A friend has been reading the book Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves. For some reason, I never connected with any of the insights he was sharing from the book. (I need to read it myself). I have heard a lot of teaching on the fear of the Lord over the years. Some have emphasized that it really means that we should be in awe of God. This teaching and none of the other teachings really rang completely true with me. Awe and respect are part of it. But there is more to the fear of the Lord than that. I thought that there is real fear that is being talked about when God says: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Or when Luke describes the church as “walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). Or Paul, when he says that “knowing the fear of the Lord, [he] persuades others.” Or the writer to the Hebrews “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
My understanding of the what it means to have a fear of the Lord is best described with a story and an analogy. Many years ago, I worked as a summer intern at a power plant in Michigan. One day one of my fellow co-workers and I walked into one of the substations outside the plant. This is where the power coming from the plant is transformed in order to be distributed over high voltage lines to the community. The substation was a place where you could literally feel the power of the electricity. It invoked a sense of awe at its immense power. We lacked wisdom as to how to act in the presence of this much power. Somehow, we managed to trip a safety mechanism that shut down the power coming from the substation – which in turn tripped the electric generators. We watched in awe as the knowledgeable workers restored the power at the substation. It took more than an hour for power to be restored. They worked carefully and with wisdom. They had a proper fear of the risks of working with such power but that fear caused them to learn how to properly and safely handle that power. I learned that to work with these substations, one must first fear their power. But then learn how to use that wisdom to work safely with the high voltages. Over time in working with electricity, I would say that we stil fear the power of the electricity but now know how to work with it safely.
Here is how I think this applies to fearing the Lord. Like the substation, the Lord has immense power – more than we can ever imagine. And to work with Him and to walk with Him in His power we should first fear His power (the beginning of wisdom). Truly fear. And then as we learn His ways and develop wisdom, we can move in the midst of His great power
Jesus demonstrated some of that power when he cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22). And He told his disciples that they can have that power as well. Too often, we are like my fellow intern and me, and we do not fear that power and use it without wisdom. We have not learned to walk in the fear of the Lord’s power.
We fear God like one fears the power of the substation. That fear should lead us to seek wisdom about how to be with God, to work with Him and learn His ways. And over time, we work and walk with Him as those knowledgeable substation workers “in the fear of the Lord.” To learn to walk in the fear of the Lord is the antidote to becoming too flip with our relationship with God.
One last note. Hebrew parallelism is where a Hebrew author says something and then says the same basic idea in a different way. We see this throughout the Old Testament. In Psalm 147:11, the Psalmist says:
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Do you see what he is saying?
The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him and those who hope in Him.
To truly fear the Lord, you are hoping in Him. You are believing in Him. You are trusting Him.
Now I need to read that book!