Embedded. It was my second time of actual solitude with the Lord. The entire encounter lasted perhaps 90 seconds yet the impact of the experience continues now 42 years later.
I had awakened early from a restless sleep. I quietly made my way to the living room and moved to the corner by the front window – the window with the diamond pattern etched into the glass. Kneeling on a large pillow, I leaned slightly to rest my forehead against the corner wall. I exhaled a sleepy, “O God,” wanting to articulate a prayerful something but no words were forming. So I waited, not realizing the importance of waiting in solitude.
The silent, hovering-like presence began behind me. I still grope for words to explain it. I perceived Him as large yet gentle, powerful and tender. It seemed like a silent buzz similar perhaps to an electrical current, pulsing slowly with an inviting intensity. Or was it something like being enveloped in positively charged humidity, clean and strangely energizing rather than sticky and draining? I straightened slightly when I suspected, “this is Him – Jesus.” I dearly wanted to turn and look yet my body felt locked in place. I was awed and astounded yet troubled as I felt His penetrating gaze - I knew I was fragile and vulnerable. I could say or do nothing. I was compelled to simply absorb. Borrowing a word from Isaiah, I felt ‘undone.’ Yet I was also instantly strengthened. In fact, I felt ‘embedded’ with a deep assurance which I now explain with a paraphrase of Song of Solomon 2:16 - I am His and He is mine. Yes, that’s what I experienced. Then, as suddenly as it began, it ended.
Implanted Gift. Some would call it an encounter with God’s manifest presence (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God) or possibly God’s appreciated presence (Larry Crabb, The Pressure’s Off). While I have not experienced God in quite the same way since, that unusual and intense encounter with God’s Holiness implanted the gift of the Fear-of-the-Lord deep within me.
A Multi-Faceted Attitude. Fear-of-the-Lord is to be our most basic attitude toward God. This is vitally important to the Lord so He takes personal responsibility to plant Fear-of-the-Lord in our hearts (Jeremiah 32:39-40). Like many other gifts from God, we receive Fear-of-the-Lord in seed-form and we are responsible to cultivate and nurture it. Fear-of-the-Lord is a complex, multi-faceted attitude and Psalm 2:10-12 reveals three of its four main facets. Here’s an explanation of each:
1) Reverence: deep respect for God, adoration of Him, honoring Him; recognition of His overwhelming greatness and the sincere expression of appreciation and gratitude to Him and for Him.
2) Trembling: obedience to God, submission to His ways; feeling healthy concern for God’s displeasure with disobedience; feeling reverent concern for bringing harm to our relationship with Him through our sinning; having a legitimate, healthy concern for our sins being ‘exposed.’
3) Rejoicing: our expression of great joy and gladness with being God’s beloved son/daughter; expressing our delight and abundant appreciation for who God is, what He has done, is doing and His promises.
“Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities – for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10-12, NLT).
Is it possible to do this, to have reverent fear and trembling in your heart toward God and actually rejoice at the same time? Yes, definitely, it is not a contradiction. God commands it and He is the awesome God of things which seem impossible. And by the way, ‘awesome’ is the fourth facet of Fear-of-the-Lord and is clearly revealed in Mark 9:15 and Heb. 12:28-29. More specifically, …
4) Awe: an overwhelming awareness of God’s majesty, power, holiness and glorious goodness; a complex cluster of emotions which includes surprise, astonishment, amazement, curiosity.
Disrupts and Dethrones. It is said that ‘awe’ is more than just a feeling—it is an ‘experience.’ Awe is an extraordinarily important experience because of its impact on us—it disrupts and dethrones the ordinary aspects of our lives. Our ordinary plans and purposes come to a sudden halt when we are awed by God. Our usual ways of looking at things are put on hold and we forget, at least momentarily, about our self-interests. God-awe overrides and captivates our thinking. God-awe expands our imagination. We see our lives in proper perspective when we are awed by God.
· is the beginning (foundation) of wisdom (Psalm 111:10)
· is a life-giving fountain (Prov. 14:27) and lengthens life (Prov. 10:27)
· makes you secure (Prov. 14:26), protects you from harm (Prov. 19:23)
· helps you avoid evil (Prov. 16:6) and enables you to hate evil (Prov. 8:13)
· causes God to store up “goodness” for you (Psalm 31:19)
Fear-of-the-Lord nurtures, deepens and enhances our joy and draws us closer to God – it does not cancel out our Holy joy (see Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God, WaterBrook, 1997). In fact, when our hearts tremble with holy reverence for God, our joy in Him is nurtured, deepened and enhanced. Why? Because we are thus assured that our Almighty Father is dangerously powerful and wildly protective of us. In His presence we live in awe – we see His greatness and know the security of being His beloved children. He is righteously jealous about us and will never stop doing good for us (Jeremiah 32:40-41).
Needed for Spiritual Formation. Eugene Peterson sees the mixture of reverence and awe as the ‘core’ of Fear-of-the-Lord and necessary for our spiritual growth:
“Reverence and awe opens up in us a capacity to grow, to become more than we are – to mature. Fear-of-the-Lord opens our spirits, our souls, to become what we are not yet. Lacking it, we are stuck at whatever level of knowledge or behavior or insight that we have reached at the time” (Practice Resurrection, Eerdmans, 2010).
A Child’s View. We see Fear-of-the-Lord in an excerpt from the children’s classic, The Silver Chair, in which young Jill is dying of thirst and finds Aslan the Lion positioned between her and the stream.
“She stood as still as if she had been turned to stone. ‘If you’re thirsty, you may drink’ said the Lion. The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened …but frightened in rather a different way. ‘Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?’ said Jill. ‘I make no promise,’ said the Lion. ‘I daren’t come and drink,’ said Jill. ‘Then you will die of thirst,’ said the Lion. ‘Oh dear!’ said Jill, coming another step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’ ‘There is no other stream,’ said the Lion.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, HarperCollins, 1953/1981)
Jill’s fear is a ‘different’ kind of fear. It brings her not to flight but a step closer, then another step closer until she reaches the only stream which exists to satisfy her thirst. It is the same with our souls. Fear-of-the-Lord rightly understood, openly received and regularly cultivated steadily draws us closer to the One who gives us life in abundance. It is the believer’s most basic and most vital attitude toward God.