“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” | Psalm 111:10
What does it mean to “practice” the “fear of the Lord”? We know what practice means, there’s obviously something you’re intentionally giving yourself to here. There’s activity involved. And it’s repetitious. And what is the ultimate end of this repetitious activity? And what does it mean to fear the Lord in the first place?
The way I’ve heard it described I think is right, a reverential awe and respect for Him and His activity. At the same time, I think there is something right about peering into His nature, particularly His justice and righteousness and being struck by it with a godly fear (a terror if you will) that grabs your soul, much the same way lightning does when it strikes right outside your window at 3am. This does something to you. It causes you to act in a way that’s appropriate for what you’ve encountered. It moves you deeply and puts you humbly in your place. So it is when we consider the frankly terrifying vastness of the unlimited powers of God.
Now while this is the case I believe, none of this negates that we come to God as our loving Father who accepts us as His very children on the basis of the perfect gospel work of His own Son. We are freed from the fear that causes us to return to sin, covering and hiding. However, there is a verse in Psalm 130:4 that combines these thoughts and gets at where I’m going: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”
There is a kind of fear of the Lord in which you are no longer pridefully bowing up at His sovereignty, His authority, His power over your life and those He puts over you in various capacities and the decisions they make on your behalf (whether it be parents, bosses, politicians, and so on). But instead you’re humbly bowing in His service, knowing He’s ransomed you from the pit of destruction. This fear of the Lord, an awestruck wonder at His power and glories that grabs you is for the goal of humility.
The fear this awestruck wonder invokes in light of forgiveness (Psalm 130:4) is that which comes as a result of knowing what justice demands, the terrifying nature of that (grasping that at a deep level), that Christ took it in Himself and rose again, and that all of God’s energy is now used in the service of your joy and resurrection instead of your judgment and eternal death. It should leave us speechless and unwilling to raise even a single complaint at our lot in life. Do we struggle? Sure. Do we seek to understand and wrestle with that? Yes. The scripture is full of this. And yet the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This has to be something we practice, practicing godly fear, meaning we return to it over and over again, because it produces in us a humility we so desperately need because of our natural pride that bows up at what He ordains for us. It re-centers us, our identities, our fragile state, that we are nothing before Him, and yet at the same glorious time, He’s made us sons and daughters of the King. Stand in wonder.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” | Job 42:5-6