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

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There are things in life that you 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. No, in all honesty, there are things that we would be foolish not to fear.

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

Some people think that we are to wander around afraid of God all of our days. Some might say that we should live joyless, unhappy lives plagued by God’s arbitrary activity in the world – you never know what He might do with sinners like us. There is a sense of terror in some people’s view of God.

But that’s not what fear of the Lord means when we look at it in the Bible. Let’s read the two key verses 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 the Bible, the concept of the fear of the Lord holds in tension that we stand before a powerful God who also wants to relate with us.

We are talking about the God who created everything…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 who exist at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 feet…we are talking about the God who has 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)….the God who, 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.

We should be humbled when we approach God. We should realize that we are very small. 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 at what fear of the Lord 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; no, not just that, this same God wants to relate to you – YOU – and me.

That’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible is 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.

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.

Challenges to the Hunger to Know

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This past weekend at Eastbrook, I explored the hunger that each of us have to know and be known as part of our Hungry for God sermon series. One aspect of this that I did not really get to explore as much as I had hoped was some of the challenges that we encounter with our hunger to know.

The Challenge of Limitations
One of the challenges about our hunger to know is that we often encounter our limitations with knowledge. Sometimes this appears in relation to scientific realities, such as the reality that there is more unknown ‘dark matter’ in the universe than what we can know, or the unintended consequences of genetic manipulation about mosquitos that scientists are currently wrestling with in their goal of eliminating malaria.  Sometimes our limitations are more basic, such as not being able to know what’s on someone else’s mind – whether a friend, lover, or boss – or our inability to know the future, one of the great anxieties of our lives

The Challenge of the Intrinsic Relationship between Knowledge and Power
Another challenge is the relationship between knowledge and power. There’s an old saying: “knowledge is power.” Knowledge serves not only to enlighten people, but to give certain people power. On the positive side, this is why so much effort has been given to help people learn to read. Literacy helps in the acquisition of knowledge, which is such an empowering breakthrough in life. At the same time, some people hold back knowledge from others as a means of brokering power in a way that keeps some down and props others up. Knowledge is power, but that power can be used dangerously or beneficially.

The Challenge of Neighbors to Knowledge
Another challenge about our hunger to know is the fine distinctions that exist between information, knowledge, belief, and wisdom. I
nformation tells us about things, but knowledge tells us why that information is useful. Belief is different from knowledge but equally important. Belief shapes our approach to the good (or moral) life. Belief is often devalued in comparison with knowledge. Some will say, “If you have to rely on belief, then you are unthinking.” But that is really an unthinking statement, since it derives from a position of belief. Knowledge and belief actually function in different, but overlapping, capacities in our lives. Appropriate knowledge is the basis of right belief. For example, if we know the stakes of winning in gambling are so low, we would do well to believe it and live accordingly. Knowledge and belief work together. Wisdom helps us know how to live well in light of appropriate knowledge and right belief. We ideally gain wisdom over the course of our lives, but not if we reject either knowledge and belief. That’s why we say there are some very smart people who do very stupid things in life. They lack wisdom.

The Challenge of the Eradication of God from Public Knowledge
Another challenge for us in our contemporary world is the tendency to eradicate knowledge of God and His ways from the realm of meaningful, public knowledge. 
Some will say that if you believe in God, then you should automatically not be taken seriously; which is probably one of the most biased, unthinking things one could say. All honest thinkers will at least admit that as much as people may say we cannot prove that God exists – and I think there are some pretty convincing proofs of God’s existence – as much as people may say we cannot prove that God does exist, we also cannot prove that God does not exist. After all, Jesus, even if all His claims about God were set aside, is widely commended for His contributions to humanity, for things such as the golden rule, love for the neighbor, and more. If Jesus and His followers viewed the basis for these contributions as rooted in the knowledge of God, then we certainly must not brush aside knowledge of and belief in God as significant for discussions in our hunger to know. We must allow that knowledge and belief in God be admitted as potentially important within the realm of meaningful, public knowledge, not just private, personal practice.

In the midst of all these challenges with our hunger to know, there is a word from God that we need to hear again today. It is found in Hosea 4:6:

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.

The challenges to the hunger to know are significant. Still, knowledge is vitally important. The hunger to know must be filled and satisfied with what can truly fill and satisfy that hunger. 

Hungry to Know

One of my friends in college was always afraid that if she left one of our gatherings something really fun would happen immediately afterwards, leaving her out of the fun. We would joke around with her about it, promising that we wouldn’t do anything really fun until after she left for her apartment. Today, there’s a name for that: “fear of missing out.” The fear of missing out has become seemingly more pervasive since social media enables us to tell everyone everywhere about the amazing food we are eating, the cool people we are spending time with, and the once-in-a-lifetime vacation we are having. Everyone else can peek into it and experience the fear (or reality) of missing out.

In one sense, the fear of missing out reflects the insatiable desire built within humanity to understand what is going on in the world and in our lives. We scramble to be “in the know” or “on the inside track,” and we hate feeling “out of the loop.” In his essay, “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis wrote that this desire: “It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it … Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care.”

This hunger for understanding is built into us by God. We certainly recognize that this hunger to know has led to many important breakthroughs, whether in cancer research, philosophical understanding, or our conception of the physical world. Yet, left to our own devices, this hunger to know often pushes us into a mad scramble to indiscriminately know and be in on everything without stopping to consider what is really worth knowing and why. 

In its best sense, this hunger to know leads us into an encounter with that which is beyond us and, ultimately, God. This week our devotional is built around this theme of the hunger to know. 

Let us begin with some of the greatest prayers on this theme:

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11)

“Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:12)

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off:Choose to fast from information in some way this week: reduce your access to the news; reduce how often you check your email or social media; avoid gossip forums or conversations. Think about why we so often desire to “be in the know” when it comes to other people or events.

Put On: Replace the time you use to gather information with practices that will help you hear from God, such as regular Scripture reading, prayer, or sitting in silence before God. Make a commitment to change your habits regarding to how much time you spend taking in “news” about the temporary world and how you will begin to spend some of that time learning about God’s kingdom.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

Attention as a Key to Wisdom

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The distractions of our lives slowly become the purpose of our lives when inattention and lack of focus reign within our souls.

The more information we have, the less true knowledge we attain. The less knowledge we attain, the more confusing our life experiences become.

Lacking knowledge and meaningful experience in a whirlpool of information, the more improbable becomes the development of wisdom in our lives.

One key toward gaining wisdom in our engagement with the world around us is attention.

Attention involves an extension of the self into the world, so that the world is more powerfully received into the self. It is the essential and necessary means of our growth in knowledge and of any progress that we make on the path toward wisdom. Attention shapes what we know and value, and therefore determines who we are and can become. – Christopher O. Blum and Joshua P. Hochschild,  A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Manchester, NH: Sophie Institute Press, 2017), 120 [italics mine].

Without attention, we lack the ability to focus in our growth into true knowledge. Without attention, knowledge will not mix with our experience to become wisdom. While not the only key to wisdom, without the ability to attend to people, objects, and experiences around us, we will never move forward in gaining true wisdom.

Word of God [Name Above All Names]

NAAN-Series-GFX_App-Wide.pngIn continuing our series, “Name Above All Names,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I looked at one of Jesus’ most unique titles in all of Scripture: Word of God. The word logos in Greek has deep roots in Hellenistic philosophical thought, but the majority of scholars agree that the most likely background here is in Jewish thought on God speaking, the Word of God coming to the prophets, and the personification of wisdom in such texts as Proverbs 8. Still, the idea of the word becoming flesh is entirely new and one of the most beautiful portions of Scripture in the entire New Testament.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Wendell Berry on the wisdom of simplicity

Here is Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound (Boston: Houston Mifflin, 1970), pages 100-101:

I am far from conceding anything to those who assume that the poor or anyone else can be improved by recourse to that carnival of waste and ostentation and greed known as “our high standard of living.” As Thoreau so well knew, and so painstakingly tried to show us, what a man most needs is not a knowledge of how to get more, but a knowledge of the most he can do without, and of how to get along without it. The essential cultural discrimination is not between having and not having or haves and have-nots, but between the superfluous and the indispensable. Wisdom, it seems to me, is always poised upon the knowledge of minimums; it might be thought to be the art of minimums. Granting the frailty, and no doubt the impermanence, of technology as a human contrivance, the man who can keep a fire in a stove or on a hearth is not only more durable, but wiser, closer to the meaning of fire, than the man who can only work a thermostat.

Praying with Paul: Colossians 1 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” (Colossians 1:3, 9) 

To conclude the 30 Days of Prayer, I want us to have some interactive exploration of the Apostle Paul’s prayers in his letters to churches. Today, we begin with Colossians 1:3-13. Open your Bible and read through those verses. When you do, you will notice that Paul’s prayer has two basic parts. The first part (1:3-8) focuses on gratitude to God and the second part (1:9-14) focuses on requests asked of God.

Consider what Paul is thankful for in this first section of his prayer. He celebrates the faith and love of the believers. He is grateful that their faith and love overflows to bear fruit because of their hope in the Gospel. Any form of gratitude is good, and there are many things that we can be thankful for in our lives. However, Paul chooses specific sorts of things to thank God for in the life of believers. Those themes of gratitude reflect the essence of the Christian life and the fruit of the Spirit. This shows us that Paul is watching for certain things in the churches, and also that certain sorts of things lift Paul’s prayers toward thanksgiving.

Following his prayer for gratitude, Paul strings together a series requests of God on behalf of the Colossian believers. He asks God:

  • that He will fill them with knowledge of his will (v 9)
  • for wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit (v 9)
  • that they might live a life worthy of the Lord (v 10)
  • that the believers would bear fruit in good works (v 10)
  • that they would grow in knowledge of God (v 10)
  • for strength within God’s power for patient endurance (v 11)
  • that they would find joy in the inheritance given by God through Christ (v 12)

Paul’s series of requests in prayer resound with a depth and focus that often does not characterize our prayers. His requests focus on the life of the believers becoming more God-centered and God-shaped in every way. Paul takes seriously the need for ongoing growth in the life of the believers, seeking that God would mature them even more deeply in Christ.

Focusing on gratitude without need can lead to unrealistic prayer that is out of touch with our lives. Focusing on our needs without gratitude can often lead to self-centered prayer that is out of touch with God’s power.

Take some time now to thank God for the fruit of the Spirit that you see in believers around you and in your church. Then, take some time to intercede before God in a way that is similar to Paul’s petitions on behalf of the Colossian believers. Perhaps you could write out a prayer to God in response to this devotional. You may even want to slowly pray the words of Paul’s prayer back to God to conclude your time in prayer today.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]