[I shared these thoughts in Bethel College Chapel this month. They fit well into our 2016 theme of learning to walk in a daily, conversational relationship with Jesus.]
The Bible says in Proverbs 9:10 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; but to be totally honest with you, for years I couldn’t really get my head around what that meant. I had heard plenty of sermons and teachings saying, “Well, it doesn’t actually mean fear; it means more like respect.” But somehow, I wasn’t grasping it.
…Until I actually asked the Holy Spirit about it one day, and this is what He brought to my mind.
A bunch of years ago, I met Sue, who is now my wife. I had never spoken a single word to this girl before she walked out of her dorm and got in my car. (I was driving her home from Kentucky to Michigan as a favor for someone.) By the time that 8-hour drive was ended, I knew that if there was ANY WAY POSSIBLE, she would be my wife.
There was one problem. LOTS of other guys had the same dream. I knew that if I chased her, I would just be one more of the type she was used to. I had to be more subtle. I had to think of a strategy that did not involve chasing her!
So I casually stopped by her house a couple of times; but instead of heading off to a coffee shop or whatever, I sat and got to know her dad. Weird, huh? She would sit there waiting, while her dad and I talked for an hour or more, until she would finally say in her sweet voice, “Uh… were we going to go somewhere?”
And I’d say, “Yeah, definitely, but just a few more minutes while I finish talking to your dad.”
Here’s the deal: After a while my strategy seemed to be working, but at the same time, something interesting was happening inside of me. I was really enjoying getting to know her dad!! I had never spent this much time with someone’s father before. But this guy was a clear thinker, a solid Christian, and a genuinely interesting man!
And it was a good thing that I was spending all of the time with Sue’s dad, because I came QUICKLY to realize that Sue held her dad in HIGH esteem, and for good reason. He fiercely loved his three girls and wanted only what was best for them.
It became super obvious to me that this man held in his hands the power to decide if I was going to get anywhere with his daughter Sue, or not. HE COULD AFFECT HOW MY LIFE TURNED OUT!
He was never grouchy or unloving. He did not hold me at arms’ length, waiting to decide whether to be accepting to me. He was a gentleman in every way. But make no mistake about it; this man had his daughter’s interests in his heart.
He could not be bribed.
He could not be fooled.
He could not be distracted.
He was going to do whatever was best for his Sue; and if I passed the test, that just might include me. But if I did NOT pass the test, there was NO WAY that I had a chance with Sue because if her dad said no, she would definitely say no.
So I learned about a new kind of relationship by my interaction with Sue’s dad. This sort of fear was not about being scared that someone would be unkind to you or work you over, or smash your face in or whatever. Instead…
I realized that this person could affect my life in ways that I was powerless to prevent.
May I repeat that?
I realized that this person could affect my life in ways that I was powerless to prevent!
Do you fear the Lord? He can affect your life in ways that you are powerless to prevent!
Let me give you an example.
Isaac, a young man, found himself lying flat on his back on a pile of brush and wood. I’m sure that the branches were piercing his back as he lay there, staring up at the brilliant blue sky above Mount Moriah. The only other thing he could see… was his own father, standing quietly in front of him and then suddenly swinging the knife to the top of its arc. He saw the terrible rush of the blade down toward his pounding heart… when suddenly there was a voice unlike any other voice, and somehow that voice froze the downward rush of Abraham’s blade into the chest of Isaac. The voice, rolling like thunder, said, “ABRAHAM! Do not lay a hand on your boy. Now I know that you FEAR God, so I will bless all the nations of the earth through you!” (Genesis 22)
Abraham FEARED the Lord, and it caused blessing to flow like a tsunami into his life! But it caused A LIFE-LONG, TERRIFYING REALIZATION in Isaac.
When Isaac thought about God for the rest of his life, he would have thought, “He can affect my life… save it or end it or transform it… and there is not a THING I can do about that!”
So in Genesis 31:42 and 52, the Lord is actually CALLED the FEAR of Isaac. (The word for fear used in these verses is Pachad… a sudden terrifying realization.) The Lord is my fear… the One who gets to decide how my life goes.
At 40 years old, Isaac married Rebekah, but it turned out that she couldn’t bear children. We know that Isaac prayed for her to be healed in Genesis 25; but the Jewish scholars taught in their histories that WHEN Isaac married Rebekah and she couldn’t bear children, he took her to A CERTAIN PLACE. He took her on a four-day journey to Mount Moriah, to the very spot where he had been laid back upon the wood, and explained to her everything that had happened there.
The Jewish history teaches that Isaac KNEW FROM THAT DAY ON THE WOOD that God is the only One who can decide if things are going to go better or worse in life. After explaining to Rebekah what had happened on that very spot, and how God had promised to bless Abraham with endless descendants, their faith was stirred; and when he gathered her into his arms and prayed that the God who he feared would change Rebekah’s body so that she could bear children… she very soon was pregnant with twins!
DO YOU FEAR THE LORD? WHAT I MEAN BY THAT IS… DO YOU ACKNOWLEDGE TO GOD THAT IN EVERY SITUATION, HE IS PRESENT AND THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DECIDE HOW THINGS WILL TURN OUT? DO YOU ASK HIM FOR HIS HELP WITH THAT FAITH-FILLED UNDERSTANDING?
The fear of the Lord helps us to remember that this is a one-sided relationship. I fear Him. He doesn’t fear me at all. I have nothing that could hurt Him, and I have nothing that would interest Him, and I have nothing that He needs. There is no power in me to affect His future whatsoever. He just loves me, because that is His nature.
But He can sure affect my future and your future!
The prophet Isaiah peered down through the smoke of centuries until his clear eye perceived Jesus; and in Isaiah 11:2-3, he described the Jesus He saw in the future.
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and He will DELIGHT in the fear of the Lord!”
Did Isaiah REALLY see Jesus 800 years before Christ was born?
Listen to John 12:41 … “Isaiah said this because he SAW Jesus’ glory, and spoke about Him!” Through the amazing telescope of prophecy, so to speak, Isaiah looked through the lens and had a vision of Jesus in which he said, “You know what? He DELIGHTS in the fear of the Lord!”
So there stands Jesus and Pilate, eye to eye in Pilate’s powerful mansion, and Jesus isn’t saying much. (Maybe it is because of the swollen face and half-closed eye or the blood loss.) In any event, Pilate is totally used to people begging him for mercy, but this silence of Jesus is creeping him out, so he says to Jesus, in John 19:10, “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
It’s like Pilate is saying, “JESUS! I am the one in the room who holds all the power as to how your life turns out! FEAR ME!” And Jesus, who Isaiah watched through the lens of prophecy, DELIGHTS in the fear of the Lord, and so in verse 11 He says right back into Pilate’s face, “You would have NO power over me if it were not given to you from above!”
What is Jesus saying?
“I FEAR THE LORD, AND I LOVE IT, BECAUSE HE IS THE ONE AND ONLY ONE WHO GETS TO DECIDE HOW THIS TURNS OUT!!”
Not you. Not Rome. Not Caesar. God.
Oh, brothers and sisters, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Do you fear the Lord? If not, you haven’t even set your first foot on the path of wisdom!
Steve, are you saying that the fear of the Lord (the realization, soaked into every day and every situation, that God gets the final say about how this turns out, and so I had better do it His way) … are you saying that THAT SIMPLE THING will affect how my entire life turns out?
I am saying that fearing the Lord will affect HOW YOUR WHOLE LIFE TURNS OUT,
and the WHOLE LIFE OF YOUR KIDS,
AND THE WHOLE LIFE OF YOUR GRANDCHILDREN, TOO!
Wow! Can you prove that?!? Sure!! Here’s proof!
Psalm 103:17— “From everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is WITH those who fear Him, and His righteousness with THEIR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN!”
What about after I am dead and gone?
Proverbs 14:26— “Whoever fears the Lord has a strong fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge!”
OK, but you are going to live as long as you are going to live, right? It is fate, right? THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT! Right? Not so fast!
Proverbs 10:27— “The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.”
Not only that…
Proverbs 19:23— “The fear of the Lord leads to LIFE; then one rests content, untouched by trouble!”
I’m learning to love the fear of the Lord!
Any situation I get involved in, and in fact ANY ROOM THAT I WALK INTO, I can say to the Lord, “You and only You get to decide whether this turns out well or not. I give it to You, for your purposes. I admit that You are the One who will have to be pleased if this is going to work out for the best; and so I submit to whatever You want to do here. Please use me as You see fit!”
And suddenly I am walking in salvation and wisdom and knowledge!
Father, I realize that every day I live, I live in Your watchful presence. You are loving and gracious and welcoming rather than critical; but Lord, I am more and more aware that every day I live in Your presence is a job interview for how You can use the rest of my life, because YOU, and You ALONE, O Lord, can determine how my life turns out. I cannot influence You, or bribe You, or blackmail You, or distract You or fool You. I cannot manipulate You or persuade You to change Your view of me.
You see my life in the secret place. You know when I get up and when I lay down. No one can bring You a false report about me, good or bad, because You are right here with me at all times; and You KNOW the truth about my life and my heart and my attitudes.
Lord, I embrace the fact that enemies can’t determine how my life turns out, You do. Cancer can’t determine how my life turns out, and neither can karma or fate or finances or genetics or family background. Only YOU, Father, can determine how my life turns out. And I love You.