Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!…He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. (Psalm 112:1,7)
True confession. Though by the grace of God I have made some progress in this area, I still have an “on again” “off again” struggle with fear.
Fear. It’s such a troubling companion that has a habit of showing up in my life uninvited, kicking it’s shoes off, and making itself at home. Fear seeks to snuff out my candle of faith.
I am tempted regularly to fear many things. I fear what other people think of me. I fear disappointing people in my own church through one of my many flaws and imperfections. I fear the breakdown of relationships because of something I’ve done or didn’t do. I fear not being able to adequately help people as a pastor, I fear being an inadequate husband and father. I fear you’ll think less of me after reading this article. I’m sure I could make this list quite long but I’ll stop there.
There are lots of things wrong with my tendency towards fear and anxiety. One of the worse things about it is that whatever I fear becomes the center of my life. Whatever I fear becomes the thing that I live for. When I fear the lack of approval from others, what happens? I throw my life and my energies into trying to impress others and my joy rises and falls based on what I think others think of me. If we fear election results, what happens? Our whole sense of peace and security and wellbeing collapses when we don’t get our way and we may even grow hostile towards those who are advancing alternative agendas. When we fear economic instability, our lives will revolve around the shoring up of material resources and that fear will drive our decisions, control our lives, and even impact our relationships. What outside of God do you fear? How is it dominating and controlling your life? It’s worth pondering.
What is the antidote to our debilitating fears? The solution is somewhat surprising.
I am learning that I can’t fight fear by simply trying to “will” myself to not to be afraid. Instead, I have to fight fear with fear, because my problem is not simply that I fear, but that I fear the wrong things. Psalm 112:1 tells us,
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!…
Blessed, or “happy” is the man who fears the LORD. Who knew that there was a kind of fear that results in happiness and peace? Sometimes the phrase “fear of the Lord” confuses people. Martin Luther provides a helpful explanation of this fear when he distinguishes between a “servile” fear and a “filial” fear.
RC Sproul, explaining the difference, writes,
The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a malicious master who would come with the whip and torment the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.
…filial fear…from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family…refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.
The fear of the Lord has to do with a humble reverence and awe of God. It means regarding Him higher than everything else. It’s not a craven fear that repels (that would be more like the wicked on judgment day), it’s instead a fear that compels one to come, to heed, to cherish, and to obey
Again, the Psalmist says of the man who fears the Lord,
…he is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid…(Psalm 112:1, 7-8)
Notice that the man who fears is not afraid!
The center of his universe and the foundation that his hope is built on is the Lord. When such a man reaches that place, “he is not afraid of bad news.”
That is very convicting to me. I am often anxious about bad news, typically bad news in my personal relationships with people. I am worried that this person might be upset with me, or that person might be disappointed, and so on. My fear of “bad news” is a red flag. I’m not fearing the Lord enough. What’s more, the Psalmist says the righteous man whose heart is firm is also “trusting in the Lord.”
I suppose at the heart of my sinful fears is a lack of trust in God. When I fear other things, I act like the “center of gravity” in my life are those other things. When I fear other things I am acting like my source of peace, satisfaction, identity, and well-being is ultimately bound up in those other things. In a sense, those become the things that I live for. In short, the things I fear become rival gods. Lord help me tear down those idols!
So how do I increase my fear of the Lord and decrease my fear of other things? How do I increase my trust and faith in God? Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” And while that verse specifically talks about saving faith, I believe that hearing God’s word also increases the faith of the “already saved.” And that takes us right back up to the beginning of Psalm 112.
The Psalmist says the man who fears the Lord is a man who “greatly delights in his commandments!”
There is this reciprocal connection between fearing God and delighting in His commands. The person who fears God naturally regards His word as superior to other words and wants to hear what He says. Then, as he studies, examines, and meditates on God’s word, delighting in it, his faith increases, and the increase of faith fuels his fear of God, and his fear of God drives him back to the word to further delight in it which results in the increase of the fear of the Lord.
Tim Challies, writing about Albert Martin’s book, “The Forgotten Fear” says that, “…The overall effect of every truth of Scripture is to feed the fear of God. In one way or another, the individual who absorbs the most Scripture, spiritually assimilating it into his heart, life, and very being, is the one who will know most of the fear of God.”
I think that’s right. The more our minds are saturated with the promises, the assurances, the comforts, and the warnings of God found in His word, the more it will crowd out the fear of other things. The more I am hearing the “word of Christ”, the more then I am reminded of God’s character, faithfulness, love, and His superiority over all other things I am tempted to place my hope in. In time, therefore, we become more and more like the righteous man of Psalm 112 who is not afraid of bad news…trusting in the LORD….
Truly the fear of the Lord is the cure for all other fears.
While fear in other things brings massive instability and insecurity into my life, I am told that,
“Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
While fear in other things brings me discontent and restlessness, God says that,
The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; (Proverbs 19:23)
While fear of things outside of God lead to anxious dreading of the future, the man who fears God,
is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. (Psalm 112:7)
Oh Lord, may you increase the fear of you in me, so that I will be fearless!
Grace and Peace,