It is the first day of school and most of the students are already in the classroom. The teacher is beginning to interact with the students, trying to get names and a sense of who each person in the class is. Another student walks into the room and addresses the teacher, “hey teach, give me five, nice hair, but you need to lose about 30 pounds.” What would you think? No matter whom we approach we need to approach them appropriately. What is the appropriate approach to a teacher, to a friend, to a police officer, to God? God has different names and each one invites us to approach God in a different way. Sovereign Lord invites us to approach Him with awe. Father invites us to approach Him recognizing His care. Holy One invites us to approach Him with reverence. Friend invites us to approach Him with familiarity.
One of the phrases used often in the Bible which speaks about how we come into God’s presence is the phrase “fear the Lord.” It is an important phrase in Scripture used in 69 different verses. Proverbs 1:7 indicates its importance when it tells us that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. But do we really understand what it means? Do we approach God in this way?
The command to fear the Lord is a key concept in Psalm 34:8-22 and this morning I would like to read this Psalm and think about what it means so that we can approach God in the right way.
In verse 9 we are commanded to fear the Lord. It is God’s people who are addressed and the implication is that it is those who belong to God, who know God who are positioned to obey this command, but not only positioned to obey, but also expected to obey it. This is something that we must do, but I wonder how many of us ever think about it. We think about receiving God’s forgiveness, we think about all the good things we want God to do for us, we look for God’s comfort and guidance, but do we ever think, “I really need to fear the Lord?”
To begin to understand what it means to fear the Lord, I would like to introduce some perspectives which will help us to actually do it. We will be disposed to fear the Lord if we have the following perspectives about God.
We will fear the Lord if we believe that He exists. There have been rumors of mountain lions along the Rosenort River Trail. I do not believe that there are any and so I don’t even think about them when I go hiking or biking. In a similar way if someone does not believe that God exists they will not fear Him or relate to Him in any way. Hebrews 11:6 says, "…anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
We will be disposed to fear the Lord if we understand that He is above all. The kind of relationship implied in fearing the Lord requires more than just understanding that He exists. I believe that clowns exist but a clown is a joke. God, on the other hand is above all things and that requires a very different response. Isaiah 8:13 says, "The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread,"
We will be disposed to fear the Lord if we understand that He has power to judge all creation. Psalm 96:10 says, "Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’ The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity." Someday every person on earth will need to stand before God.
We will be disposed to fear the Lord if we recognize that He is holy. He is set apart from all creation in purity and perfection. Revelation 15:4 reminds us, "Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy.”
If we see God as buddy, only forgiving, not eternal and not holy then we will relate to Him as we do to any other human being, but if we know God in the ways I have just described, then we will be well positioned to fear Him.
A friend of mine had a sail board. I haven’t seen them around lately, but they used to be quite popular. It was basically a surfboard with a sail. One day we were at the lake and he gave me an opportunity to try it out. I had seen people skimming over the water on them enjoying the power of the wind and the joy of riding the waves and I was very interested in trying. Well I tried for at least an hour and at the end of that hour I had sailed a few feet, spent most of my time in the water and was exhausted.
Remember the uncertainty attached to learning to ride a bicycle, bake bread, drive or any new activity? In a similar way, fearing the Lord is not an activity which comes naturally to us. In learning anything new we feel awkward, uncomfortable and very unskilled. Many things in life need to be learned and the fear of the Lord is one of them.
In verse 11, the Psalmist says, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” He addresses children. I am quite sure that he is not only speaking of young children, although I think it would be a good idea to be more deliberate and conscious about teaching children the fear of the Lord. Yet, I am also sure that he intends everyone. All of us need to learn the fear of the Lord and it is something that we can learn. Proverbs 2:3-5 has a similar invitation and contains a promise when it says, “and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”
How will we learn? When I was in high school, I was more interested in having fun and girls than I was in studying. Consequently I did not apply myself very diligently to Chemistry and English and my marks showed it. When I was in seminary, my motivation changed. I was studying something that interested me and that I hoped would lead to a career. I was much more motivated to learn because I saw the benefit to myself.
Although all of the things I have said about who God is should motivate us to fear Him. Although in the end of life we will have to face God with our lives and answer for every decision we have made. It seems that these ultimate concerns don’t often motivate us to the kind of living that would be described as fearing the Lord. It is interesting that the Psalmist says in verse 11, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord” and then in verse 12 asks a question that seems to have nothing to do with fearing the Lord. Yet I think that it does. I think it introduces a motive for fearing the Lord that will be one that we respond to. The Psalmist makes a statement that could almost be a question. “Who loves life?” “Who would like to see many good days?” The answer is easy, “Who doesn’t?” This introduces a wonderful concept. It tells us that the fear of the Lord is not a distasteful thing that we have to do because it will be good for us in the end. To live in the fear of the Lord will accomplish a goal desired by all of us. Who is there who loves life? We always admire people who enjoy life. We enjoy life and the more we enjoy it the happier we are. Who wouldn’t like to see, not just many days, but many good days? I doubt if there is a person here who would not answer that this is the desire of their heart. Do you love life? Do you desire many good days? The answer is yes, of course. The implication is that if that is your desire, the way to fulfill that desire is to live in the fear of the Lord. It is the person who fears the Lord who will have a good life and who will see many good days.
Now if that is the case, do you not want to fear the Lord? It makes fear of the Lord a powerful desire with a powerful motivation. It makes fear of the Lord the most important striving of our life. Now we are all asking, “Yes! That is what I want. How do I do it?”
Based on the foundation of the character of God, which we have looked at earlier, there are two things which describe the way to fear the Lord. Or perhaps a better way to put it is, “What are the things which I need to do in order to learn and thus live in the fear of the Lord?” There are two things which we need to do if we want to live in the fear of the Lord. One is obedience and the other is trust.
The first thing the Psalmist describes is that learning to fear the Lord involves a life of obedience to the Lord. In Psalm 34:13-14 we have a series of commands which the person who fears the Lord will seek to obey.
First of all the writer says, “…keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” If we fear the Lord, our life will be one in which our speech will be good speech. The person who loves God will learn to say things well. The Bible is loaded with many instructions about how we speak. We are told to use words which bless; we are instructed not to lie, not to gossip, not to slander and not to take oaths. Words are so important because they communicate what is in our soul. Who we are is quickly revealed as soon as we open our mouth. Words are so important because by them we who belong to God reveal whether our heart has been changed by Him or not. James 1:26 is a powerful expression of the importance of this truth. It says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless."
The fear of the Lord also involves our actions. It is very simply stated in the text. Don’t do what is evil and do what is good. Let your life be filled with what is good. The other way of obedience in actions is that we must be people who seek peace and pursue it. Craigie says, “…peace is not a natural environment in the world of sinful human beings, but an environment which must be sought and pursued.”
The other aspect of fearing the Lord is to trust Him. Psalm 34 is really a very wonderful Psalm loaded with many wonderful expressions of the care God has for His children. Verse 8 invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” This is an invitation to trust, an invitation to put our hope in Him.
Throughout the Psalm there are many promises of what will happen to those who put their trust in the Lord.
The first promise is found in verse 9 where it says that “those who fear Him lack nothing.” The imagery of young lions speaks of those who are strong and self sufficient. Lions are predators and go look for their food and have the power to get what they want. Young lions are healthy, strong, fast, and able. We think that those who are healthy and strong and young and fast and able will accomplish what they want. But the text says that even the most capable will come to a time of lack. On the other hand, those who trust in the Lord will not lack. They will receive good from the Lord. What a wonderful promise which moves us to taste and see and trust that the Lord is good. When we do that, we fear the Lord because we do not fear the circumstances around us, but only God Himself with the confidence that He is love and will care for us. Craigie says, “…those who feared the Lord had no lack, for their lives were rooted at the true center of existence, namely the reverence of the One who granted human life in the first place.”
In verse 15, we are promised “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.” Do you ever feel as if God is not aware of your situation? Do you ever question whether God sees what is happening in your life? To fear the Lord means that we taste and see and trust that God sees us wherever we are. He sees not only what we do, but what is happening in our heart. He sees the tears, the fears, the grief and the doubts.
In this verse we also read that “His ears are attentive to their cry.” In verse 17 we read, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them…” Have you ever expressed that involuntary cry from your heart by which you are declaring the anguish which is there? God has heard that cry! Do you ever pray? God hears that cry! To fear the Lord means that we taste and see and trust that God hears when we cry to Him, even with the silent cry of the heart.
The text is loaded with so many wonderful expressions of the Lord’s care. We read in verse 18, The Lord “…saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Vs. 20, “he protects all his bones…” and vs. 22, “The Lord redeems his servants.”
Trust in God’s goodness is one response to what it means to fear the Lord.
But we also need to note that in this text there are comments about the righteous and the wicked. Trusting in the Lord as an expression of our fear of Him requires that we walk in righteousness. “Fearing the Lord” means that we understand that God makes a separation between those whom He cares for and those whom He rejects. In contrast to those who experience His eyes and ears upon them, are those whom he rejects. Interesting language is used in verse 15, 16 where the eyes and ears are mentioned as being attentive to the righteous, but the face of the Lord is against the wicked. If we fear the Lord, we will understand that God is against all evil and fearing Him means that we remain on the side of the righteous and trust that He will deal with the wicked.
Does such trust in God mean that we will never have difficulties and that everything we want will always be given to us?
It is always difficult for us to trust God because we think that if God is for us we will get everything we want. Yet our experience does not bear that out. The text is quite clear in verse 19 that people who are God’s people will still have difficulties. We read, “A righteous man may have many troubles.” That is not the good news we want to hear. We want to hear that a person who follows God will never have any difficulty. We want to be on the team that always wins. But that is not what our experience demonstrates and I am so glad that the Bible is not opposite to our experience. If the Bible taught that we would never have trouble, then it would be very difficult to believe in God because we do have trouble. Many other passages illustrate the same truth. For example, John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”"
Yet notice that every time we are told that we will have trouble in this world, it also says that God will help. In Psalm 34:19 we read, “…the Lord delivers him from them all.” At times we struggle with that. We wonder, why isn’t God delivering me now? Why do I have to go through the trouble? I can’t answer those questions, but I do know that even when we have trouble, God will redeem us. So to trust in God is to know that this is not the end of the story. It means that every time we look back over a situation in which we trusted the Lord when we had trouble, we can look back and see the good which God brought because He will redeem us from trouble.
Earlier we noted that the Psalmist said, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” James Janeway points out that sometimes these troubles are exactly what God uses to teach us the fear of the Lord. His illustration is that just as s surgeon may need to inflict pain sometimes towards a cure, so sometimes our Father also allows pain so that we will move towards a greater healing.
Have you ever thought that God was far away? Even in times of trouble that is not the case. The other promise we have in this text in verse 18 is that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” When life is difficult and we find ourselves crying within, God has not left us. He knows and is nearby. One of the things I often like to do when people are dealing with a difficult illness or are grieving is to pray that they will know the truth. The truth is that God is near to them. Craigie says, “…there is no place where they are beyond the divine vision and there is no crisis so distant that God cannot hear their cry for help.”
So even though we may have difficulty, there are three indications of God’s care. He promises redemption, He uses our trials to teach us and He promises His presence. To fear the Lord means to trust in this care.
Do you fear the Lord? We must fear the Lord. Not only is it right and necessary, it is also good for us so that we will enjoy a good life.
How do we learn the fear of the Lord?
It is something that happens in our understanding – we need to know who God is.
It is something that happens in our will – we need to obey Him.
It is something that happens in our heart – we need to trust Him.