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

cave opening.jpeg

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.

Can We See and Change Our Blind Spots?: three possibilities for growth

blind spot

One of the greatest challenges for all of us is the reality that we have blind spots in our lives. The concept of the blind spot is probably best known from driving a vehicle. Those of us who took driving classes probably remember the explanation of that space between your peripheral vision and the reflected images of your mirrors that you cannot see. Driver’s education teachers remind everyone to always check their blind spot before changing lanes or merging into traffic. It is relatively easy to resolve blind spots with a quick glance over your shoulder when driving, but much harder to resolve in our lives.

In the larger context of life, blind spots are those aspects of our approach to living, character, or thinking that we simply do not see. Unlike with driving, it is much harder to deal with the blind spots in our larger life context. Why? Because we do not see what we do not see. At least part of the reason for this is that we are too close to our own lives and experiences to see patterns, behaviors, thinking, or speaking that has become second-nature to us.  Because of this, we often discover our blind spots in one of three ways: 1) we smash into them; 2) we have a friend who is close to enough to point them out to us and help us change; or 3) we encounter a different way of thinking or being that confronts us with the need for dramatic change.

The first way of discovering our blind spots is perhaps the most challenging because it causes pain to us and others around us. This painful discovery may sometimes be relatively small, such as the person who realizes their lack of time-consciousness hurts their friendships. At other times it is devastating, such as the person whose serious character flaw causes the end of their marriage, their career, or their friendships. The Apostle Paul had an experience like this. His blinding encounter with the glorified Christ on the road to Damascus ironically opened his eyes to his theological blind spot about the nature of the Christ (see Acts 9:1-19). He was never the same after that painful realization. Like a child who discovers heat is real by putting their hand on a burner, however, we rarely forget our blind spots after encountering pain. It forces us to change whether we want to or not.

Thankfully, this is not the only way to discover our blind spots. We can also learn to see our blind spots through the careful intervention of friends who know us well. When a true friend sees us veering into our blind spots again and again, they will lovingly address that blind spot with us. A friend who loves us does not gloss over difficult things. This is why Scripture tells us: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). This is, of course, different than a critic who forces their view of someone’s error upon them without the trust-filled context of friendship. That approach is more like another proverb that tells us “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). To have a friend who gracefully brings a painful but good word about our blind spots paves the way to change. I still can point to various times when good friends—my wife, my roommates in college, an accountability partner, a ministry colleague—have spoken to my about blind spots. Their wisdom and grace helped me to see myself through their eyes; seeing what I could not see so I could grow.

Seeing through another’s eyes is a fitting description of a third way we can deal with our blind spots. We have all likely experienced the striking moment where a flash of insight came to us to about the way things are in the world. When that happens in relation to our own lives, it often shines light upon a blind spot in our lives that needs to be dealt with. This can happen when we hear a message or lecture, read a book, watch a movie, participate in an event, travel to another country, spend time with others unlike us, or participate in personality profiled or self-assessment. The flash of insight that comes through these experiences has the power to change us as our blind spots are illuminated. When I first traveled cross-culturally, I had a powerful revelation about how task-oriented I was in comparison with more relational cultures. While I still tend toward task-orientation, I am at least aware of that tendency, even if I struggle to operate in other ways. The Apostle Peter’s visionary encounter with God on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner is an example of this. This vision opened Peter to his blindness and prepared him for a radical new understanding of and approach to Gentile inclusion in the church (see Acts 10:9-48). The breakthrough brings insight of tendencies that provide the opportunity for change in relation to blind spots we have.

In my own experience, seeing and addressing my blind spots has often come through a combination of the three ways mentioned above. I have sometimes encountered an insight that quickly was paired with either the rebuke of a friend or the pain of smashing into my blind spots. Sometimes a friend’s gracious attempt to point out a blind spot was something I resisted until I read or experienced something that brought that to clarity. My own sense is that it is very difficult to see our blind spots. The moment we think we see them all is the moment we are probably most dangerously blind to something. I have found it sometimes shockingly easy to see others’ blind spots, but difficult to help them see it themselves. Sometimes, I have found that blind spots in others that I turn a critical eye toward often parallel a blind spot in my own life that I see later. Again and again, I return to the final verses of Psalm 139 as a helpful prayer for the revelation of blind spots in my own life:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Work and the Sluggard (Study Questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church entitled “Work and the Sluggard.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was the time when you worked the hardest in your life? What was the situation and circumstances that brought that about?
  2. Proverbs is filled with words about work and sloth. Two key passages about sloth and work are found in Proverbs 6:6-11 and 24:30-34. Read these Scripture passages out loud. For each of them, identify characteristics of sloth versus diligence. What would you say is the defining difference between a slothful person and a diligent person according to these two passages?Read More »

Work and the Sluggard

This weekend at Eastbrook I concluded our series on Proverbs entitled “Words to Live By” with a message entitled “Work and the Sluggard.”

Throughout this series, we have been tracing themes through Proverbs and, believe it or not, sloth and laziness is a major theme of this book. It is caricatured in a person called “the sluggard.”

You can listen to my message online at the Eastbrook web-site here. You can also subscribe to the Eastbrook podcast here or follow Eastbrook Church on Twitter.

My message outline is below.Read More »

Our Plans and God’s Plans (Study Questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message from this past weekend at Eastbrook ChurchOur Plans and God’s Plans.”

Discussion Questions

1. When was a time when you really knew you were living God’s plans for you? How did you know?  Or, when was a time when you realized that you were not living God’s plans for you? How did you know?

2. Proverbs 16:4 (NLT) says: “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.” What are the implications of this verse for our lives?Read More »