Those red and yellow tulips looked sprightly, especially to a seven-year-old girl on a walk around the block. They looked so good, that I picked them from my neighbor’s yard and presented them to my aunt as a gift. Her response wasn’t what I expected. Aunty Florence promptly marched me up to the door of the owner and asked me to apologize for taking something that wasn’t mine. The lady was kind and forgiving, but this experience placed a healthy fear of right and wrong in my heart.
The truth is even as a kid I already knew stealing was wrong. What I under-estimated was the result. I gleaned a healthy fear of the consequences of actions. Maybe stealing tulips was small potatoes, but it prepared me for bigger challenges. And this is why certain fear is so good and instructional, taking us beyond our small childish limitations to great freedom if we respect its limits. Fear shows us what’s on the other side of our decisions.
Our world is rampant with fear, sadly it’s not the good kind that fills your soul with courage and determination to make right and righteous choices. The New Testament tells us that in the last days men’s hearts will fail them for fear. That’s scary yet so plausible. And why not? The world has become a fearful place.
In 2018, the World Economic Forum listed the five most serious risks that will have the greatest impact in the next ten years.
Weapons of mass destruction
Extreme weather events
Failure of climate change and mitigation
And the five risks most likely to happen in the next ten years.
Extreme weather events
Data fraud or theft
Failure of climate change and mitigation.
You may have experienced one of these and know first-hand how blood-curdling it was or can be, but do they represent our real fears? In 2018, Chapman University compiled a list of America’s general fears. I found it very interesting to read, especially in comparing the World Economic Forum’s list of global risks.
Chapman University places a nuclear weapon attack at number 25, cyber attack at 11, and identity theft at 16. Ghosts, zombies, and fear of fake news made the top 100! But the biggest surprise and revelation was number one, fear of corrupt government officials. Wow.
We don’t seem to fear the bigger risks that are threatening us.
Before reading Chapman University’s list, my guess would have been that the biggest fear of humankind is dying—at any age of anything. And to my astonishment, fear of death showed up at number 54, just three above fear of public speaking. Again wow. Another surprise was that fear of God was on the list at all—holding place number 79, above technology I don’t understand at 75 and insects at 67. Ha!
The world in which we live is what Mary Poppin’s cousin, Cousin Topsey, aptly described as “turning turtle.” Culture and societal norms have been flipped onto its back like a turtle and unable to function until someone comes along and rescues us. Unlike the children’s movie, this malady doesn’t just take place on the second Wednesday, rather every day. Upside down is right-side up, wrong is right, black is white, normal is strange, and evil is good. Somebody roll the turtle over!
A quick glance at any list of fears or risks that lean into fear reveals two kinds of fear, healthy and unhealthy. A rich dose of the good fear relieves the sickly version. It’s instructive and necessary.
King Solomon in the book of Proverbs had a lot to say about the beneficial kind of fear.
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 8:13 – The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
Proverbs 14:27 – The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 14:26 – In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
Proverbs 9:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
This is my fervent personal prayer this year, in 2019, that I would develop a healthy, rich sense of God’s fear. Through the catastrophic events that may come to this world or in my personal life, I need to fear Him most—fear God and not them.
He is my loving Father, who has promised to never leave or forsake me even to the end of the age and no matter what that end may bring. And He is God full of dominion and might, justice and righteousness. And yes, I fear Him. Want to please Him. I have been disciplined by the Lord enough to know it feels like the little girl who stole the tulips and needs to make restitution. Both God’s kindness and severity are very tangible, very real.
Developing a strong fear of the Lord has the power to cancel all other fears in life. Here are three ways to daily strengthen your healthy fear of God.
1. Read and memorize scriptures on the virtues of the fear of the Lord.
2. Ask God specifically to increase your fear of Him and for Him to arrange circumstances in life that will keep you on a short leash of obedience.
3. Obey the small, quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit without hestitation. Delay or disobedience hardens your heart toward God, diminishing your healthy fear.
When I am living in the staunchest, happiest fear of God, suddenly the world is right-side up again, wrong is wrong, and right is right. The world is not topsy turvy, and someone has flipped the poor turtle over.
The fear of the Lord will resue you.
©Bonnie Saul Wilks
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