Healthy Fear

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 14:26-27

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death.

Proverbs 14:26-27, RSV

Most of our fears are unhealthy. That is, they do us more harm than good. Sometimes the negative effects are relatively minor. We’re afraid of heights or close quarters or airplane flights, so we’re inconvenienced at times about where we go and how we get there. Sometimes the problem is more serious. We’re afraid of crowds, ill at ease around people. That affliction can be alienating. It can push others away, leaving us in lonely isolation. When we fear particular individuals, we can’t really be ourselves around them, can we? It brings out the worst in us. Our fear leads us to suspect them, dislike them, perhaps to wish them ill. And at times, fear of almost anyone or anything can paralyze us for action that we need desperately to take. Fear on those occasions can be pernicious, even death-dealing.

But we recognize also that fear can be a valuable ally. It can send adrenalin coursing through our bodies, increase our heart rate, galvanize us for action. It can prompt us on some occasions to do what needs to be done to save our own lives and those of others. It can move us to avoid dangerous situations and prevent great evils. Usually, fear is healthy or unhealthy, depending on the reality or unreality of what is feared. Imaginary fears, fright of what cannot really harm us, is always excess baggage to carry, never really helpful. But when our fear has a basis in fact, when there’s something truly formidable to encounter, it usually helps.

THE BEST FEAR

The healthiest of all fears, the one productive of enormous good and with no ill effects whatever, is what the Bible calls, “the fear of the Lord.” Listen to these words about it from Proverbs 14:26,

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death.

The fear of the Lord is different from those other fears we’ve been thinking about. For one thing, it has to do with reality, ultimate Reality. God is supremely the One with whom we have to do. But to fear Him is not primarily to be afraid of what He may do to us. The fear of God is a kind of awe in His presence, a reverence before Him, the utmost in respect. Fearing God means taking Him seriously, recognizing that our lives are in His hands, and that we must finally answer to Him for everything. Those who fear God keep Him in their thoughts. They live life as under His eye. They delight to know Him. They don’t want to displease Him. They expect all good from Him.

The closest I can come to understanding that in my own experience is in remembering my relationship with my own dad. When I was growing up, I had a strong sense of his authority. I didn’t want to displease him. I felt very uncomfortable when my mother was about to report to him some misconduct on my part. Perhaps I feared punishment; I’m not sure about that. I know I feared his disappointment and disapproval. But together with all of that, I never doubted that my dad loved me, that he wanted the best for me, that he would do anything in the world to help me. The feeling I had for him as a son for a good father was full of appreciation, respect, and trust. Still today, though he’s been gone for a number of years, I think about living the kind of life that would have pleased him and made him proud of me.

Now all of this is simply on the human level, I know. But that relationship has given me the best hints I have about the fear of the Lord. And if I felt that way about my earthly father, the Scriptures reason, how much more ought I to live in the fear of the Lord?

STRONG CONFIDENCE

Notice what the proverb says about the blessings which fearing God brings into our lives. First, “in the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.” That’s a different kind of fear, isn’t it — one that makes us confident? We usually associate fear with anxiety, insecurity. But someone who has this fear in his heart is filled with poise and assurance.

The truth is that fearing God goes a long way toward freeing us from our other fears. The Lord says through His prophet Isaiah,

Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 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, and He will be a sanctuary.

Fearing God appears here as a great alternative to our other fears. Instead of being afraid of what worries other people, we are to regard the Lord as holy, to have His fear before us. Then He will be our sanctuary, our refuge, our strength, our mighty defender.

The church’s history is fragrant with the memory of people who conquered every conceivable kind of fear because they walked before God. Believers have faced overwhelming odds, defied the commands of tyrants, and endured unimaginable tortures because they knew that God was with them, because they were unwilling to displease or deny Him. And, at the level of our daily common life, we are often released from worrying about what people think when our chief concern is for God’s approval. When we keep Him clearly in view, the giants and dragons opposing us don’t seem so threatening, do they? We say with the jubilant apostle, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

I’m not commending to you the fear of the Lord as a technique to rid you of your anxieties. We ought to fear God because He is our great and gracious Lord, our Father in Christ, our faithful guide — not because fearing Him makes us feel secure. But it remains true that those who live in the awareness of God’s presence will be a people of strong confidence.

A REFUGE FOR CHILDREN

Further, the children of those who fear the Lord, we read, “will have a refuge.” I’m struck by that. When we as parents fear the Lord, there will be definite effects in the lives of our children. We learn in Scripture that the opposite is also true. If we turn away from God, despising His authority, breaking His commandments, shunning His presence, we do our families great harm. We make it hard for them to know the way of life. We often make them suffer for our sins. That’s true to some degree even for the best of human parents.

But the other side is bright with promise. Whenever we have been enabled by God’s grace to walk in the fear of the Lord, we have not only been enriched ourselves. We have become channels of grace also to our families.

Every parent worthy of the name wants to do his or her children good. We want them to be healthy, happy, whole persons. We want them to have a sense of basic trust, to feel secure about their lives. And according to the Word of Scripture, the best thing we can do for our children is to walk with God ourselves.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that being “religious” is a substitute for nurturing our loved ones. The apostle James reminds us that any form of religion becomes an empty sham if it’s not accompanied by practical concern for the needs of others. But if we genuinely fear God and live in the awareness of His lordship, we will both be responsible as parents and also channels of God’s life and blessing to our family members. Our prayers and praises, our carefulness to please God, our seeking first His kingdom will, in ways we can never measure, do them good. They will have a refuge, a strong base on which to build their lives, a bulwark of defense against evil.

We cannot, of course, be finally responsible for what our children do with their lives, but we can give them a good start, a wealth of encouragement in walking God’s way. They may not recognize this or articulate it, but the fear of God in the lives of their parents will follow them like a benediction all their days.

I have surely found that to be so with my own parents. Hardly a day goes by without my remembering their faith and love, their integrity and commitment, the transparent genuineness of their relationship to God. Of all the things that have made me feel secure in my life, the abiding fidelity of my parents has been one of the chief.

A FOUNTAIN OF LIFE

Next we learn that the fear of the Lord is a “fountain of life.” Here again, the focus is on the fruit in one’s own experience of fearing God. He is pictured again and again in the Scriptures as a well of refreshment. He presents Himself through the prophet Jeremiah as the “fountain of living waters” whom His people have forsaken in their vain attempt to hew out their own cisterns. With God, says the psalmist, “is the fountain of life.” “If anyone thirsts,” Jesus promises, “let him come to me and drink. . . The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up to eternal life.”

This is what every human heart longs for. Call it the fountain of youth, the nectar of the gods, the still waters, the fountain that never runs dry. All of us dream of finding some refreshment that abides, some draft that will restore all our powers, and awaken us to never- dying joy. Our problem is that we seek for this in all the wrong places. We make for ourselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water. We nose about in dry gullies or take our fill of beguiling counterfeits, only to thirst and search again. But to fear God, to walk in fellowship with Him, is to be in touch with the source of vitality, to be drinking at the fountain of life.

You who know the Lord, have you not found it so, that in those moments when your heart has been most wholly turned toward God, you have felt yourself to be most fully alive, that communion with the Lord has been an energizing, rejuvenating power for you? The Lord of truth has said it would be so. “Come to me . . . learn of me . . . take my yoke and I will refresh you.”

ESCAPE FROM DEATH

Finally, the fear of the Lord brings escape from the snares of death. We could wish that this were a guarantee of immortality here on earth, but it isn’t. The fear of the Lord will not keep the godliest of saints from eventually dying. Unless Jesus returns in glory during our lifetime, all of us sharing this broadcast right now will of course die within a matter of years. Since this happens to be my birthday as I’m preparing this message and since it represents a new decade for me, I’m especially reminded of how limited my life is, how numbered my days.

The snares of death described in this passage represent much more than our physical demise. Physical death is a pointer to something far more grim. It’s a sign of our separation from God, the Giver of life. Death is the wage of sin, the fruit of disobedience, the destiny of those who refuse to have God as their portion. The most dreadful words in all the Bible are those of a gracious God to people who have rejected His love, “Depart from me.”

“The fear of the Lord,” says the Scripture, keeps us from those snares, from beckonings to sin, enticements to idolatry, or anything at all that leads us away from the Father’s house and the Father’s heart to some far country. The fear of the Lord, remember, is what brought the prodigal back home. “He came to himself,” we read. He called to mind who he was. He remembered his father, ventured on his father’s mercy, and turned his steps homeward. The fear of the Lord keeps on doing that kind of thing for us.

Again, this is not fright at what may happen to us if we don’t turn to God. It’s a realization of our need and lostness, coupled with remembrance of His fatherly mercy. And that living knowledge of God, treasured in the heart, worked out in the life, is what keeps us from wandering very far again.

What a great thing it would be if someone could teach us the fear of the Lord! We can learn it, but the Scriptures make plain that we need also to choose it. In the offer which God makes to people in the gospel of Christ, He sets before us life, refuge, deliverance. When Christ crucified and risen for us is lifted up in the preaching of the gospel, it becomes possible for people to repent, to acknowledge their sins and turn from them, and to believe, to rely completely on God’s mercy in Christ for their salvation.

And that repenting and believing, sustained through life in ever-deepening ways, is what the Bible means by the fear of the Lord. I invite you this day if you’ve never done so to receive Christ as your Savior, to confess Him as your Lord, to walk with Him all the days of your life. Oh, friends, then you will have strong confidence. Your children, if you have any, will have a refuge. You will find the fear of this Lord to be a fountain of life, and He will deliver you from all the snares of death.

PRAYER: Father, may we, a fear-bedeviled people, find release from all our anxieties in truly knowing, trusting and fearing You, through Christ our Lord. Amen.