What do we want children to feel when they think about God? What attributes do we emphasize and what impressions are left when we teach students? Often, we tend to air on the side of caution. Nervous about portraying our Heavenly Father as a judgmental punisher, we sometimes wind up “dumbing God down” and highlighting His softer and friendlier elements. God becomes a buddy, a Santa Clause, a vending machine. We don’t want to scare anyone away, after all….
Unfortunately, this does a tremendous disservice to our children. If we pay attention, Biblical urgings point us continually back to an attitude of fear of the Lord. We are to worship Him above all as the powerful and Mighty One. Communicating to children this attitude of reverence can help them develop awareness of God’s presence and desire to serve Him. Having a healthy fear of the Lord, borne of utmost respect for Him and His characteristics, is essential to genuine worship.
In addition to the traditional ideas of “fear” as being worried or scared about something, the dictionary also describes the word as “to have a reverential awe of.” This is according to Merriam-Webster.com, which also defines the word “worship” as “the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god” or additionally “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” Our children, even young ones, do comprehend this concept. Just question a toddler about the latest cartoon craze, or ask a pre-teen about a pop star, and it’s evident they are capable of worship and even reverential awe.
So how do we cultivate an appreciation of wonder and awe in our students’ minds? There is an amazing element of beauty, adventure, and power when we direct attention to God’s fear-inspiring glory. One way of doing so is simply to point out to kids all that God can and does do. Take children for a walk outside and marvel at creation. Describe some highlights of God’s work and remind students of His power. We would also be wise to consider our song selection. For children, of course, we might have a range of musical choices. But often our “worship” songs in modern popularity can air on the side of being self-focused and “me-oriented.” Let’s aim for songs that focus on who God is and how great He is over all else…
Additionally, we must take responsibility to highlight Biblical passages that emphasize the glory and might of the Lord. Just the exact phrase “Fear of the Lord” appears in the Bible over ninety times…but the idea, as well as commandments for respectful awe and worship, are prevalent throughout Old and New Testaments. Whenever someone encounters God, there is a severe element of unworthiness and terror. Think of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3), Joshua and the angelic warrior (Joshua 5), Elijah and the presence of the Lord (1 Kings 19), Isaiah and the angels (Isaiah 6), or the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). These are just a few examples of how people acted upon encountering the Almighty. Is this the attitude we have when we approach God’s holiness or communicate it to children? Are we truly bowing or falling face forward at the splendor of who God is? Or have we allowed God’s presence to become something we take for granted, taming it down so to speak?
We need to explain that fearing God does not have to mean being afraid of Him in an avoidance-inspiring way, but in an awe-inspiring way. Sometimes we treat Him too casually. God is our Father, yes, but He is so much more. We’d be wise to recall how Job was put in place. After whining and complaining and lamenting to God, the Lord rebuffs with a shattering and resounding reminder of His total power (Job 40-41). God is the ultimate ruler over everything. He made Heaven, Earth, and everything in between. He can do as He pleases because His hands started it all.
Communicating these themes to children ought to inspire authentic worship experiences. We need to share that God does love us, and that He wants our whole hearts. Worshipping Him means not only prayer or singing, but recognizing and focusing on God as omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent ruler. Yet in spite of all that, He was willing to die for us. When we try to take that all in, it is an overwhelming, mind-blowing, sense-staggering idea to contemplate! When we truly live in an atmosphere and attitude of worship, it should impact how we say and do everything. We dwell in the shadow of His wings, and in the shelter of His all-consuming power. How can we not bend our knees?
In a last closing thought, let’s put these ideas in light of a beloved and powerful allegorical character from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The God-figure in those stories is Aslan, the creator and ruler of the realm, who represents all elements of the Trinity in various ways. Whenever someone in the books meets Aslan, there is an initial sense of fear and grave respect, which in healthy relationships develops into deep love. Presented with a proper image of God, this should be the approach with which our children—and all of us—experience Him. God is not safe, but He is good. Perhaps Mr. Beaver presents it best when he describes Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”