4.2 Awe (“fear”)

In this series of posts we are considering the “hearing aids” in prayer we have received from God. We want to hear Him and understand what He is speaking, especially in our times of prayer. But, so often we just don’t get it without ears opened to God’s voice. So, to answer the cry of our hearts, God helps us by giving us spiritual hearing aids.

Today, we are considering the hearing aid of awe, or fear of God.

Awe of God is a close corollary to adoration or worship because as we come to know Him in His glorious transcendence and infinite sovereignty over and in all things, we are humbled before Him and amazed at His perfections so much so that we want to praise Him in some way (1 Peter 3:9-10).

The Scriptures speak of beginning to know God when we fear Him.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding... Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor.

Proverbs 9:10, 15:33 NIV

Notice, how the Proverbs make parallel the fear of God, knowledge of Him, and humility before Him. No wonder the repentant, the humble, and the willing-to-go-with-God people are those who are confident they are hearing God when they pray.

1. What does it mean to fear God?

What happens when we encounter God high and lifted up in our prayer life? Are we bored, or do we consider our time spent as wasted? No, never! The reason for this is that the “fear of God” is the most basic instinct driving us forward in our search for freedom before Him and fellowship with Him.

My definition for fear of God is “mind-transforming, knee-bowing, heart-shattering astonishment at God.”

When we fear God our worldview changes, our priorities are corrected, and our love purified.

A shorter word often used in the Church for fear is the word “reverence.” The word reverence points to our response to the Sacred Glory that is captured in two words, silence and honor. When we revere something, we are silent before it, not having anything of our own to add to its reality. When we revere something as sacred and glorious, we treasure it and hold it up and apart from what is common or profane, not wanting to do anything that would soil its purity and beauty.

The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.

Habakkuk 2:20 NIV

While reverence is a good word to associate with fear, it can become too clinical or cold. We can reverence something by putting it high on a shelf on the wall, or placing it in a place of honor, and there it’s “safe” out of the reach of ordinary, daily living. But awe of God doesn’t permit safety. It brings us up close and personal to God Himself, to whom the writer of Hebrews calls a Consuming Fire!

There’s something that comes before reverence. It’s the sense of being undone or shattered in the presence of the greatness, majesty, and “otherness” or distinctive difference of God. (cf. John, Revelation 1:12-20)

When we fear God, we are suddenly and deeply aware of our complete vulnerability, the bare exposure of our hearts, or of being a breath away from being destroyed forever. This terror or trembling in the foundations of our soul makes us want to flee or hide. But the thing is, we know we can’t run away or hide, and so we are frozen in place, on our face, before HIM. (John 3:16-20)

Have you ever had THAT response to a revelation of the mysterious, unchanging essence of God’s being? He has the power to be in and of Himself. He is eternally perfect in who He is and how He expresses Himself. We, in contrast are fragile, dependent and changing. And in the presence of God we tremble and instinctively in some sense fall at His feet.

It’s there that we long for mercy, and the beautiful truth is that it’s precisely there that the believing heart finds mercy. Psalm 3:3; 27:6; Luke 18:9-14, 35-43; Hebrews 12:20-29

2. How does heart-bowing, mind-opening amazement at God help us to pray as we ought?

“The highest form of prayer is to stand silently in awe before God. Prayer doesn’t need to involve words — just your heart.”

St. Isaac of Syrian (Grotto)

We pause in wonder to listen, and begin to hear.

When I put my freshly activated hearing aids in every morning, there is a quiet, tinkling sound that I call fairy music. It’s delightful and tells me they’re working. It gives me a sense of wonder and gratitude that I can make use of such a tool.

In similar fashion the awareness of God as He truly is that inspires awe, or fear, is the well-spring of delight and wonder for the believer. And O, how this changes prayer!

Stopping to wonder at the amazing displays of His glory in the Scriptures (Psalm 119:1-8, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 41), in creation (The heavens declare the glory of God), and in the history of our lives (Psalm 78) gives us a proper “tuning.” Pausing to consider who God is and how great He is helps us to hear the frequencies of His voice above and beyond the normal we’ve grown used to in our fallen world. His voice is better than, and higher than the thousands of other voices we hear every day. His voice is weighty with truth and commanding in its implications. We pause in wonder to listen, and begin to hear.

On tiptoe, trembling that we might get too close to the holy fire of His presence we approach God through intentional, God-seeking activity in five arenas of life:

  • Contemplation of creation — its vastness, beauty and intricacy of material creation (Psalm 139).
  • Meditation in the special revelation of the Scriptures.
  • Listening for the movement of His Spirit. Believing that if He is, He speaks, and if He creates, He interacts with His own, we pause to listen to the Spirit of God moving upon our hearts.
  • Repentance from sin. Believing He is holy, both infinitely great and infinitely good, we admit that we are but dust in our physical being, totally dependent on Him for freedom from sin and death to our soul. We believe we are able to lift up our heads simply because He is exercising mercy toward us because of Jesus. We renounce ungodliness and seek to be holy in how we live, as He is holy (Luke 14:25-33, Philippians 3:7-11, 2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Peter 1:3-4, 13-21).
  • Worship. Seeking Him, we engage in corporate worship that exalts His name — His excellencies of person, purpose, and action.

When prayer incorporates these God-seeking activities of the heart, our prayers become bigger with love for Him, longing for His power to be revealed in and through us, and patience with His timetable in accomplishing the good He has purposed for us.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:1-6 NIV

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:23-24 ESV

Father, please help me never to take my relationship with you for granted. Like the prophet Isaiah, help me to understand that you are high, mighty and exalted. Help me to understand your holiness so that I will worship  you with acceptable reverence and awe.

Renewal Christian Center

Musical Resources:

Playlist: “Fear of God

Additional Resource:

R.C. Sproul has contributed much to our understanding of the “fear of God” in his teaching series call “Fear & Trembling: The Trauma of God’s Holiness.”

As Sproul teaches, “There is nothing less boring in all of reality than God Himself. If God is holy–in fact, if God! That’s all we have to say. It’s the most relevant affirmation any creature can understand…

“Now the biggest difference between every creature and God is this: That I as a creature cannot be by my own power. I had a beginning in time, didn’t I? I have a birthday and so do you. How long can you live without oxygen? Not very long. How long can you live without water? Not very long. How long can you live without food? If you lack these things, what happens? You die. Because you are a dependent creature. You’re fragile. Your life could end this afternoon.

“But God can’t die. He doesn’t need water. He doesn’t need food. He doesn’t need anything Because He has the power to be in and of Himself. And not only does He have the power to be in and of Himself, but He holds the power of everybody’s existence. You know, the Bible says, ‘In Him We live and move and have our being’ [Acts 17:22-28]. You can’t move apart from the power of God. You can’t live apart from the power of God. You can’t be apart from the power of God because only God possesses being — in Himself, of Himself, and by Himself. You don’t have that power, and I don’t have that power, and the universe doesn’t have that power.

“We have people falling all over themselves in this day and trying to account for you and that table and this universe for being, without appealing to God. And they’ll say such things as, you know, the universe just exploded into being by itself. They resort to totally irrational ideas to get away from…

“And you have to understand that if anything exists right now — if you exist, if that table exists, if that book exists, if that rug exists, If there’s anything in existence, then something must have eternal being. Because if there ever was a time that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, you don’t have to be rocket scientist or a philosopher to know that if there ever was a time there was absolutely nothing (think about it), absolutely nothing, what could there possibly be now? Nothing! But there is something. So somewhere, somehow, transcendently something has to have the power of being, or nothing could be. And that belongs to God and to God alone.

“Only God has the greatness of having the power of being within Himself. And when you contemplate that very concept of pure being; you come up on tiptoe and you begin to look down into the deepest question the mind can ever contemplate when you contemplate the idea of pure being.” [16-18 minute mark]


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