Fear is a fascinating subject. In modern times, almost everyone, if asked, will say that fear is bad. But then if you look in the Bible, it says we should “fear God”. So then some people think we should have this paralyzing, morbid, terrifying, debilitating fear of this awesome monster of a God who’s just licking His lips at the potential of sending us all to hell.
A real favorite verse of mine from the Bible is “the fear of the Lord is clean” (Psalm 19:9). But then an opposite thought to that is “The fear of man is a snare (or a trap)” (Proverbs 29:25). I’ve certainly had my share of horrible, soul-sapping fear in my lifetime. But also I’ve had experiences where that verse, “the fear of the Lord is clean” has really proven true.
One time when I was a young Christian, I was at a training camp for missionaries. I’d recently come out of a life of spiritual darkness and I was really new and raw to the things of the Lord. One morning I woke up before dawn and felt a strong urge to go out into the nature to pray. I’d read verses about “seeking the Lord with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13) so I was down on my knees in prayer at dawn, crying out vehemently to God. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and saw the elder of the camp sternly looking down at me. He’d tapped me with his cane on my shoulder.
He said, “Son, you don’t have to yell at God. God can hear you. God’s not deaf. You’re waking up the whole camp.”
“Oh my God! That Christian elder hit you with his cane! What a monster! It must have just scared you to death and scarred you for eternity!”
No, actually it didn’t. Before I became a Christian I’d experienced dominating, bullying, brutish people and I knew what fear that can generate. But this was totally different. What this elder said was totally right. He wasn’t yelling at me or belittling me or threatening me; he was sternly but loving me telling me the truth. I’ve always marked that experience with the verse, “the fear of the Lord is clean”. That experience changed my life and I needed it. It changed my relationship with God and certainly it changed my prayer life.
And it showed me that there is a good fear. The fear of God is a good fear. Because He means to do well for you. Solomon said “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).
Certainly one of Satan’s greatest tools is fear. That’s the kind of fear that’s talked about when it says, “Fear has torment” (I John 4:18). But that’s totally different from the fear we should have for God. The fear of God involves respect and a recognition that He knows what’s right and best for us, better than we do. So we fear Him because we want to stay close to Him, not only for His sake but, frankly, for ours as well.
I guess it’s almost a selfish thing. When you realize you are what Jesus called His people, sheep, then you realize you need a shepherd. You’re not as smart or tough or invincible as you’d like to think. You are a little bit dumb at times and weaker than you’d like to be and you just need the help, wisdom, power and blessing of God. So you fear getting out of His will or out of close communications with Him. And if He has to take sometimes a bit of a drastic action to get you in line, that’s just what’s needed. Maybe that’s why King David said to the Lord, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” in that most famous of Psalms, Psalms 23.
I surely don’t recommend you go around taping folks on their shoulder with your cane. That was certainly an exception. But it was an amazing experience for me that taught me a lot and helped me to get to know my heavenly Father a lot better and to know His loving ways. The fear of man is a trap and brings torment. But the fear of the Lord is clean.