The bible is full of references to the “fear of the the Lord”. For example:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
And in case you thought it was only in the Old Testament:
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others…
2 Corinthians 5:11
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.
1 Peter 2:17
He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’
To many the idea makes him sound fierce and overpowering. But the bible also paints a picture of a loving, caring father. Why does he demand that we fear him? When you understand what is meant by this commonly misunderstood phrase, you will find it easier to talk about God to those who don’t yet believe in him and you will remove any confusion or doubt as to who God really is. Sometimes we have a nagging unresolved tension in the back of our minds which if left untended will grow and produce doubt. Let’s deal with this tension now!
I grew up in a wonderful loving family. I have great memories of playing games with my dad, or going for family walks. Dad was always there for a hug or a chat. For a time growing up the family car was a beautiful Jaguar XJ6 with plush leather exterior. We all loved the car. On holiday one year I was sitting alone in the car and began to mess around with things. I pushed the cigarette lighter in and watched as it popped out. Pulling it out I saw red hot rings on the end of the lighter. ‘Cool,’ I thought. For some reason, and I have no idea to this day why I did this, I decided to push the hot end of the lighter against the corner of the leather arm rest. As I lifted it I saw the pattern of concentric circles that I had burned into the leather. ‘Not cool,’ I reassessed. Fear began to creep in. Fear of my loving, hugging, playful father. I considered making a similar mark on the opposite corner of the armrest, hoping I could make it look like a design feature that he hadn’t noticed before. But I was too aware of my own creative skill and too afraid to do anything else. I put the lighter back and sheepishly walked away, wondering if I should go to dad before he found out for himself.
In our relationship with God it is a given that, because of who he is, we will experience his love, his comfort and everything you could ever expect from a perfect father. But it is also unavoidable, because of who he is, that he is to be feared. In fact if you do not have a careful sense of reverence about God, it is a reflection of your misunderstanding. It has been said that for every mile of truth there are two miles of ditch – one at either side of the road of truth. If we sway too far one way we see God as all loving with no consequences. But if we go too far the other side of the road we fall into the ditch of a judgemental God with no love. Either misunderstanding will actually affect not just how you see God but also how you see yourself.
The alternative to fearing God
If we don’t have this reverent respect for God, it’s likely that we will fall into another fear. The bible calls it the fear of man. For many of us this means caring too much about what other people think about us. For the first century Christians and for many Christians around the world today this can mean so much more than suffering a little ridicule. Nevertheless, Jesus made it quite clear that the fear of man should be overtaken by the fear of God:
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.
These are serious words and not to be taken lightly! But if it was a battle between GOD and the most threatening person or group of people imaginable, who would be the scariest? This verse is all about perspective. But it’s more than just a contest of who is the scariest. It’s also about who’s the safest. In the Proverbs it says:
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
It seems that finding safety in God and fearing God are somehow intertwined. Although I knew I might face punishment from my father, I knew I was safe to tell him that I’d damaged the car. I knew that he’d be fair. But I was still scared! The reason a snare is effective is that it is hidden under leaves and soil. If they could be seen they would in fact be quite ineffective! So fear of man is dangerous, life threatening and often hidden under the surface. So even if you think you haven’t got it, it’s worth doing a fear-of-man-health-check.
Signs you might be suffering from the fear of man
- You crave approval
- You fear rejection
- You find it difficult to talk about God / the church / Jesus to someone who doesn’t believe
- Someone asks you what you ‘do’ (i.e. job) and you wonder how they will judge you for your answer. Maybe you precede your answer with the word, ‘just’. I’m just a housewife, etc.
- You are nervous around ‘important’ people
- You try to impress others (sometimes so subtly that you don’t realise you’re doing it until afterwa
- You strive to please
OK so we’ve all got it. Our target is to continually fear God more than we fear others. Here’s how .
How to have a healthy fear of God
- Know how awesome God is
We need to remind ourselves sometimes just how amazing God is. It’s a shame that the word awesome has been taken over by the cool people. Now it loses it’s, well, awesomeness. God is, as Anselm of Canterbury put it in his Proslogion (AD 1077-1078), “That than which nothing greater can be conceived.” That means God’s the greatest conceivable being. Nothing greater can be imagined. However, Anselm went on to realise that this definition was not good enough! God isn’t just the biggest possible thing we could think of, because that limits him to our imagination. He is “something greater than can be thought.” You cannot imagine how big God is. He’s the creator of the universe, he knows all things, sees all things, he’s in the future, he’s in the past, he’s here right now and he’s everywhere else. His sheer ability to be in all places at all times, knowing all things and holding all power are impossible for us to begin to understand. God is awesome.
So he’s got the right to judge us, hasn’t he? Is there room for just a little bit of fear?
- Don’t take his love for granted
Because he’s so awesome, has ultimate power and authority, it’s beyond amazing that he loves us and cares for us. He sees the sparrow when it falls and he sees you. Understand that this will take an eternity to come to terms with. He is love. Don’t get used to it. Never become complacent about it. He does not have to love you but he has to love you. He does not have to, because he doesn’t need you. But he can’t not love you, because there are some things God cannot do. He can’t stop loving you. But don’t take my word for it, let the bible speak for itself:
David knew in the Old Testament that even if he was rejected, God’s love would always come through for him.
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
And it’s still true for you today. Remember how awesome he is. And he loves you. This should not make sense to you!
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He wants you to know and not forget this love. He wants you to know that not only is he greater than anything you can conceive, but so is his love! Here’s how he expresses it to the Ephesians through his servant Paul:
…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
- Recognise and acknowledge the fear of man when it manifests itself
Ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you. When you worry if those clothes make you look fat, or if you might blow that presentation at work, recognise the reason you are so nervous. Then move straight to point 4…
- Memorise scriptures that remind you to fear God and not fear people.
Here are some examples:
So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
Now when you’re in those situations you can whisper those verses to yourself, take a comfort break and look in the mirror and remind your reflection that God is awesome, God loves you and that other people are his creation, just like you.
Fear of others – it’s really more about you than them
The root problem here is not that you fear others more than God. It’s more about you than them. You are ranking yourself higher in priority. This is because what you’re really thinking is, what do they think about me? How do I come across to others?
My life mission is to bring people closer to God and the abundant life he has for them. So my challenge is to be more worried about what the other person is thinking about God than about me. Now that’s one worry (fear) I think God would allow!
The truth is we will all one day stand before Jesus on Judgement Day. We will be totally overwhelmed by his amazing glory. Any achievements of our own will seem pretty insignificant at that point. On that day it won’t matter what other people thought about us.
So does God want us to fear him? Yes. He wants us to recognise that he is the most awe-inspiring being and deserves honour, respect and a sense of reverent fear. But more than that. He wants us this fear to wipe out any fear of others that might hold us back from the amazing destiny he has for each of us. This is the beginning of wisdom.