There’s this funny little children’s song my siblings and I listened to over and over again growing up. Right now it’s echoing in my mind as I type: When I am afraid I will trust in You, I will trust in You, I will trust in You; When I am afraid I will trust in You, in God whose word I praise.
What is interesting to me is at the time, I didn’t have a whole lot to be afraid of. I do remember singing the song to myself with the covers over my head when I had my own room, scared that hephalumps and woozels were under my bed. But in reality, it is here and now that I have things to fear: finances, angry customers, managing time, keeping up relationships, honoring God. I really do fear failure in a lot of these areas.
Today at work, I got out the devotional I keep in my desk to read every morning. I peeled off the sticky note I’d written, This is the will of God, your sanctification… and opened it to June 2nd. The chapter was on the fear of God.
This concept is something I have never really understood. In our culture of Christianity where love and acceptance are stressed more the judgment and righteousness, finding sermons on the fear of the Lord takes seeking them out intentionally. The devotional piqued my interest and I read a little further, then researched it online later at home.
One site said, “In Scripture and experience, the fear of God is closely linked with the revelation of His sovereignty.” At college – especially in the case of a Christian university – I came face to face with a lot of argument concerning the Calvinist/Arminian doctrines. While I don’t have the time or energy to discuss that here, one of the interesting qualities of Calvinism or Calvinistic beliefs is a great emphasis on the sovereignty of God. It’s not that the rest of us don’t believe that God is sovereign; we just don’t focus on it as much. I certainly did not as I grew up. Perhaps it is due to my femininity, but I studied God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and even His justice before I thought to study His sovereignty. But it is His absolute authority and power that spurs our appropriate fear.
The fear of God is essentially reverence. In my 1 Timothy study, Pursuing Godliness by Elizabeth George, the qualifications for overseers, deacons, and deacons’ wives all included reverent behavior. The people leading the church, Paul explained, should be people who fear God.
Then there are the time-honored verses on the fear of the Lord:
Ps 111:10 (NEB) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and they who live by it grow in understanding…
Prov 9:10 (NEB) The first step to wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
I need wisdom for so many things. In fact, it is my complete lack of understanding that causes me to fear. I was talking to my friend Morgan just the other day while at the gym, when she said, “Phy, I was thinking about how much in this world I either don’t know, don’t know yet, or will never learn. I mean, there are equations I will never calculate, places I will never see, people I will never understand. There is so much to know that I have never even thought of!” And she’s right – it’s incalculable. It’s the unknown that we tend to fear the most. We need God’s wisdom – and fearing Him is the first step to get there.
I continued to explore this idea of fearing God, still trying to comprehend what it means. On the heels of my (continuing) study of sanctification, this note on another site caught my attention:
“His (God’s) intense determination to make us holy (so that we can be with Him forever) is cause for the right kind of godly fear: that He will NOT quit sanctifying us when, in our opinion, we are good enough. God is the ultimate perfectionist, and He will get what He wants.”
Brandon Heath’s voice echoes in my mind now: He’s not finished with me yet.
He’s not, and all my friends and family can thank Him for that! While intriguing, the statement above is also a little frightening. There is much more to come: much more to change, hurt, and stretch me. I know it will be good and I know that God is faithful, but I am intimidated by the unknown future. I fear.
However, to conquer one fear, I must replace it with another: the appropriate, reverent fear of God. I must respect who He is, for what purpose He has made me, and live in the the awe of His majesty and greatness. I must learn to reverence His sovereignty no matter what my theological bent. He is God, and as God deserves my absolute honor.
Mike Yaconelli said this:
“I would like to suggest that the Church become a place of terror again; a place where God continually has to tell us, “Fear not”; a place where our relationship with God is not a simple belief or a doctrine or theology, it is God’s burning presence in our lives. I am suggesting that the tame God of relevance be replaced by the God whose very presence shatters our egos into dust, burns our sin into ashes, and strips us naked to reveal the real person within. The Church needs to become a gloriously dangerous place where nothing is safe in God’s presence except us. Nothing–including our plans, our agendas, our priorities, our politics, our money, our security, our comfort, our possessions, our needs.”
Yet another convicting statement. A real fear of God fears nothing else. In the same way that sanctification comes by knowing God, so does this reverence come by cultivating a relationship with Him. As I study His word and pray, drawing closer to Him through relationship, not rite, I begin to understand who He is and my reverence grows as I see His faithfulness.
Finally, two weeks ago at the INCH convention, I spoke on Proverbs 31. At the end of the presentation I read the final verse – the one that speaks so profoundly to women and men alike:
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is vain, but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised…” Proverbs 31:30
Personality can be manipulative.
Appearance passes away.
But reverence for God lasts from here to eternity, crying holy, holy, holy, on earth and in heaven. If I live with a spirit that cries “Holy art Thou, O Lord my God, King of the universe!” what a natural transition to say the same on the other side! How small my problems and irritations seem in the light of His glory and grace.