PRINCIPLES OF PRAISE: The Need for Reverence

by Matthew Bassford

Synopsis: With the start of a new year, we begin a new column that focuses upon principles of praise. As a faithful gospel preacher and gifted writer of spiritual hymns, Matthew is well qualified to guide us in this study. Welcome, brother!


Our society is not particularly given to reverence. To modern Americans, no human being is above mockery: not the President, not the military leaders, and not the heads of any religion. Furthermore, there is no being whom all of us acknowledge to be above us. Even as the philosophy of naturalism has reduced man to the level of an animal, it also has denied the existence of anyone superior. When we all are down in the mud together, no place remains for reverence.

Not surprisingly, modern Christians often struggle to feel the deep respect tinged with awe that is characteristic of reverence. We aren’t used to being reverential, so it is easy for us to develop a casual attitude toward the worship of God. This spirit is obvious—not so much in open disrespect but in a lack of appreciation of what we are doing when we praise Him. When we sing, we go through the motions, but too often, we don’t consider the awesome nature of the One whom we are addressing.

This is a serious problem. In Malachi 1:6-14, God condemns the sacrifices being offered by the post-exilic Jews. The problem wasn’t that those sacrifices were idolatrous or directed toward the wrong god. Instead, it was the poor quality of the sacrifices being offered to the right God. The Jews dismissed the worship of the Lord as tiresome, so they offered Him the blind, the sick, and the lame rather than the unblemished sacrifices He deserved.

If we desire to please Him, we must do better. As His words in Malachi 1:10 make clear, God would rather have no worship at all than worship that is lukewarm and inconsistent with His greatness. When we sing, we must continually bear in mind the characteristics that make God worthy of our reverence.

His Nature

First, God is deserving of reverence simply because of who He is. The gods of the Greeks and the Romans were anthropomorphic. Though supposedly possessed of powers far greater than our own, their nature was the same as ours. They quarreled, pouted, and committed adultery just as human beings do.

God is different. Indeed, He is incomprehensibly different. As Isaiah 55:8-9 reports of Him, His ways and thoughts are as far above us as the heavens are above the earth. According to 1 Corinthians 1:25, His weakness is stronger than our strength, and His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.

Humanists place man at the top of the cosmic heap. However, the Scriptures reveal that, compared to God, we aren’t even on the heap to begin with! We don’t like to acknowledge anyone as our superior, but an honest appreciation of the Holy One of Israel leaves us no choice.

Thus, we see the heavenly beings of Revelation 4-5 acclaiming God and Christ as worthy. They aren’t going through the motions. They aren’t doing the expected. Instead, they are overwhelmed by the revealed glory of God and are reacting in the only appropriate way. All of the continual casting down crowns and falling down in worship before His throne might seem a little over-the-top to us, but that is only because we have not seen what they have.

However, reverence for an unseen God is no less fitting than reverence for a God who is seen. The vast gulf between Him and us is no less real, and He intrinsically deserves our worship.

His Works

God is worthy of reverence because of who He is, but we also ought to revere Him because of what He has done. This concept is well captured in Psalm 95:1-7. God is the Creator, the One who controls the earth, from the depths to the mountains. He made the sea, the dry land, and all of us. Thus, we ought to shout joyfully to Him, to worship, to bow down, and to kneel before Him.

Particularly, we must acknowledge that God is more than merely the Watchmaker of the deist’s imagination. His activity did not cease on the sixth day of creation. According to Colossians 1:17, it is through Christ that all things continue to hold together. If He stopped upholding us with His powerful word even for a moment, the universe and we ourselves would cease to exist. We fear the things that could destroy us through the exertion of some force, but only God can destroy us by choosing to do nothing.

Several months ago, my family and I vacationed in Rocky Mountain National Park, just before it was devastated by wildfires. One morning, as my children and I were hiking through an alpine meadow, two bull moose emerged from the brush about twenty yards ahead.

The average bull moose stands about six feet high at the shoulder and weighs half a ton. Moose have hooves the size of dinner plates, and they injure more people than any other wild mammal in the Western Hemisphere. I tell you, we backed down that trail as quickly as possible!

If we show such respect to an overgrown version of Bambi, how much more should we revere the One who formed and sustains the universe?

Our Responsibility

Such a God does not behave capriciously. If He created us, He had a reason for so doing, and we see it explained in Ecclesiastes 12:13. The purpose of our existence is to fear and obey Him.

Irreverence, then, is not merely an insult to a Being of unimaginable greatness and power, but a rejection of the only activity that makes life meaningful. Without a reverential heart, we have nothing and are nothing.

The futility of godlessness is evident even in this life. There are few more ominous phrases in Scripture than the refrain of “God gave them over” in Romans 1. As we survey the catalog of the depravity of the Gentiles in the second half of the chapter, though, we must remember where their problems began. In Romans 1:21, Paul notes that although they knew God, they did not glorify Him or give thanks. In other words, they refused to show reverence.

From that failure, every other spiritual problem proceeds, from idolatry through sexual immorality to the rejection of everything that is good in Romans 1:28-32. The slaves of sin are never happy, and we see the misery of the devil’s thralls around us daily. Ultimately, though, they are enslaved not by some external force, but by their own pride, by their arrogant refusal to bend the knee to God as they were designed to do.

Of course, it is in the judgment that the full vanity of this vain rebellion will be exposed. Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. Everyone, even the false prophet, even the atheist, will carry out God’s purpose for them in the end. However, on that day, their forced submission will do them no good.

By contrast, when we submit to God’s purpose for us now and glorify Him appropriately, every other aspect of our lives comes into focus. When we choose not to kick against the goads, we experience life as it is meant to be lived and gain eternal life as well.


Reverential worship, then, is no spiritual extra. It is the only reasonable response to a God who is so great and mighty. Indeed, it is the only proper way for us to exist.

The same spring will not produce both fresh and salt water. The heart that will not revere God appropriately will not serve Him appropriately either. Conversely, when we align our hearts with His will in worship, it becomes far easier to align our lives as well. Truth Symbol

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