The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Proverbs 1:7
A few weeks ago I was speaking each evening at a camp in Arkansas, mostly aimed at middle-school to high-school kids. The first two nights after sharing I felt something was missing and by the second evening I spent a restless night in prayer. The third evening I decided to deviate at the beginning from my planned message. I spoke from Isaiah chapter six where Isaiah has an encounter with God, then shared some of my own testimony. In Isaiah’s case, he saw God, and convicted by the holiness of God, confessed his sin with a sense of utter fear and trembling. It was only after acknowledging his sinfulness and there being nothing he could do about it, that he experienced the grace of God and cleansing of his sin. Following this, Isaiah hears the voice of God and responds to the call to “go” to wherever and to whomever God wanted him to go.
When I was twelve years old, I had an encounter with God that changed my life and the entire course of my life ever since. While I did not see God as Isaiah did, I did become aware of his presence and without knowing what the word holiness even meant, I knew I was “in trouble” and that I needed Jesus. It was in that moment that I fell to my knee’s and said, “Jesus I need you, and I want to give my life to serve you.” While I wrestled throughout my high school years of the second part of that prayer, it was in that moment at twelve years old that something changed completely inside of me. I experienced a peace, joy and love of God and for God that I had not known before. I believe it was in that moment that I was born-again as Jesus said was necessary to be brought into his kingdom (John 3).
After high school, I returned to the second part of that prayer and rededicated my life to seeking the Lord with all my heart and serving him with my life. That has led me into now leading an international mission organization called ServeNow. I certainly am very far from being perfect or sinless, but I am aware that sin is sin and hopefully sin less in light of God’s holiness and grace in my life.
After I shared about Isaiah and my own story, I noticed a shift that moment onward at this camp among the campers. I used those two stories to speak about what I sensed was missing: a fear of the Lord. I believe in fact, that what is being lost or has never been experienced by many in our generation to begin with is a true fear of the Lord, leading to a real conviction of sin and resulting in a cleansing from sin and willingness to obey, serve and live for the Lord according to his word. After the camp, I heard two other pastors communicating messages that conveyed their concern too about the lack of and need for the fear of the Lord.
We live in a culture and age (even among professing and church-going Christians), where much like the book of Judges, people are doing what is right in their own eyes, according to their own standards, feelings and desires. There is a loss of respect for God, awe of God and reverence for God that leads to a real relationship with God. There is a lack of engagement in taking Scripture seriously, let alone even reading it anymore. There isn’t a sense of daily seeking the Lord first in our lives as more important than anything else and living in light of eternity. There is a nonchalant attitude towards giving, missions and praying. There is a lack of trembling at his word, being aware of his presence, and being convicted of our sin. There is barely any talk even of hell or the judgment to come from many pulpits.
I just started re-reading the book of Deuteronomy recently. Moses, the author of the book, begins by reminding the Israelite’s, the people of God, of their history with God. He writes of how God delivered them from bondage as slaves in Egypt. This is a picture of how we are all under the oppression of sin, Satan, and this world, until Jesus, our Savior, delivers us. Moses then recalls how they were led by God into the wilderness and to Mount Sinai, where they encountered the presence of a holy God and received the law of God. It was here that a fear of the Lord was instilled in them and they understood clearly what was right and wrong in his eyes, and how they were to live differently in this world as his people as a witness to the world.
While the Israelite’s were called to move on from this place to take hold of God’s promises, goodness and blessing in the promised land; I wonder, has our generation even experienced this place? Have we experienced God in such a way that we tremble in his presence, stand in awe of his holiness, are convicted of our sinfulness, and learn what is right and wrong in his eyes according to his word? Before good news is good we have to become aware of the bad news and how bad it really is. Before we experience God’s grace, we have to become aware of our need for his grace. Before we can know his goodness, we need to behold his holiness.
Many people think that having a fear of God is a bad thing. While there is an unhealthy fear of God that keeps us from coming to him or causes us to think he is not good; a proper fear, respect, awe and reverence for God is healthy and needed. It is in fact as the book of Proverbs points out, the starting point for all true knowledge and wisdom that leads to a life lived well in the eyes of God. We might have some knowledge about God but that is far different than actually knowing God. It all begins with a fear of him.
But we see the fruit of this lack of fear of God playing out right now. After all, if we don’t take God seriously, why would we take his word seriously? If we have no fear of God, why should we take sin seriously? If we have no awe of God, why seek God above all else? If we have no respect for God, why care about the things that matter to his heart? If we have no reverence for God, why listen for his voice and follow his leading in our lives? If hell isn’t real why be concerned for others eternity?
I believe what is most needed in our churches, culture and generation is a fresh awareness and experience of God’s holiness. We need to return to a healthy fear of God that causes us to take him, his word and ways seriously. We need to stand in awe of God again. And it begins with each of us getting on our knees or faces before God in holy reverence.
These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. -Isaiah 66:2