If you haven’t read the introduction to this series please read it here first.
As Gary Thomas has lived and studied the Christian life, he has found that while some Christians like himself grew up equating silence and lack of sensory stimulation with reverence, there are Christians who love, worship and draw near to God by engaging sound, touch, sight, smell and taste. The former may find that heaven takes some getting used to; Biblical accounts of the glory of God are elaborate affairs and rarely quiet.
Scripture shows that God often appears in a very loud and colourful way, and there is something in each of us that is awed by the presence of beauty – probably a flashing glimpse of our desire for the transcendence of heaven, Gary Thomas thinks. In Ezekiel and Revelation we see descriptions of God’s glory that engage the senses: burning coals, great radiance, loud sounds, clouds filling the temple, wheels that sparkle like chrysolite, cherubim with four faces, the voice of Christ loud like a trumpet, his hair white as wool, his eye blazing like fire, his voice like the sound of rushing waters, his face like the sun shining in all its brilliance… Did I hear someone say sensory overload?
When we understand that this side of God is real, then it becomes easier to understand that there are Christians who connect more with it than others.
God is the creator of sound, sight, taste, touch and smell, not the devil.
Beauty is of God; the sound of music and laughter is of God; the taste of wine and delicacies, the smell of perfume and incense, the feel or warm sunshine, cold water or gentle breeze…they are all from Him. Some of us may find that they distract us from worship, but for sensates, they invite to worship. In fact, according to the book of Revelation, incense continues to be offered to God in Heaven along with the prayers of the saints.
Some tips to help you grow spiritually as a sensate:
1. Incorporate skilled music in worship: God accepts joyful “noise” when His people praise Him, but throughout scripture, He has gifted people to make skillful music, and the expression of that art in worship glorifies Him. Over and over again we are asked to sing and to praise with the sound of several instruments that require skillful playing to produce melody.
2. Engage your nose: Smells played a big role in worship in Old Testament days, and it still does today- depending on the kind of church. While many parts of the Body have completely abandoned incense, for many others, church has a smell, and that familiar smell can serve as a reminder of a rich time of worship, a powerful spiritual experience, or can even after a while condition a believer to consciously enter into the presence of God. Just as the smell of baby powder or a loved one’s perfume can bring certain things to mind and take us to a certain place, so also can smells associated with worship – as would be the case if, for instance, you lit a particular scented candle every time you started private devotion – fill us with thoughts of God.
3. Pray with something in your hand: This does not only include prayer beads, but also objects you can touch that will enrich your prayer life. You may hold the shirt of a person you are interceding for, for example. One Easter, Gary Thomas carried a nail in his pocket as a reminder to pray prayers of intercession and repentance. The sharp edge reminded him of Christ’s suffering every time he touched it or bent over and felt it prick him. Having something to touch might also help keep you awake during early morning prayers, by the way.
4. Use your eyes: God’s detailed attention to the beauty of the temple in the Old Testament is amazing. He even specially gifted and called out Bezalel and Oholiab to do “all kinds of craft”, beautiful art forms for the temple. What we see matters, and keeping a picture or pictures before your eyes in prayer can enrich your time with God. Also, looking into the heavens as you worship, pray or recite a psalm can add sincerity to your words, whereas another temperament may find it distracting.
5. Taste and see: There are many references to taste and tasting in the Old and New Testaments. Ezekiel was asked to eat a sweet scroll that left him stunned for days. Jesus’ first miracle was something incredibly sweet. God created taste; it was His idea, and you can love Him through it. The next time you bite into a fruit and feel its natural sweetness, or become aware of the taste of communion wine lingering on your tongue afterwards, lift up your heart in worship and thanksgiving.
Very importantly, no temperament is without its temptations. Some temptations to watch out for as a sensate include:
1. Worshipping without conviction: No matter how melodious and moving the music is, if you don’t mean what you’re singing, if you’re just worked up by the music or moved by the “performance”, then you might as well be lying to God, and He can tell, of course. When this happens over time it becomes even more dangerous as the believer’s heart becomes more and more unfeeling and insincere.
2. Idolizing beauty: Many people have been satisfied by the experience of a beautiful liturgical service in a beautiful cathedral, without having entered the true presence of God. Some have also been led into falsehood by sights and sounds and smells. Things of great beauty can steal our hearts from the only One who is worthy of worship. We must be on our guard.
3. Worshipping worship: There’s a thin line between using our senses to worship God, and using our senses to worship worship. Some Christians really do find sensory aids to be helpful in their worship, but we must beware anything we cannot do without. We must never be dependent on anything but the Spirit of God. We should be able to draw near to God with or without our senses being stimulated. Our focus should be God and not a wonderful “worship experience.”
Sensates must remember that everything we do, even our eating and drinking, we must do to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)
Next Sunday we’ll be reviewing Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity.
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