Have you ever voiced your fears to someone, only to hear “You just need to trust God more”? But it’s not that easy, is it? We sometimes read the Bible’s admonitions to “fear not” (Isa. 41:10) as a trite response, but we shouldn’t.
When God tells us not to fear, he’s not saying we just need to believe more. He’s not saying we just need faith that everything will be OK, and it magically will. Instead, he gives us another command prevalent in Scripture: a command to fear. He calls us to a greater fear, a holy fear—the fear of the Lord.
In the Face of Fear, Fear the Lord
In Matthew 10, after Jesus had called the disciples to follow him, he prepared to send them out to preach that the kingdom of God was at hand. He told them to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. He warned that some people would listen, while others would reject their teaching. He also warned about future persecution—they would be hated, beaten, and brought to trial.
Amid these warnings, Jesus taught them about the fear of the Lord:
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt. 10:27–31)
This passage teaches that a fear of the Lord quells and weakens our lesser fears. The disciples were to replace fear of harm from man with a fear of God. While man might harm them physically, even to the point of death, God had power over the destination of their souls.
Fear of the Lord quells and weakens our lesser fears.
The sovereign One knew the number of hairs on their head, and he cared for them more than the creatures he watches over each day. Again, when we are fearful, we are to replace that fear with a greater fear: the fear of the Lord.
Seeing God As Greater
We might compare this to a person consumed with worry about a job promotion she’s worked hard to achieve. She hears rumors around the office that someone else is being considered for the promotion as well. She grows fearful: What if I don’t get the promotion? I’ll be stuck in this same job forever.
Then she gets a call from her best friend, who just found out she’s been laid off from her job. At least I still have a job, she thinks to herself. The loss of her promotion weakens in the face of not having a job at all. Similarly, when we see God as bigger and greater than what we fear, our other fears shrink by comparison.
Let’s say you’re facing job uncertainty. When you fear the Lord, you can remind your heart that God owns all things. All we have comes from his generous hand. He is Jehovah-jireh, the Lord our provider. You can remember all the times he’s provided for you in the past. Above all, you can dwell on his generous provision of grace for you in Christ.
The more we dwell on who God is and what he has done, our fears lose their grip on us because we begin to see God as greater.
The more we dwell on who God is and what he has done, our fears lose their grip on us.
Toward a Life of Holy Fear
How do we grow in the fear of the Lord? Growth in anything takes time and practice. The fear of the Lord must become a habit, the rhythm of our soul—so ingrained in us it becomes our natural response.
The fear of the Lord must become a habit, the rhythm of our soul—so ingrained in us it becomes our natural response.
Here are a few daily practices or habits to help you grow in the fear of the One who is greater:
- Read and meditate on the following passages on a regular basis to remind yourself of how great and mighty God is: Psalm 139, Isaiah 6, and Revelation 5.
- Study God’s character and attributes. Read books on the doctrine of God. Study and learn about the persons of the Trinity.
- Make it a daily habit to think through and appropriate the gospel in your life. Praise the Lord for what he has done for you in Christ. Use passages such as these to preach the gospel to yourself: John 1:12; Romans 4:25; 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; and Ephesians 2:4–5.
- Memorize a psalm or other passage of Scripture that reminds you God is your refuge and strength in the face of fears, such as Psalm 27 or 46; Isaiah 41:10; or Romans 8:31–39.
- Don’t forsake the gathering of God’s people to worship each Lord’s Day. Make worship part of the rhythm of your life. Take time to honor, exalt, and praise the Lord for who he is and what he has done.
As long as we live in a fallen world, we will experience fear. But in the face of that fear, God summons us to see him as greater. Let’s turn to him with a holy fear: the fear of the Lord.