The Blessing of Fear

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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How joyful are those who fear the LORD, all who follow his ways!

Psalm 128:1

When I was a child, I was afraid of sirens. If a police car was racing through our neighborhood with its siren blazing, I’d plug my ears and find a safe place to hide. During my first year in elementary school, I hated the last Friday of the month, because there would be a test of the air-raid sirens throughout our town. At 10:00 a.m. on that fateful day each month, the sinister sirens would sound, and my fellow students and I would drop on our knees and hide under our desks for a nerve-wracking minute. I hated that noise, but I hated even more my feelings of fear. Though I knew the shrieking of the siren wouldn’t hurt me, I was painfully afraid. Fear, it seemed to me, was a terrible thing.

To be sure, fear can be agonizing. But not all fear is bad or to be avoided. If a tornado is blowing your way, the fear that gets you into a storm cellar is your friend. If fear of an accident keeps you from driving too fast, you should listen to that fear.

There is another kind of fear that we ought to embrace and that can enrich our lives: the fear of the Lord. When the Bible says, “How joyful are those who fear the LORD” (128:1), it is not envisioning a fear that makes us run away for safety. Rather, fearing God is a matter of being stunned by his glory, dwarfed by his power, and astounded by his holiness. When we sense the awesome presence of God, we are inclined to drop on our knees, not in order to hide from God under our desks, but because we realize that we can never hide from him, and because the King of kings is worthy of our complete submission.

We’re sometimes told that fear of the Lord is reverence for God. This is true, though our use of the word “reverence” can fall short of the implications of “fear.” Genuine fear of the Lord permeates my life, transforming the way I live each moment. Thus, when I revere God with all that I am, I will indeed “follow his ways” (128:1).

Psalm 128 begins with the unexpected insight that those who fear the Lord are “joyful.” The Hebrew word translated here as “how joyful” is ’ashrei, which is often rendered “blessed.” This Hebrew word does convey a sense of happiness, but it often has a wider meaning. In Psalm 128, for example, those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways are joyful or happy because their whole life is shaped by God and filled with his blessings.

Psalm 128 reminds us that the fullest and most joy-filled life is based on the fear of the Lord, on a deep, abiding, and pervasive reverence for the living God.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you respond to the phrase “the fear of the Lord”? Do you fear God? In what ways? Have you ever experienced joy connected with the fear of the Lord?

PRAYER: O Lord, as you know, this language of fear can get us in trouble. Usually when we are afraid of something, we rightly want to get away from it. But fearing you is different. The more we sense your awesomeness, the more we are drawn to you. Though we realize how helpless we are before you, we feel secure because we know that you are utterly good and utterly loving. You will not consume us in the fire of your holiness, though you surely could.

O Lord, may I grow in my fear of you as I come to a clearer understanding of just who you are. May deep reverence for you fill my life, impacting everything I do, each relationship, each task, each thought, each prayer.

And as I grow in righteous fear of you, may I also grow in joy. May the confidence that my life is in your powerful hands give me delight as I live each day, trusting you, serving you, offering my whole life in worship to you. Amen.