Fear is interesting. For some, the list of things that they are afraid of is long and complex. For others, the list may be short and concise. Regardless of the length of the list we all have things we are afraid of. There are two phrases that emerge in the bible that I recently found myself working to reconcile in my own heart. We see many many times where God says with complete clarity “Fear not…”. There is no complex meaning or deep hidden application in these words, He is literally saying to someone who is facing a scary situation “fear not”.
We also see throughout scripture where we are reminded that the “fear of God” is something that is not only important but actually is a necessity for any person who wishes to possess any authentic wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). At first it seems like God is sending us mixed signals. In one breath He says “Fear not” and in another He says “Fear Me”. So what does this mean? If you’re like me, your focus on these two statements speaks volumes. Our confusion is not rooted in the simplicity of God’s words. They couldn’t be any more clear. Our confusion rests with our misplaced focus. It’s in our human nature to seek out similarities through observation. This allows us to connect with people we don’t know and feel comfortable in uncomfortable circumstances. This allows us to pull something that may be new and unfamiliar into terms that are easier for us to process. We are wired to seek out similarities. The biggest similarity between these two statements is the word that captures most of our attention. “Fear”. The problem is that it is not at all the similarities in these statements that are the source of their power….It is their differences.
We all have probably heard that trustworthy phrase meant to motivate and muster up courage in the face of scary seasons. Meant to somehow reassure us of our identity by telling us what we are not. I’ve said it to people I know and love! That well-meaning friend or perhaps that self-help book that someone loaned you because it “changed their life”. At some point many of us have probably been re-assured by someone that “you are not defined by your fears”. I place that in the same category as phrases like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” (A wide spread mishandling of 1 Corinthians 10:13). These are statements, that while usually come from a good heart, are not actually true. At all.
The reality is that God DOES give you more than you can handle because to not do so would mean that you have no need for any dependence on Him. Surely, the architect of the universe would not render Himself useless in the lives of His most precious creation because of some loop hole He overlooked in His own words. You will have things in life that come your way that are in fact far more than what you can handle. God doesn’t guard you from hardship He guides you through hardship. That is the point!
What about the fear thing? Consider this for a moment: We are not defined by our fear. That is the raw, uncut, unspecified emotional state of “being afraid”. The unorganized chaotic emotion of fear doesn't define us. BUT, what we fear speaks volumes. What we fear is by very definition the window into how we perceive danger, a threat, something that will cause pain, etc.
IN OTHER WORDS: To fear the Lord is to recognize that God is a dangerous God. He is not a safe God. He is a God who holds our very lives and eternity in His hands. He is a God with unrivaled power and authority. That is scary! The bible says that His voice can break cedar trees into pieces, His power brings dead things back to life, and His very existence stands outside of the laws of time and space that hold our world together. He cannot be measured, contained, or defeated…He is unstoppable and one day we are guaranteed to stand in His presence and receive revelation of who He is…the trouble is that for some it will be too late. God is worthy of our fear. Period.
It is only through a healthy fear of God, that the beautiful, limitless, and all consuming grace of God will ever make sense to any of us. Grace! The unmerited favor of God. The unearned, undeserved favor of the One who has the power to destroy but doesn’t. And, no where has this ever been made more clear than through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In a world full of distraction Jesus is the way, in a culture built on opinion Jesus is the truth, and in our lives that will inevitably end in death, Jesus is the life!
While your best friend, that motivational speaker at the hotel, or that book you picked up from the “self help” aisle may assure you time and time again that you are not defined by your fears. They are wrong. WHY? Because generally speaking, the intent is to motivate you by instilling in you a belief that you are bigger than your fears. You're not, but God is. In the same way that we may feel as though God contradicts Himself by telling us to “fear not” and yet to “fear Him” is caused by a focus issue. So is this misguided advice usually built around a focus issue.
This advice is rooted in the “here and now”. It will stand the test of the day or perhaps the week…maybe even the month. It may seem true in the short term. But the reality is that not only your life here and now but your eternity (like forever) IS and WILL BE very much defined by your fear. That is your ultimate perception of danger, threat, or pain. You will either see your life circumstances as the all powerful ultimate authority on inducing fear…OR you will see God in that role. You will either develop a healthy fear of God, or a useless fear of tomorrow. But one is not sustainable in the presence of the other.
Fear of God is simply a byproduct of coming to know who God is and what He is capable of. That is where the power in these statements rests. A healthy fear of God places Him in the seat of authority in our lives and thus takes away the need to fear anything else. But, as any good leader knows….fear can be a wonderful ignition source but it is a truly terrible fuel source. Fear may work wonders in sparking motivation but it cannot and will not sustain motivation. Fear may help push people to take big steps with courage they didn’t know they had but at some point fear will no longer be enough to keep them going. Of course God knew this!
And so, we end where we began. Provers 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (NIV)
Notice that in this text the bible makes it clear that fear is only a beginning point. It’s a greater knowledge of God that is where you will be sustained. IN OTHER WORDS: Fear of God is the ignition source that starts the engine of faith BUT greater knowledge and understanding of who God is must be the fuel source to sustain the journey with any hope of longevity.
God never intended for us to live in fear! But, He knew that it just might be the only thing strong enough to get our attention. I don’t know where you’re at today. Maybe you have no fear of God whatsoever. Can I suggest that this may be only because you don’t know any better? Maybe it’s time to ask someone. Someone who you know has a good relationship with God and loves you and will answer your questions. Perhaps fear of God has pushed you to make a recent decision to follow Jesus. Congratulations! Now it’s time for you to develop that greater understanding. Start reading your bible, make prayer a regular part of your life, connect to a good church family, get involved in a process where you are being discipled so that you don’t remain stuck in fear. God has so much more for you! Maybe you have been walking with Jesus for a long, long, long, time…and you feel God prompting the necessity of a renewed fear of Him in order for a refreshed taste of His grace. If that is you, do something with that feeling. Pursue it.
Regardless of where you are today. If you feel God prompting you to take a next step, please for your sake do not ignore it. Talk to someone. Email me, I’ll talk with you. Whatever you do…do something with what God has shown you today because in all likelihood it is the key to unlocking what He has for you tomorrow.
- Pastor Bill C.