see the best band ever. She had all their recordings. She was a member of their fan club. She had saved up to buy a signed poster, but she had never heard them live. This was her chance. Her heart raced as a voice on the other end greeted her. It was finally going to happen. She couldn’t believe it!
He was blown away. When he first entered seminary, he had no idea that this would happen. He had studied hard and done well, but this was unbelievable. It was his first Sunday. He had joined the staff of one of the biggest and most influential churches in the world. It had been his dream, and now it was coming true. He felt special, alive, and blessed.
On the one hand, it seemed stupid to pay $70 for a steak. But this wasn’t just any steak. No, this was a Wagyu cowboy rib eye, dry-aged over 45 days. He just knew he would never again taste a piece of meat this quality. He didn’t care what it cost. If it was the one and only time, nothing could keep him from this red-meat thrill. It was almost a spiritual experience.
It was one painting, but it may have been the most wonderful work of art a human hand had ever created. It had been touring the major galleries of the world, and she was thrilled that she would finally lay her eyes on it. She had seen it in art books and as posters but never the real thing in all its majesty. She would let nothing stop her from taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
He had seen them at the mall, 2013 Nike Air Jordan 1 Retros. White, red, and black—they were so cool. They were also almost $200. How would he ever convince his parents to buy them for him? It just seemed impossible. He couldn’t get the Air Jordans out of his mind. He had to find a way. He simply needed those sneakers.
What do all the people in these vignettes have in common? Awe. They get up every morning, and without ever being aware of it, they search constantly for awe. They have dissatisfaction in their souls, an emptiness they long to fill, and they are attracted to awesome things. The little boy dreaming of Air Jordans is just as much an awe seeker as the successful business magnate.
It’s not about spiritual awareness, interest, or knowledge. It’s not first about church, theology, or biblical literacy. It’s not even about wanting your little life to mean something. It’s not bound by family, culture, history, geography, language, or ethnicity. It’s not a matter of age or gender.
What all these people share in common is that they are human beings, and because they are human beings, they are hardwired for awe. And so are you.
Let’s start with the big picture of this thing called awe that stirs deep in the heart of each one of us.
God created an awesome world. God intentionally loaded the world with amazing things to leave you astounded. The carefully air-conditioned termite mound in Africa, the tart crunchiness of an apple, the explosion of thunder, the beauty of an orchid, the interdependent systems of the human body, the inexhaustible pounding of the ocean waves, and thousands of other created sights, sounds, touches, and tastes—God designed all to be awesome. And He intended you to be daily amazed.
God created you with an awe capacity. We not only live in an awe-inspiring world, but we’ve also been created with powerful awe gates so that we can take in the awe that our hearts desire. Our brains and our ears can tell the difference between beautiful music and noise. We can hear the whispered chirp of the little finch and the irritating squawk of the crow.
We can see the amazing segmented sections of the well-armored beetle’s body. We can see the details of color, texture, and shape. We also feel and touch things. We feel soft, wet, hard, hot, sharp, cold, smooth, silky, and bumpy.
We can taste. Our tongues know salty, sweet, sour, peppery, hot, cold, briny, rough, and creamy. We not only desire awe in our lives, we have been wonderfully created by God with the capacity to interact with and savor awesome things.
Where you look for awe will shape the direction of your life. It just makes sense that your source of awe will control you, your decisions, and the course your story takes. If you live in awe of material things, for example, you will spend lots of money acquiring a pile of material stuff; to afford your ever increasing pile, you will have to work a lot. You will also tend to attach your identity and inner sense of peace to material possessions, spending way too much time collecting and maintaining them. If material things are your awe source, you will neglect other things of value and won’t ever be fully satisfied, because these material things just don’t have the capacity to satisfy your awe-longing heart. Yes, your house will be big, your car will be luxurious, and you will be surrounded with beautiful things, but your contentment in areas that really count will be small.
Awe stimulates the greatest joys and deepest sorrows in us all. Here’s a simple way to do a personal awe check. Where do you experience your biggest moments of happiness and your darkest moments of sadness? What angers you or crushes you with disappointment? What motivates you to continue or makes you feel like quitting? What do you tend to envy in the lives of others, or where does your jealousy make you bitter? What makes you think your life is worth living or causes you to feel like your life is a waste? When you say, “If only I had___,” how do you fill in the blank? What are you willing to make sacrifices for, and what in your life just doesn’t seem worth the effort? Look at your highest joys and deepest sorrows, and you will find where you reach for awe.
Take anger, for example. Think of how little your anger in the last couple months had anything at all to do with the kingdom of God. You’re not generally angry because things are in the way of God and His kingdom purposes. You’re angry because something or someone has gotten in the way of something you crave, something you think will inspire contentment, satisfaction, or happiness in you. Your heart is desperate to be inspired, and you get mad when your pursuits are blocked. Where you look for awe will fundamentally control the thoughts and emotions of your heart in ways you normally don’t even realize.
Misplaced awe keeps us perennially dissatisfied. Perhaps in ways that you have never come close to considering, your dissatisfaction is an awe problem. Perhaps it’s not just that the people around you are less than perfect, or your boss is hard to deal with, or your children tend to give you a hard time.
Maybe it’s not just that you don’t have the circle of friends that you’ve always wanted or that you’ve never scored that house of your dreams. Perhaps it’s not just that you tend to find your mundane, everyday existence uneventful and boring. Maybe it’s not just that you’ve found your education to be inadequate and that you’ve felt stuck in a career you dislike.
Perhaps all this dissatisfaction arises from a deeper heart dissatisfaction driven by where you have looked for awe.
Every created awe is meant to point you to the Creator. Creation is awesome. God designed it to be awesome. And God designed you to take in creation’s awesome display. You are meant to be inspired and to celebrate the awesome things that come from the Creator’s hand. But as you participate and rejoice in the awesome display of creation, you must understand that these awesome things were not intended to be ultimate. They were not made to be the stopping place and feeding station for your heart.
No awesome thing in creation was meant to give you what only the Creator is able to give. Every awesome thing in creation is designed to point you to the One who alone is worthy of capturing and controlling the awe of your searching and hungry heart.
Finally, awesome stuff never satisfies. Nothing in the entire physical, created world can give rest, peace, identity, meaning, purpose, or lasting contentment to your awe-craving heart. Looking to stuff to satisfy this internal desire is an act of personal spiritual futility. It just won’t work. You would have as much success as you would if you were trying to bail water out of a boat with a strainer.
The things of this world just weren’t designed to do what you’re asking them to do. Still, we all try every day, and when we do, we have a problem much bigger and deeper than a stuff problem. We have an awe problem.
Content taken from Awe by Paul David Tripp, ©2015. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.crossway.org.