IntroductionIt is usual for Christians to say that more than anything else they want to be like Jesus; often however we desire exaltation without humiliation and glory without lowliness. I am convinced that there is a very deep reason for this which needs to be exposed.
We lack the fear of God deep in our hearts1)See Biblical References Deut 5:29 ESV; 2 Chron 19:9 ESV; Ps 86:11 ESV; Jer 3:39-40 ESV.
I have written plenty on humility in the past but in recent times the Lord has been speaking to me about lowliness of life in unusual ways. The first way he has been doing this is through the spiritual encounters of others.
In one instance a prophetic friend told me she saw in a vision the elders of our city prostrate in prayer. She was overcome by a sense of their corporate humility. And because they were face down before the Lord she couldn’t identify who they were.
They were a group of “nameless and faceless” men and women. In the second instance a mature brother spoke of an astonishing failure of a ministry over which he had oversight.
Here are his own words; “When this happened I said to The Lord, in deepest anguish, “That’s it for me, I’m not getting involved in anything ever again, because how will I ever know I’m FAILING ?.. this all looked so good and turned out to be Rotten at the Core”.
And as I said that in my heart, I saw ‘like a wall plaque in my mind’s eye; “FAILURE BEGINS WHEN YOU GET OFF YOUR FACE”.
In other words kingdom success in ministry depends upon self- abasement before God.
All good, but how does this happen, and in such a way that it becomes a manner of life, not only for a few extraordinary individuals or rare occasions of life but as a part of the culture of the Church for which we long? Well, after the above testimonies here is how the Lord helped me recently.
AN UNEXPECTED GIFT
Kalbarri is a town about 500 km north of Perth and when I go there to rest and pray I enjoy walking along the edge of its famous steep cut river gorges. Moving off the beaten track beyond the sight and sound of others I fell from a ledge into the river and was soaked from head to foot.
I was immediately thankful to the Lord I hadn’t taken the plunge at a spot where the rocks beneath shallower waters would have cracked my skull. Things were about to become much more intense however. Confronted by sheer cliff faces along the river I had no choice but a climb to the summit, and in soaking clothes that made it hard to bend my knees.
These are wilderness gorges with little vegetation, littered with loose stones and peppered with overhangs. Falling from any point of the ascent could have been fatal, and I am not fond of heights! I tried for about half an hour to steer a way out of my predicament but there seemed no end of slippery slopes and impassable rock faces; death by misadventure was presenting itself as a distinct possibility.
Knowing these gorges have a recent history of claiming the lives of climbers my fears became deeper and deeper, sharper and sharper; but so did my prayers! T just didn’t feel right that I should finish my spiritual journey perishing alone in the wilderness.
Finally, helped in part through following feral goat tracks, I managed to clamber exhausted to the top. Bedraggled, somewhat bloodied, covered in spider web but richly grateful to a prayer answering God. “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.” (Psalm 94 verses 17 to 18). This wasn’t just a needless adventure in the life of someone old enough to know better, it was an in-depth spiritual lesson.
THE HELP OF FEAR
Given that fear doesn’t feel good the contemporary Church has often copied the world in speaking of fear as something always to escape. The Hillsong musicians assure us, “Grace dissolves every fear in me”. This might seem to echo the famous words from Amazing Grace, “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear And Grace, my fears relieved”, but this speaks of a pre-conversion fear and not the righteous fear of the converted.
There is an essential difference between the everyday fears of life and the healthy fear which the scripture encourages, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov 9:10 ESV). The difference is the quality of fear in the life of Jesus.
One of the most strikingly prophetic stories in the pages of the Old Testament is the “sacrifice of Isaac”. How in obedience to the divine command Abraham took his beloved son up the mountain to offer him to the Lord (Gen 22:1-19 ESV).
Whilst the angel of God provided an animal substitute at the last moment this was a soul shaping experience for the young Isaac. So much so that the next generation could simply describe the Lord as “the Fear of Isaac” (Gen 31:42, 53 ESV).
A new title for God; the God who Isaac fears. Fear wasn’t some mere emotion but embodied in Isaac’s relationship with the covenant God.
Since Isaac and his sacrifice is a type/symbol of the cross, this means that fear is embodied in Jesus’ relationship with his Father. If we were to coin a title for God it could be “the Fear of Jesus”.
Prophetically speaking through “the fear of Jesus” (Jesus’ fear of his Father) God is revealed as “Abba! Father!”
Thinking of fear as a Person can liberate us from limiting it to an emotion so that we recognise its power to transform our whole way of living.
Sharing the Son’s insight into the character of the Father is the key to understanding the true God-pleasing character of spiritual fear. By faith we can share in Christ’s own fear of the Lord for fearing God in union with Christ is part of our salvation experience.
As we share in the perfect faith of the Son of God (Heb 12:2 ESV), as Jesus is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30 ESV), as he said “my peace” (John 14:29 ESV) and “my joy”2)See Biblical References John 15:11 ESV; John 17:13 ESV “I give to you” so too we can share in the pure fear of God that Jesus had. This makes the topic of growing in fear quite exciting.
That the coming Messiah would have a pure spiritual fear is clearly prophesied; vs.1 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. vs.2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. vs.3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (Isa 11:3 ESV). This immensely challenging description about Jesus is especially affirmed in his prayers to the Father in Gethsemane.
THE PLACE OF FEAR
““Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36 ESV).
Only in this place of suffering terrible dread about God’s coming wrath does Christ utters the intimate words, “Abba, Father”. For here in the Garden his human “holiness is perfected in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1 ESV).
In speaking of the agonies of Gethsemane Hebrews makes it clear that true spiritual fear is the fear a Son has of his Holy Father.
vs.7 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. vs.8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. vs.9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Heb 5:7-9 ESV).
The perfect Son possesses perfect fear which releases the fountain of perfect obedience (Prov 14:27 ESV). For Christ’s fear is not self-protective but God-directed, not aimed at preserving his place in the world but bringing glory to God.
Only this fear drives him deep enough into the heart of the Father so he can fulfil his will through the dereliction of the cross.
The Son’s fear of not experiencing the Father’s intimate presence in what is coming at the cross is an accurate one, yet it is exactly through this fear that the pleasure of God will break into his life in resurrection.
The Old Testament sage understood, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life.” (Prov 22:4 ESV), but we see this fulfilled in the scenes of Christ’s resurrected and ascended glory in heaven. ““Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!”” (Rev 5:12 ESV).
How is the God-glorifying fear of the Lord Jesus released through our lives into the world?
THE GOSPEL OF FEAR
The wisdom writers of the old covenant grasped that God’s gracious mercy intensified godly fear; vs.3 “Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? vs.4 But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.” (Ps 130:3-4 ESV).
If the Lord were to execute justice upon all, there would be none left to fear him, or those left would harden their hearts against him. Gratitude for pardon inspires reverence and awe.
This is clearest at the cross.
One thief abuses Jesus, the other says to his blasphemous companion, ““do you not fear God…? i.e. God as revealed in Jesus”” (Luke 23:40 ESV)
This man’s hear was softened to fear God because he heard Christ’s word of pardon, ““Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”” (Luke 23:34 ESV).
vs.6 “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth… vs.7 “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth””(Rev 14:6-7 ESV)3)See Biblical References cf. Prov 19:11 ESV; 1 Tim 1:11 ESV.
When the glory of God in the gospel is revealed we know him through Jesus as our own “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:16 ESV; Gal 4:6 ESV). The Spirit induces in us the wonderful sort of holy fear that only adopted sons can possess.
As mercy triumphs over judgement grateful believers willingly fear God as their God4)See Biblical References Luke 1:50 ESV; James 2:13 ESV and “submit to one another out of fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21 ESV).
Sharing the Fear as Sons
“The fear of the Lord” is a “treasure” (Isa 33:4 ESV) realised in Christ (Col 2:3 ESV).
Rare as they may be, A.W. Tozer’s words image a sharing in the fear of the Son of God in Gethsemane;
“The only fear I have is to fear to get out of the will of God. Outside of the will of God, there’s nothing I want, and in the will of God there’s nothing I fear, for God has sworn to keep me in His will….”
It is holy spiritual thing to fear God as Father; “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,”5)See Biblical Reference 1 Pet 1:17 ESV cf. Mal 1:6 ESV.
Paul’s spirit stands in unapologetic contrast to that of the proud Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling”, because his great dread was that through self-confidence “the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”6)See Biblical Reference 1 Cor 1:17 ESV; 1 Cor 2:3 ESV.
This was an expression of the apostolic maturity characteristic of the earliest Church; “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31 ESV).
A church that has stopped growing, especially spiritually, needs to ask for a restoration of the fear of the Lord. A church powerful in the fear of the Lord, like Jesus, will see the powers of evil submit to their kingdom authority in terror (Mark 5:7 ESV).
Resurrection life mingles “fearand great joy” (Matt 28:8 ESV), “fear and trembling” co-exists with God’s “good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13 ESV).
A.W. Tozer speaks almost ecstatically;
“I believe that the reverential fear of God, mixed with love and fascination and astonishment and adoration, is the most enjoyable state and the most purifying emotion the human soul can know. A true fear of God is a beautiful thing, for it is worship; it is love; it is veneration. It is a high moral happiness because God is!”
a Body with such fear must be a humble Body.
Fear and Humility
Fear and overconfidence cannot coexist in the same soul. The presence of a sharp fear induced by overwhelming circumstances (2 Cor 1:8-11 ESV) is a sure remedy for a self-sufficient spirit.
This is how the sovereignty of God works to press us into the likeness of Christ so that we share even in the intimacy of the Son’s fear of his Dear Father.
Without such fears spiritual depth is impossible.
To acknowledge this is the first step in humility, to pray for it the second step to confess it before others the third. As Jesus publically expressed his fear in Gethsemane so those who would lead God’s people, as pastors, apostles, husbands, mothers, kids church coordinators…. should never be embarrassed to be pressed down on their faces before the Lord.
In such desperation to know and do his will our prayers will be answered.
To be truly conformed to Christ is to have the Spirit place the Lord’s heart inside us so we are united with Jesus in the movement of his Passion. Becoming one with him who “fell on his face” (Matt 26:39 ESV) in the most utter humility, rose up to go on to death and the exultation of resurrection power. To be like Jesus means a repeated spiritual dying and rising again7)See Biblical References 2 Cor 4:7-12 ESV; Gal 2:20 ESV; Phil 3:10 ESV.
When we have a company of men and women wise enough to be moved by holy fear to join with Jesus in his humiliation then there will be released a great company of spiritual fathers and mothers across our city leading the people of God into the ways of God with great power.
As the Father gifted Jesus with the terrors of Gethsemane and Calvary to “perfect” his Sonship (Heb 5:8 ESV) may the Lord grant us great fear-inducing encounters so that we are pressed into spiritual depths previously unimaginable.
All to his glory.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See Biblical References Deut 5:29 ESV; 2 Chron 19:9 ESV; Ps 86:11 ESV; Jer 3:39-40 ESV|
|2.||↑||See Biblical References John 15:11 ESV; John 17:13 ESV|
|3.||↑||See Biblical References cf. Prov 19:11 ESV; 1 Tim 1:11 ESV|
|4.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 1:50 ESV; James 2:13 ESV|
|5.||↑||See Biblical Reference 1 Pet 1:17 ESV cf. Mal 1:6 ESV|
|6.||↑||See Biblical Reference 1 Cor 1:17 ESV; 1 Cor 2:3 ESV|
|7.||↑||See Biblical References 2 Cor 4:7-12 ESV; Gal 2:20 ESV; Phil 3:10 ESV|