Psalm 34:7-11 & 115:11-13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 28, 2018
Pastor Lee Eclov says he used to picture living in “the fear of God” as like being someone who’s driving down the road and notices a police car in their rearview mirror. They become a much more careful and law-abiding driver because they don’t want to get in trouble.
Then, he said, God gave him a better picture: Living in the fear of God is like being a teenager who’s driving alone for the first time and who notices her father’s car in her rearview mirror. Seeing her father follow behind her puts her on her best behavior – and she keeps both hands on the wheel, uses her turn signals, and makes a full and complete stop at each red light. But seeing her father behind her also assures her that if anything bad happens on the road he’ll be there to take care of it (and her). It reminds her how he’s always been there to watch over her and protect her, and how he’s always been lovingly concerned to make sure she does the right things. She rests at ease in the awareness that he’s not trying to catch her being bad but trying to encourage her to develop good habits that will keep her safe and happy on the road as long as she lives. It’s a comfort for her to realize that, while she’s driving on her own, she’s not completely alone.
So it is for those who fear God. To live in the fear of the Lord is to live keeping an eye on the One who is always keeping an eye on us, the One who only has our best interests at heart, the One who’s always done right by us and wants us to do right as well. Because we believe in His love, we’re comforted; and because we look up to Him, we’re concerned to make Him proud of us and show Him we’re worthy of the trust He’s given us.
To fear God is to appreciate both the greatness and the goodness of God, and thus to respect and revere Him so highly that we are anxious to please Him. This is not a servile fear of making Him angry but a filial fear of failing to fulfill His faith in us. It is to love Him so much that we dread letting Him down. But it is also to believe so much in His love for us that, overwhelmed with awe and wonder over His power, kindness, and generosity, we dare to harbor high hopes of His gracious protection, provision and lavish blessings.
Today’s scripture lessons urge us to develop the fear of God because it brings us a sense of security in an uncertain and often scary world, and a high level of expectation even in the face of our own weaknesses, limitations and bad tendencies.
Those who fear God hope for things they know they could never obtain on their own. They have big hopes because they appreciate how big God is!
Little Eddie idolized Mr. Russell, a giant of a man with a big smile and an even bigger heart, who operated a car repair shop. He captured Eddie’s imagination like a super-hero, and Eddie dreamed of growing up to be that tall, that strong, and that capable and competent. For Mr. Russell did astounding things to fix broken cars and to bring out the power in small ones. And Eddie was constantly thrilled by how Mr. Russell always welcomed him when he showed up and always gave him time to generously teach him about tools and cars. Eddie would have followed Mr. Russell to the ends of the earth.
Next to his cash register at the repair shop, Mr. Russell had a big canister of lollipops from which he invited customers to take a sucker. One day, when Eddie had walked in with his dad, Mr. Russell on a whim invited Eddie to do something he’d never been given permission to do before: to reach into that canister and grab for himself a whole handful of suckers!
Suddenly, Eddie became very shy. He stared at his feet and, despite his dad’s nudging him forward, didn’t take one step toward the counter. Finally, Mr. Russell chucked kindly, reached into the canister for the little lad, and pulled out a handful of suckers that he dumped into Eddie’s open arms.
When outside, the boy’s father asked Eddie why he had grown so shy with someone he trusted so much and held back from taking a handful of suckers when he could. “Because,” Eddie replied, “Mr. Russell’s hand is much bigger than mine!’
When we appreciate how big and powerful, and how generous and kind, God is – that is, when we have the full-grown fear of the Lord upon us – we allow God to take over and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When we appreciate God’s greatness and goodness with appropriate awe and wonder, we want to step back in deference and let Him take up our big, wild hopes in His big and wildly generous hands. He might do anything. He can help us break free from the self-destructive habits to which we are addicted. He can heal the broken relationship we thought we’d lost any chance of restoring. He can give us the courage to defy our fear, the perseverance to fulfill our promises, and the self-control to be kind when we’d like to be cruel.
We can really go places when we let the fear of God and the trust of God work together and when we go with God’s preferred way of moving our life forward.
My twirling this key on its cord illustrates this. There are two physical forces in operation here. One is called the “centrifugal” force. It’s the power that pulls the key away from the center of rotation on my finger. The other force is called the “centripetal” force. It’s the power that pulls the key back toward the hand that spins it. Centrifugal force enables the key, which can’t move itself, to fly through the air. Centripetal force enables it not to fly off haphazardly, and break a window or lose itself in some dark corner where it can’t be found.
In the spiritual life, the centripetal force is our trust of God’s grace and love that keeps us close to God, and the centrifugal force is the fear of God’s holiness and power that keeps us at a safe distance and yet puts into us an energy beyond our own to reach places we could never go on our own.
And here’s how God works to move our life forward: He turns us around and around with His power, and then, with careful aim, He lets us go in order to set us flying ahead to just the destination we need to reach. Only, in His infinite ability, He’s so fast that, after He lets us go, He runs ahead of us to catch us on His finger again, for another spin and another amazing flight forward. That’s how we get somewhere in life!
Living in the hopeful fear of God gives us a journey that’s both terrifying and terribly wonderful. Are you ready for the ride of your life? Let us pray.