I have been thinking about the fear of the Lord as I have read Hebrews. I came across a verse in Hebrews 11 where it describes Noah building the ark in “holy fear”. I am also reading Tim Keller’s very good book “Prayer” and in part of the book he discusses some rules for prayer and references John Calvin’s recommendation that prayer starts in the “fear of the Lord”. So I have been thinking about this as I have read his book and as I have seen it mentioned in the scripture. How do we live in or experience the “fear of God”? And what does it mean exactly?
I don’t think it is really so hard to understand what it means. Most of us have had the experience of meeting someone and being intimidated to speak for fear of saying something wrong or doing something wrong. We were not in fear for our safety, but we had a “fear” of the encounter. This happens with authority figures, but it can happen even with people we are very pleased to meet. Tim Keller calls it a “joyful fear”. We are happy to meet a person, even excited, yet we don’t want to say or do something to mess it up. I might actually feel this way if I had a chance to talk to Tim Keller himself. It is a sense of awe, enthusiasm, hope, and intimidation combined. Keller reminds us if we feel this way about people, how much more should we feel it when we are in the presence of God! Or when you are a child, you have a fear of you father, but also you know that he is your protector because of his strength. The Father is the source of both comfort and there is a healthy fear of his discipline and displeasure.
On the other hand, I do think it is a little hard to understand exactly how we live in or experience the “fear of God”. For me the application part of Bible study is always the hardest. Noah built the ark in “holy fear”. How do we do the work of God and live our lives in “holy fear”? For sure faith is a big component of living this out. This verse describing Noah’s “holy fear” is in the context of the writer describing how these people lived in faith. Take a look at Hebrews 11. These men and women knew the will of God, and then they did it. And they did it in trust that what God promised would come to be, even when they often did not see those promises fulfilled in their lifetime. They lived knowing that being associated with God was better than any reward or experience of sin they could experience in this life. So based on Hebrews 11, living in the fear of the Lord entails having a sense of awe and respect for who God is, doing what he commands, living a life that demonstrates that you are identifying with God instead of with the world (look at the example of Moses who gave up the pleasures of sin and instead accepted persecution so that he could be identified with God’s chosen people), and trusting that he will take care of you and do what he has promised.