Do Not Fear, but Fear

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Fear is a funny thing. People seem to be afraid of everything: heights, spiders, clowns, public speaking, being without cell phone coverage. While our fears may vary, we each likely struggle with fear of some kind. We fear what we can’t control, what threatens our safety, what is beyond us. And while we might think of fear as a bad thing, it’s actually healthy. Fear warns us of danger, highlights what might affect us, and reminds us that we are not as powerful as we might assume. We may fear silly things sometimes, but fear itself is not necessarily bad.

Scripture speaks of a particularly desirable fear: the fear of the LORD. This fear is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), an aspect of the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13), and the manner in which Christians are to work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). The Psalms even tie it to joy at times, calling out, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). If we accept the Bible as the Word of God and recognize its authority in our lives, we can’t ignore its emphasis on the importance and the goodness of the fear of the LORD.

But what is the fear of the LORD? While Scripture doesn’t explicitly define it, it does give us glimpses of this fear in practice, Exodus 20 standing as one particularly helpful example. There, the people of Israel have just seen God descend on Mt. Sinai in power and glory and have heard him speak the ten words concerning the moral code by which they were to live. They witnessed his self-revelation and beheld his glory. And they seemed initially terrified.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
Exodus 20:18-19

They saw the signs, heard his voice, and felt the mountain tremble at his coming, and they were terrified. They stood far off and asked Moses to be their intermediary. And they weren’t wrong. They recognized the danger of a sinful people’s proximity to a holy God, understanding that they could not stand in his presence in their current state.

Moses, however, responded to the situation differently.

Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Exodus 20:20-21

He saw the sights, heard the voice, felt the mountain shake. He, perhaps more than anyone else that day, understood the power and holiness of God. Yet he told the people not to fear. As they stood back, he drew near, approaching the thick darkness.

What’s the difference between the two parties? What makes one group fear for their lives as another boldly steps forward? The difference, I believe, lies in each party’s relationship with God. In spite of all the people had seen of God, from his power over Egypt to his provision in the wilderness, they seemed uncertain of their standing before him. Even in the face of his declaration to make them a kingdom of priests and a treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6), God’s people were terrified at his appearing. Moses understood that feeling. He felt it too when he heard the voice speak from the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). But he continued to grow in his relationship with God, watching God fulfill promises and act for the good of his people. As he stood with Israel before the mountain in Exodus 19 and 20, he was witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise that Moses would worship the LORD with the people on the very mountain where God revealed himself to Moses initially (Exodus 3:12). So he drew near in spite of the awesome sights and sounds because he knew who dwelt therein. Moses saw what the people saw, heard what they heard, and may have even felt what they felt. But he drew near because he knew the God of the thunder and lightning was his God.

While fear is a major theme in this passage, maybe fear itself isn’t the heart of the passage. Maybe the lesson isn’t about trying to grow in fear but rather seeking to know the LORD better. Maybe our fear, fear that draws us near to God in reverence and in worship, will naturally and healthily grow as we increase in knowledge of God and grow in relationship with him. This week, consider your relationship with God. Imagine that you stood with Israel before the mountain and ask yourself if you would stand far off in terror or draw near in faith. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of God; we can keep the fear of him before us and walk in obedience. And may we walk in the fear of the LORD wherever he leads us.


Photo by Marc Wieland on Unsplash

Worship to Write

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Most writing, if not all writing, points to something. A writer works to communicate information, to tell a story, to convey an emotion, or to evoke a response. And while some words stand out as magnificent or beautiful in and of themselves, words possess meanings and point beyond the symbols on a page to ideas, to reality, to truth. Even grammar, the dread of many, serves that end, enhancing and clarifying a writer’s work. Writing, then, acts as an arrow that points beyond itself to something else. We who write don’t want our readers to stop at the wording or formatting on the page; we want them to be led onward to something further up and further in, as Lewis might say.

Christians who write face a challenge, however. The great subject of our writing, even with the reality of his revelation in view, remains ultimately ineffable. His mighty acts in creation are as outskirts and whispers of his power (Job 26:14), and his thoughts and ways are far higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our greatest efforts at description fall far short of the fullness of his beauty and holiness and love. We can speak truthfully about God, yet we can never exhaust the words that could be written of him. Scripture thus aptly speaks of the fear of the LORD, the natural response to a proper view of God in his glory. And while God has revealed himself perfectly in Christ, he invites us into an inexhaustible pursuit of knowing him better. God is higher, greater, holier, more lovely, more beautiful, and more glorious than the heights of our understanding can perceive or describe.

Writing, then, becomes an act of worship, done for the glory of God in the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). We who know God in Christ have tasted and seen the goodness of the LORD and have been changed. We are new creations, ambassadors pursuing the reconciliation of sinners and the Savior (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We are living sacrifices seeking deeper intimacy with the LORD. And while we may never be able to fully capture the beauty or the glory of God with our writing, we nevertheless point to God with our words, working in such a way that whether we produce poetry or prose, fantasy or nonfiction, our writing reflects life in the LORD and invites readers to look to him. We point to him who is beyond us and yet with us, for he offers life and love and peace for needy souls.

True, our writing may fall short of this goal. We can speak coldly of the all-consuming fire, waxing eloquent about his ways or arguing passionately for right doctrine without love for the Word we’re describing. We can articulate the ways he is transcendent and immanent without considering the implications of those truths for our lives. We can write about him in ways that draw more attention to ourselves than to him. And we can assume mastery of theology, presumptuously writing of God as if we have him fully understood. In short, we can write arrogantly rather than humbly, forgetting our place and forgetting our fear.

While I struggle to live this out, I want every aspect of the writing process to be an act of worship. I want to strive for excellence in my writing because I work as unto the Lord. I want to testify to Christ in my writing because he is the way, the truth, and the life we all desperately need. I want to be attentive to the Spirit in my writing because he knows my heart as well as the hearts of my readers best. I want to glorify the Father in my writing because he is worthy of all I have to offer. Above all, I want to be faithful to the LORD in my writing, pointing to him with every word and mark on the page.


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

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Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

Have you ever tried to stop leaning on your own understanding? It isn’t like avoiding other temptations. In many situations, you can avoid giving into temptation by avoiding the object upon which your temptation fixates. When tempted to overeat, you can set limits for yourself and avoid keeping food nearby. When tempted to look at things you know you shouldn’t look at online, you can set up content filters on your devices. But how do you avoid leaning on your own understanding when you can’t avoid your mind or heart?

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A Prayer for Fear

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Let us behold as much of you as we
May bear with eyes still tethered to this age,
And purify our vision till we see
You in the printed ink upon the page.
Let us see past the threats and throes of life,
Past ev’ry disappointment, ev’ry loss.
Let us see sov’reignty midst earthly strife
And find our comfort in the crimson cross.
And let us lay before you our dismay,
Discouragement, and disillusionment.
And let us ponder worthily and pray
And work out our salvation and repent.
Let trembling be our lot through joys and tears,
For true fear swallows up all lesser fears.


Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

The Fear of the Lord

Fear of the Lord

I’ve always been a bit fascinated with fear. When I was little, when the mildest frights could send me running, I still looked forward to October and to Halloween, the decorations, the costumes, and the spooky movies on the Disney channel each captivating my interest. In literature, I loved reading Edgar Allan Poe with his mastery of the macabre. Even in Batman cartoons and video games, I found myself enjoying the stories with Scarecrow more than the stories with many of the other villains. Fear, in a way, has been a lifelong interest.

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Fear of the Lord, part 1

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My eyes behold a sight so terrible
And lovely I cannot but stand in awe
And dread at knowing now what others saw,
The truth perceived in part through parable.
The Lord of all that is, in love and wrath,
Has ev’ry right to rid his world of me.
And I, now seeing him, do suddenly
Abandon all excuses for my path,
This road which led me to my own demise.
I am a sinful man deserving naught
But righteous condemnation without end.
Yet now I hear a spotless lamb’s last cries,
And now I learn my worthless life is bought,
And now I know that Christ has called me friend.