The thought of fear ushers in unpleasantness. I don’t like to fear.
When I’m afraid, I’m confronted with my own cowardice. Many times, my cowardice leads to disobedience. I imagine what I’ll have to give up by obeying God’s Word. Fear feeds off my imagination and seeks to keep me docile and disobedient, showing me how empty my hands will be if I choose to obey Christ.
WHEN FEAR INTERFERES
Perhaps fear interferes with your obedience too. God commands “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Fear whispers in our ears, “But your neighbor is filthy; he’s not like you. You’ll be tainted by him. Think of your reputation!”
When God says “Go make disciples of all nations,” fear offers a more convenient alternative. “Why don’t you just put a check in the offering plate for missions? If you go, you’ll have to give up your friends and your church, not to mention the kids’ school. Surely you don’t want to uproot your family and risk their health and safety for those people!”
God charges us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven. Fear greedily gains our attention with a vision of our poverty while everyone around us lives happily in splendor. Imagine all the pleasures we’ll miss out on if we don’t build our kingdoms here and now!
When hesitancy to part with whatever it is we don’t want to be without prevents us from following Jesus, our enemy rejoices. He’s distracted us with visions of lack and loss. But he’s not our master, and we can resist his lures. God has equipped us with the power to sidestep his schemes. Our resistance leads to his retreat (James 4:7). Our enemy’s plans for us involve misery and failure, but his plans are beatable. Our Father has secured his defeat through Christ. Our fear is misplaced.
A BETTER FEAR
God invites us into a better fear. A holy fear of himself, fueled by our awe and respect for his majesty. He transforms our imaginations, and we behold a vision in which we fear him forever for our own good. “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them” (Jer. 32:39). Fear is good when rightly aimed at God!
To fear the Lord is to marvel at the beauty of his beloved son who left heaven to come to earth, live a sinless life and suffer a horrific death for us. Fear of the Lord wonders at the graciousness of the Father who rescues rebels and welcomes them as adopted children and co-heirs with Christ. When we fear the Lord, we’re amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip us with the ability to obey.
We must allow God’s Word to shape our thoughts on fear. “By the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil” (Proverbs 16:6). “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). Holy fear should result in obedience. Fear of the Lord fills us with the courage to turn away from sin and the steadfastness to not turn away from God.
God-fearing saints will not hesitate to obey for fear of loss. “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” (Psalm 34:9). The devil tempts us to believe we’ll be without if we obey. But he’s a liar. We mustn’t envision lack when the scriptures assure us none exists. Following Christ might result in loss. But loss and lack are not the same in God’s economy. The cost of obedience is often high, but God-fearers are not empty-handed. We have Christ and he is more than enough.
OH, FEAR THE LORD, YOU HIS SAINTS
Our rally cry is “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints!” We unite behind the respect and reverence due his name. We obey as children pained at the thought of offending our good father. Our love for him propels our fear of him.
When we naturally flinch at the idea of fear, we must develop new instincts. The world doesn’t get to define fear for us. We are new creations in Christ. We look to him to define fear, and pray for the grace to think like him. Don’t be afraid to fear. Fear rightly.
It takes courage to allow our thoughts to be reshaped by scripture, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). We need the courage to fear. God says to fear him is good. That everyone who fears and obeys him is blessed (Psalm 128:1).
When the fear of losing something interferes with your obedience, pray for God to replace your anxieties with a holy fear of him. Dwell on the great gain of faithfulness to Christ. Choose to fear the Lord. Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints!
Christy Britton is a wife and mom to four boys. She writes Bible study curriculum for Docent Research Group and serves as the Discipleship Classes Coordinator for Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. She is an orphan advocate with 127 Worldwide and contributes administratively to bring pastor training opportunities to Africa for Acts 29. You can follow her on Twitter.