One Fear We Don’t Want to Lose: Living with Appropriate Fear of the Lord

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There are things in life that we all need a healthy fear of: open flames, dangerous or abusive people, life-threatening diseases, identify theft, riding with your son or daughter behind the wheel when they have just received their temps. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit funny. But we all honestly know there are things we would be foolish not to fear.

But what does it mean when we hear in the book of Proverbs that we are to live with fear the Lord?

Some people think this means we are to wander around afraid of God all our days. Some might wonder if this means we should live joyless, unhappy lives plagued by fear of God’s activity in the world, saying something like: “You never know what He might do with sinners like us!” There is a sense of terror in some people’s view of God and any talk of “fear of the Lord” seems to play into that.

But that’s not what fear of the Lord means when we really dive into that in Scripture. Look at two key verses in which that phrase appears, Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, which serve as book-ends around the first large section of the book of Proverbs.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

In Scripture, the concept of the fear of the Lord holds in tension two realities. The first is that we stand before a powerful and holy God. The second is that this powerful and holy God wants to relate with us personally and transformationally.

When we consider this we need to remember we are talking about the God who created everything. This is the God who spoke all of creation into being with a word. We are talking about the God who has brought into being more than 20,000 species of fish, some of which exist at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 feet. We are talking about the God who brought more than 250,000 species of plants into being and who actually knows the difference between Poa protensis (bluegrass) and Adansonia digitata (baobab tree). This is the God who, as it says elsewhere, sustains all things, including not only our solar system but also the 200-400 billion solar systems in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the estimated 100-200 billion galaxies in the known universe.

This is the sort of God we are talking about when we approach the scriptures. It is appropriate for us to approach this sort of God with humility. We should realize we are very small and apparently insignificant (although Scripture tells us we do have signifiance). We should approach God with, as one Old Testament scholar writes, “knee-knocking awe.” God is truly the only awesome One. When we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get a sense of what fear of the Lord really means.

But here is the other side of that story. This same awesome God who with a word created such varied beauty and variety in our world and countless wonders throughout the known and unknown universe – this same God actually wants to relate to human beings. In fact, we need to consider that God does not merely want to relate to “human beings” but wants to relate to us—you and me—personally.

That’s what Scripture tells us. Scripture tells the story of God reaching out to human beings, starting with Adam and Eve, and carrying on through characters like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther and more. This reaches its pinnacle in the awesome story of God becoming a man – the wonder of incarnation – when Jesus Christ walked our world, died, and rose again. Jesus is the supreme example of God’s outstretched hands to humanity and He is the only Savior from sin and death.

That same all-powerful and tremendously creative God who should inspire knee-knocking awe in us, also wants to inspire intimate relationship with us. He wants us to have reverent trust with Him. And when we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get at what fear of the Lord means.

Knee-knocking awe before the only awesome God.

Reverent trust in relationship with a loving God.

True wisdom comes when we have an appropriate fear of the Lord.

Living with the Right Kind of Fear

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

What are you afraid of? For me, one of my main fears over the years was the fear of heights.

For years I did what anyone would normally do when afraid of heights. I avoided leaning too far out from the side of cliffs and didn’t necessarily go to the viewing areas of tall buildings. But then my friend, Dale, was celebrating his 40th birthday and invited anyone who wanted to join him to go skydiving.

What better way to conquer a fear than to jump out of the side of an airplane thousands of feet above the earth? What could really go wrong? Well…a lot…but here I stand before you…a lot less afraid of heights than before.

Jesus says His people need to have the right kind of fear. Some of their fears, like the fear of physical suffering or fear of those in authorities, need to be reduced and put into perspective. Physical suffering is not good. Those with authority do often misuse their authority, and none of that is good. Jesus is not saying such things are good or even that they’re trivial. But He is saying that such troubles are not nearly as bad as facing not only physical but spiritual destruction in hell. In a sense, he’s saying we need to be afraid of the right things.

One theme throughout the Bible is that there is wrong fears and right fears. And the most important fear to have is an appropriate fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not terror of God smiting us, but fitting reverence for who God is. Fear of the Lord should motivate us more than fear of suffering. To put it another way, our reverence for God should be stronger than our reverence for our own safety or for preserving our physical bodies.

When I consider this, I think of believers we are connected with who live in other parts of the world where religious persecution is real and regular. There are believers we know who are right now imprisoned for their faith. The outcome is unclear and the timing is undefined. They have endured hardship, sickness, and hunger while imprisoned. It is risky for others to bring them supplies, even in this situation. They trust themselves to God even in the face of their fears because God is bigger than their captors and their suffering.

And what about us? What do we fear in relation to our faith? What do we fear about sharing Jesus with others? What anxieties hold us back from asking someone if we can pray for them?

Jesus says that God knows us, even down to the number of hairs upon our head. Jesus says that God knows the sparrow, even when one drops dead to the ground.“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). We need to fear the right things and trust the right things. Jesus says to the apostles, and through them to us, that we can rest in God’s care and focus our lives on appropriate reverence for God. This will help us have the right focus as we live our lives on mission for God in this world.

Wisdom in the Darkness (discussion questions)

Featured Image -- 6321Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Wisdom in the Darkness,” on Job 28 from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the third part of our six-part series “Finding God in the Darkness.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. We continue our series “Finding God in the Darkness” this weekend with a look at Job, chapter 28. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, and then read that chapter aloud.
  2. Background: Job chapter 28 is a unique portion of the book of Job. In one sense, it is an extended proverb or reflection on wisdom itself. Some Bible scholars believe this chapter comes from Job’s mouth in his dialogue with his friends while others view it as a sort of reflective intermission by the author. Either way, the central theme of this passage is where true wisdom is found.
  3. Verses 1-12 use an extended metaphor of mining for jewels to lead into a discussion of wisdom. Verse 12 is the ultimate driving question. How do you think this picture of mining compares to searching for wisdom?
  4. When have you felt like you deeply needed wisdom in your life? What did you do to gain it or pursue it?
  5. Verses 13-20 take us into the pursuit of wisdom. What sources within nature are put forward for finding wisdom?
  6. Multiple times the author talks about the fact that wisdom cannot be purchased. Why do you think this is true?
  7. Verses 21-28 reflect on the search for wisdom and our inability to find it anywhere else but in God. Why do you think it’s important that wisdom, in a sense, is concealed from us? Why do you think it’s important that finding wisdom takes a focused pursuit?
  8. The final verse of the chapter focuses on the ‘fear of the Lord’ as the way of wisdom. What do you think this means? You may want to take a look at Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; Exodus 14:31; Deuteronomy 31:12; Psalm 33:18; 36:1 for other insights.
  9. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and then take extended time to pray about what you share. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.

Wisdom in the Darkness

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I continued our series on Job, “Finding God in the Darkness,” this past weekend at Eastbrook with a message from Job 28 entitled “Wisdom in the Darkness.” This message is the centerpoint of the book of Job, focusing on the heart of wisdom that we develop with an appropriate fear of the Lord. This is the third message in a six-part series on the book of Job that takes us through the traditional season of Lent with an accompanying daily devotional.

You can watch the message here, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Facedown in God’s Awesome Presence

At Eastbrook this past weekend, I spoke about living with an appropriate fear of the Lord from Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10. There is a hymn from the 19th century, “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise,” that conveys the wondrously awesome presence of the Lord. Here are two verses from that hymn:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render: O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

A contemporary song that captures an aspect of living with an awareness of God’s greatness for me is Matt Redman’s song, “Facedown.” This song reflects John’s response to the glorified Christ in Revelation 1, where he says:

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:17)