The Transforming Power of Awe

“Awe, as we see, has power – the power of invitation and human transformation”

For over 30 years, our vision statement has been our unified and single-minded affirmation that we must embrace the scope of Christ’s vision for the world – “to make disciples of all the nations.” We seek to obey our Lord’s command by training and equipping international leaders in the principles and practice of biblical disciplemaking until they are able to effectively share the gospel with others and bring faithful and teachable believers to maturity in Christ, who will then be prepared to invest their lives with others who will continue the multiplication process to the next generation.

This same idea is expressed by psychologist and author Dan Allender, PhD, in his profound book, Leading with a Limp1: “The purpose of all life is to present every person mature in Christ. Each human being is meant to become like Jesus – and to mark other lives with a beauty that draws them to Jesus. The scope of that calling is so enormous as to be beyond comprehension.”

What Allender adds to the equation is the scope of the task. When something is enormous and beyond comprehension, we are most likely awestruck or overwhelmed by it. Such is the experience of millions who have stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon and tried to absorb the incomparable vistas before them. Others have traveled to the capital city of Tuscany and entered the Gallery of the Academy of Florence (The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze) to marvel at, among other magnificent works of art in the city, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David. At 17 feet tall and weighing nearly 12,500 pounds, its breathtaking beauty evokes a deep sense of awe and silent astonishment.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) expounds on the idea of awe by noting that it is associated with a “feeling of reverential respect, mixed with wonder or fear.” In addition, it offers an analogy to help us grasp the enormity and magnitude of a familiar historical event – the birth of Christ: “After 2,000 years, the Nativity of Jesus has not lost its awe.” God entered into time and space and, after the Wise Men from the East arrived in Bethlehem, they “fell down and worshiped Him” (Mt. 2:11). They were so overtaken with reverential awe and adoration that they dropped to their knees in abject humility when they gazed upon the glorious face of the Savior of the world – the incomparable Christ.

This moving scene at the Nativity of our Lord provides adequate reason for us to embrace Allender’s definition of awe. “Awe,” he says, “is the capacity to bow in the presence of something or someone more glorious than ourselves. It is the proper posture of a creature before both the Creator and the Creator’s greatness as expressed through creation….We prostrate ourselves before greatness because we were built to admire and honor glory.”

In the midst of our awesome and prodigious encounters with the Holy One, we, like the Wise Men of old, prostrate ourselves before Him in solemn worship. Yet, even in those moments, we intuitively know that our awe is much more than momentary expressions of an emotion. As it turns out, we gradually begin to inhabit the idea that awe is a virtue personified. The Virtue of Prudence, the mother of beautiful character, summons us to draw near, directs our behavior, and structures our entire network of human emotions. Awe, as we see, has power – the power of invitation and human transformation. She calls out to us, “Come closer! Listen! I want you to see how the presence of awe enables you to die to self and to unreservedly surrender all that you are and all that you have for the greater glory of God and His eternal kingdom.”

Allender explains: “Awe invites us to be fully part of something bigger and more glorious than ourselves. It is the mystery of other-centered gratification. We feel pleasure not solely for ourselves but also for the sake of others. We feel delight in giving to the other. There is no loss of self as we give to someone else, and there is no absorption of the other person. Instead, there is a regard for the other that gives us great joy as we bring all we are to serve that person.”

There is something awe-inspiring about the photo of the father and son fishing together. Not because it is an artistic masterpiece nor beyond anyone’s comprehension, but because it captures our imaginations and elicits joyful delight as it tells us a story. A father is spending time with his son and doing what they enjoy together. Our eyes search for the meaningful details that form a beautiful image captured in time: Easy togetherness; solitude and quiet just above a gently flowing stream; almost matching, bright clothes; the son’s red suspenders; attractive flat hats; two large trees framing their presence; congenial love. A father teaching his son how to live. But more than teaching him how to fish, the narrative suggests that he has learned the art of imparting a worldview. He is training him, I like to think, to live coram Deo (before the face of God), and discipling him in the words and ways of Jesus Christ.

Discipleship is like this. Coming alongside and spending time with those who long to learn how to walk with God. Seeking first the kingdom of God together. Imparting knowledge, skills, and character by the power of the Holy Spirit until they become mature in Christ. Learning to pray, alone and together. Investing in those who long to know God, God’s Word, and the wisdom that saturates every page.

And sometimes, fishing together.

This is what Jesus modeled for us when He trained the Twelve and sent them into the world with the message of God’s love and salvation by grace through faith. “Follow Me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19).


1 Dan Allender, Leading with a Limp (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2006).

Download a PDF of this essay.

Return to John’s Essays