Fear is not what we so often think it is (or how we too often use the word in our contemporary culture). Fear is not something that requires you to come up with a bunch of options for dealing with it; it only requires that you choose something. Fear is not a panic that you have to do something right now; it's a moment of suspended animation that feels like forever. Fear is not paralyzing; it's an invitation to move.
So what, then, is the fear of the Lord?
It's one of those phrases that comes up again and again in the Bible, always seeming to have some heavy implications, but it's one of those phrases that's difficult to understand. And I think it's one of those things many of us have tried to develop by our own discipline and intent. "I'm going to fear the Lord!" But it's not so easy.
The fear of the Lord comes when you least suspect it. That's what makes it true fear. You don't go out looking for it; it seizes you. It comes upon you and overwhelms you and takes your breath away for this moment that is so fleeting and yet feels as though it lasts forever. All of a sudden, here it is. The fear of the Lord.
It happens in those moments when you undeniably know that God is. That He just is. When you're praying and all of a sudden, there's not a shred of doubt in your being about whether God hears you. You know that He does. When you're longing for some good grace in your heart and all of a sudden, you discover that you believe in grace. For real. Not only do you believe in grace, but you believe that God is ready and willing to extend that grace to you. When there's this brokenness deep inside of you and you feel like if you have to think about it one more time, you're just going to collapse under the heavy weight of it and all of a sudden, an even heavier peace settles over your heart and you feel like if you could just say the words, God would actually heal you. Right there. Just like that. The fear of the Lord washes naturally over us in these moments when God undeniably is. And more than He simply is, He is present.
It's a moment that catches in our throat and we have to decide whether to breathe or to swallow. It's a moment that drives us deep into our very hearts, and we're forced to face in the very same moment both our depravity and our hope. Because our Hope has become intimately real. He's right there. Waiting...
Waiting for us to choose.
And there's no time to make a list of our options. Not one of us comes into the presence of God, discovers that He's real (really real), is overcome by the fear of the Lord...and then begins to contemplate what we might do with this information. None of us takes this moment to think about what we might ask of God now that He's present with us. None of us pauses to figure out how to use this to our advantage, how to make the most of this situation.
Because these moments come with their own invitation.
None of us are praying a generic prayer when God suddenly shows up and makes Himself real; no, we are already praying our heart. Just timidly. God's presence is a response to that heart. Why would we suddenly decide to re-think what we were praying, as though now that God is actually here, I'd rather pray for that Ferrari than for a more intimate relationship with Him? None of us do that.
None of us long for some good grace in our heart, discover grace to be real, and decide there's something more pressing we'd rather have. No. When grace comes, we discover that it is all we ever dreamed it would be. None of us dares believe God can heal our brokenness, only to discover that He can and He wants to...and decide we'd rather have something else. Of course not. If God Himself shows up in a way that you absolutely can't deny Him, it's because something in your heart called Him there. We may hesitate about whether we want what we thought we wanted, but we don't change what we want just because it seems suddenly possible.
The hesitation is that here is the limit of our own imagination. We may long for some measure of good grace, but when that grace becomes real, we don't...we don't really know what our lives would look like with that grace. We may struggle under the weight of our brokenness, and then God promises to lift that burden for us but we don't...we don't know what our lives would be like without it. We don't know how to live whole. We may pray as earnestly as our hearts know how, but when God shows up, we find we don't really know what to say any more. He truly is beyond our wildest imagination. We simply don't know how to imagine any further.
And I think this is what spoils the moment for so many of us. This is what makes us either turn away or linger in our hesitation until the moment has long passed - we're so distracted by our inability to conceive of this very thing that we neglect to boldly accept God's invitation. We fail to seize the moment. We fail to move in the moment of fear, and then the moment passes and we missed it.
Because we were paralyzed by anxiety rather than enticed by fear.