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

A Prayer to Abide

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I want to walk with hope though there be sadness.
I want to be at peace though there be war.
I want to remain sober in the madness.
I want to trust, not knowing what’s in store.
I want my life to testify to blessings
Surpassing the self-pity that I feel.
I want to stand in spite of second-guessings.
I want my love to be alive and real.
I want my joy to show through circumstances,
Joy drawn not from my circumstance or sight.
I want my setbacks to serve your advances,
That, in the darkness, I reflect your light.


Photo by Anjo Antony on Unsplash

Bitterness

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Bitterness inhabits me,
Burns within these weary bones,
Breaks the heart’s song, shifts the key —
Melodies to monotones.

Feelings fixate on frustrations,
Fast forgetting joy and peace.
Anger turns to accusations
As emotions seek release.

Father, temper this, my temper,
Tossed midst waves of woes and whims.
Devastate my vile distemper.
Heal my heart through holy hymns.

Christ has borne more suffering,
Bears me up in all I face.
Make of me an offering.
Let me ever sing of grace.


Photo by Alina Chupakhina on Unsplash

By Faith

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I feel the pain but cannot find the benefit.
The path I would have chosen seemed a better fit.
Yet tests portend the sacrifice. I see my wraith
Point to my cross and call me to walk forth by faith.
Faith does not promise answers, bids me follow still;
Points past my understanding to the Father’s will;
Grounds hope not in the knowing but in being known;
Endures uncertainty certain of heaven’s throne.
Faith fixes focus not on the ephemeral
But finds eternal joy within the temporal.
It lays aside success and loss for higher gain
And trusts the one who gives and takes to justly reign.
Obedience bids me to die to self in this,
To trust the process in this brief parenthesis.
The work you do is good, as it shall always be.
Steadfast unto perfection is the course for me.


Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

Advent

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The proem to the poem of humanity
Was set against the backdrop of captivity,
Was cast with souls encumbered by profanity,
Was opened not with pomp but with nativity.
The word, the light, the lion-lamb, the majesty
Of heaven, holiness in his humility,
Appeared in righteousness to end the amnesty
And fix final salvation from futility.

The method of his advent seemed absurdity
To those who thought they knew the king’s priority,
Yet as the virgin held mortal eternity,
The world beheld the hope of our infirmity.

And all the damned ones shuddered as the surety
Of justice came in love to face depravity,
To bear the curse of sin and give security
That God will satisfy creation’s cavity.
So hope. His coming heralds a community
Where sin will not be suffered – there immunity
From falling from his presence. Perfect unity
Of love will lead to worship of triunity.


Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Thanksgiving

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You give us the ability to give,
For all we have to give, in truth, is yours.
The very breath we breathe, the days we live,
Our daily bread — each comes from heaven’s stores.
Lord, let us not forget that all is grace,
That we have earned not one of all our joys,
And let us fix our eyes upon your face
Above all earthly troubles, tasks, and toys.
Forgive us when we want more than your love,
And fit us to receive and be content.
Yours is the universe and all thereof.
The proof of your provision is Advent.
In thanks, we rest and look toward the Son,
Dependent on the independent one.


Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash