THE FEAR FACTOR
February of 1912 was an exciting time in Fredericton. An unidentified man, who became known as “Jack the Grabber” and then “Jack the Hugger” was terrorizing the female population. Several unsuspecting women had been accosted and grabbed on city streets in the early evening.
The local constabulary searched for weeks for the elusive Hugger. But soon a new problem arose. Some women were so afraid of the Hugger they started carrying guns, even though they had no idea how to use them. They saw potential assailants everywhere. A city councillor who was rushing to a meeting created panic in the two women he was walking behind as he increased his pace. A young man waiting on the sidewalk for his lady friend was viewed with sharp suspicion and reported to the police. Women saw a potential Hugger in every man, and men were terrified that any gesture or movement of theirs might be misconstrued and lead to their arrest.
It’s a good example of what fear can do. Fear affects how we see things.
As with most things, fear can be a positive or a negative, healthy or unhealthy. A healthy fear helps us make wise decisions and avoid danger. Unhealthy fear traps and controls us.
The best example of a positive, healthy fear is what the Bible calls the fear of the Lord. To fear God means to look at him with awe and reverence, to recognize his glory, power and majesty, as well as his authority to judge sin.
God is our Father and we are his children. In healthy family relationships children respect their parents, they pay attention to them and they want to please them. Children know their parents can punish them when they don’t obey, but they also understand that their disobedience hurts and disappoints their parents. Children who love and respect their parents don’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
It’s this kind of reverence and love that makes us to want to do God’s will, more than the threat of punishment, that defines the fear of the Lord. There are at least four things the fear of the Lord does for us:
1. Fear of God focuses us. Our focus determines what we see. Fear of “Jack the Hugger” focused the women of Fredericton to see danger everywhere. We focus on what we fear.
If we fear God, we will focus on him and his will. If we don’t fear God, we will focus on ourselves. When we focus on ourselves, our fears have full reign. If we fear poverty, we will focus on money. If we fear rejection, we will focus on pleasing people. If we fear illness, we will focus on threats to our health. And the list goes on. . .
If we’re not focused on God, then at best we’re not seeing well, and at worst we’re blind. Focusing on ourselves will never give us clarity. Ps. 36:2 says of a sinful man: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. Focusing on ourselves blinds us to our sin and its consequences.
In Luke 12 Jesus warns: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” When we don’t fear God, there are eternal consequences.
Moses says to God in Ps. 90:11-12: Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. When our focus is on God, we will use our time wisely under his guidance. Numbering our days aright means we won’t put off coming to God until later: there may not be a later for us. Fear of God focuses us.
2. Fear of God frees us. Our focus determines what we see, and what we see determines how we think. The fear of God frees us from being afraid of what life or the world may throw at us. Oswald Chambers has said, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”
David had good reason to be afraid of as he spent years on the run from King Saul. Saul was determined to kill him, and had already made two attempts. But because David feared God, because he revered him and loved God with all his heart, he could say: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Ps. 23:4) The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1) I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Ps. 34:4)
David’s testimony is echoed by the writer of Ps. 118: In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (verses 5-6).
Sometimes we’re afraid that giving ourselves completely to God will mean we’ll have to give up other things we want. We think we’d like to spend our energy accumulating things, and gaining the approval and admiration of those around us. Prov. 29:25 warns that Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. When we stop worrying about what the world thinks and focus on what God knows, we experience real freedom.
3. Fear of God forms us. What we see and how we think determines who we are, and Whose we are. Fear of God is the foundation on which we build godly lives. Isa 33:6 says: “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” The key to salvation, wisdom and knowledge is fear of the Lord.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. . .” says the psalmist. (Ps. 111:10) Solomon reiterates this in his Proverbs (1-7; 15:33): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
Without humility, we can’t fear God. Without fearing God, we will never be wise. Without wisdom, we can’t build character. Without character, we can’t be formed into the people God wants us to be. Fear of God forms us.
4. Fear of God fits us for service. What we see, how we think and who we are determines what we do. Paul says in Eph. 2:10: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
What does God have to say about serving him?
Deut 10:13 “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only. . .”
1 Sam 12:23(b)-24: “And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”
In 2 Chron 26:5, we find that King Uzziah “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of the Lord. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”
Psalm 19: 9, 11 “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
Ps. 147:11 “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
When we want to serve God with all our hearts in response to what he has done for us through Jesus, God will be delighted with us and give us success in the things that matter. If we don’t fear God, we will be serving ourselves, even if we appear to be helping others. We’ll be doing things we want to do to make us feel good, or look good. Our service will be tarnished because our motives aren’t pure.
Fear of God fits us for service in his kingdom.
Fear of God focuses us so that we see God as he truly is – our Creator and Redeemer – and ourselves as he meant us to be – his children. When we fear God, we humbly respond to him with awe and reverence, marvelling at his love and care for us, wanting to please him in every way. When we are focused on God, we see the world through his eyes – both as it is and as it can be under God.
Fear of God frees us from all other fears. We recognize that God’s will and power are sovereign, and that when we belong to him, nothing can ultimately harm us.
Fear of God forms us into the people God created us to be. When we fear God we become more like him, just as a child who loves and respects a parent will want to pattern themselves after them.
Fear of God fits us for service in his kingdom here on earth. What we see, think and are determines how we respond and what we do. Fear of God equips us to do the work he planned for us and created us to do.
May we be focused, free, formed and fit.