Delighting in Fear

There is probably no learning experience on earth, short of growing up as a kid, that has more challenges and surprises than two people learning to live together as man and wife. I know that it is popular and widely accepted to live together before marriage these days and some justify it saying they are doing it to insure their relationship won’t fail or to prevent making the wrong choice of partners.  I don’t want to argue whether or not this is a good strategy, I’ll leave that to others, but if all they were doing is living together, what’s the harm I guess.  The issue is not about sharing the housekeeping duties, or splitting the rent.  The issue, from a Christian perspective, is all about having sex with someone you are not married to, regardless of whether you share the same address.

There is however another issue that should not be ignored, in fact it is at the very center of the marriage relationship and that is commitment and the permanency of a marriage relationship.  The bible describes marriage as two people becoming one, bound together with God until death.  It’s no wonder so many young people are afraid of making such a commitment, especially those who have watched their own parent’s relationship explode in front of them.

I know there a more than a few who don’t even consider the sin issue (sex) when living together before marriage but I do believe that there is an awful lot of fear involved in the majority of those who have chosen such a lifestyle.  They don’t want to wind up like their divorced parents, friends, or that depressed co-worker who has been in agony for years over their failing marriage.  There are those who have tried the single lifestyle, even a celibate single lifestyle, but they just need more, yet the prospect of marriage scares the daylights out of them.  That kind of fear isn’t foolish, in fact it’s rational.  If I knew I had a 50/50 chance of something really, really bad happening to me and I ignored it and didn’t try to avoid it, I’d be a fool at best!

So is fear like a two-sided coin, which can be beneficial in one sense, yet destructive or at least immobilizing in another?  Then there is the issue of rational versus irrational fears that we all face in life and have to deal with by being able to distinguish between the rational and irrational, the real and the unreal and then responding appropriately. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who ascribe to the foolish idea from Thomas Grey’s poem, “Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.” In verse three of Isaiah, chapter eleven, the prophet tells us that when the Spirit rests on us we “will delight in the fear of the Lord.” I know when I first read this verse I had a difficult time connecting delight with fear and having it make any sense to me, so let’s take a closer look at what God, through Isaiah, is trying to teach us.

Fear of the Lord is a somewhat foreign concept to twenty-first century Americans, especially those who profess to be Christians because they have been taught, and correctly I might add, that Christianity is all about love. On the other hand, we also read in the bible that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, which undoubtedly is a good thing.  So which is it?

The Apostle John tells us in his first letter, chapter four, verse fifteen, that “God is love.”  Simple enough, then John continues saying, “perfect love drives out fear.”  So if what John says is true, that it is the love of God that has flowed to me by Christ, through the Spirit; is this the same love I should have for my husband or wife?  It sure doesn’t seem very perfect to me, just ask my spouse!  Not only that, my fear is still alive and well and living under our roof.  The Greek word translated in this verse as the English word “perfect” also has the sense of having grown to maturity. In other words, as our love matures; it becomes more and more able to drive out our fear.  God’s love is perfect, but we are less than perfect beings and in order for us to love like God requires that we practice…practice…practice.  Will we ever be able to demonstrate and completely delight in perfect love?  Not in this lifetime, but the more we practice selfless love, the more delightful it will become for us and the less fearful we will be.

Jesus addresses the subject, fear of the Lord, with His disciples in Luke12:4-5 in some very sharp language as a warning to all those within ear shot.  “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and 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.”  Jesus is unabashedly affirming the Old Testament instruction that fear of the Lord is not only a good thing but a rational one as well.  Perfect love drives out our fear of condemnation and punishment brought about by our sin, Jesus saw to that on the cross.  But in a very practical way, fear of the Lord also encourages us to keep on practicing perfect or selfless love. Our fear of God, as Christians, is like the fear that a child has for their father or mother, and is inextricably bound up with the love they have for each other.  We all have heard stories or even experienced it ourselves, parents abusing their children and at the end of the day the child will profess their love for them, be willing to endure more abuse and even lie to protect them. The same can be said of battered women as well.  This is an earthly example, albeit a negative one, of the intensity of familial love and the loyalty and sense of obligation it engenders.

So how do you develop such a relationship with God, your heavenly Father?  Although you can’t see, touch or hear God in an earthly sense, you can experience His presence, each and everyday.  We see it dramatically portrayed when the Spirit came upon the “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” on a street in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) and continues in the same way even today.  You won’t see tongues of fire or hear the sound of a violent wind, but when you receive Christ as your Savior and Lord, yet you can be sure the Spirit is there and will continue to be with you always.  Then just as a child toward a parent, you will begin to learn how to trust, obey and rely on Gods provision from morning to morning.  This is what the 17th century French monk, Brother Lawrence, described in his famous devotional, practicing the presence of God.  To be sure it is not an event but rather a life-long process that the more you practice, the better you become at it and the more it will become the delight of your life.

Tool #360  You don’t have to live with your earthly fears if you have the fear of God in your heart.  God’s perfect love will drive them out.

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