How can I learn to fear the Lord?
The fear of the Lord is an awareness that you are in the presence of a holy, just, and almighty God and that He will hold you accountable for your motives, thoughts, words, and actions. To fear God is to desire to live in harmony with His righteous standards and to honor Him in all that you do.
We do not naturally seek to honor God, because our sinful natures lead us to pursue selfish pleasures instead of delighting in God and discovering the joy of knowing and loving Him. We must choose to walk in the fear of the Lord. The psalmist David prayed, “Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name” (Psalm 86:11).
Throughout the Bible, many promises are given to those who fear the Lord, such as Proverbs 22:4: “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life.” It is wise to be governed by a healthy fear of God!
The following disciplines will help you comprehend more of His greatness and more of your dependence on Him, thereby learning the fear of the Lord.
Consider God’s Creation
When we look around at God’s creation—the majesty of towering mountains, the expanse of oceans with their high tides and low tides, the intricacy of delicate flowers, the brilliance of the sun, and the glory of our galaxy—we can catch a glimpse of how awesome our God is!
- The psalmist David often expressed his awe of God by meditating on God’s handiwork. He wrote, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3–4).
- When God gave His Law to the nation of Israel, He first revealed His mighty power through nature so that the people would learn to fear Him. “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not” (Exodus 20:18–20).
- The Apostle Paul also recognized that God reveals His power to mankind through His creation. “. . . That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).
Respect God’s Word
Having a high regard for the Bible, the Word of God, is an essential part of growing in the fear of the Lord. When we take time to read Scripture and commit to applying its universal, non-optional truths, we learn more about the nature of God, His ways, and our role as His creatures.
- All the people of Israel were to gather to hear the Word of God so that they would learn to fear Him. “Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: and that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 31:12–13). (See also Deuteronomy 4:10, 6:24, and 8:6.)
- The kings of Israel were required to write out a copy of God’s Law and to spend time each day reading it so they would learn to fear God. “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose . . . . And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them” (Deuteronomy 17:15–19).
- Today, Christians are “kings and priests unto God” (Revelation 1:6). We are to understand the worth of Scripture and to study it and apply it to our lives. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16–17).
Learn From Scriptural Examples
God’s glory and holiness call for our worship and submission. When people in Scripture encountered God, they instinctively demonstrated a deep reverence for Him. We can learn from these examples in our quest to fear God as we should.
The thought of God’s judgments on sin should strike fear into every heart:
- David used strong language to describe God’s judgments. “Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off” (Psalm 88:16).
- The Apostle Paul spoke of God’s judgment as a motivation to preach the Gospel. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . .” (II Corinthians 5:10–11).
Supernatural demonstrations of God’s power often left people trembling with fear:
- The Babylonian King Belshazzar threw a party and served his guests with the gold and silver vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem, but he soon received a message of warning from God: “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace [God Himself wrote on the wall]: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another” (Daniel 5:5–6).
- On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, an angel appeared and rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb: “His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men” (Matthew 28:3–4).
When Godly men of the Old and New Testaments heard God’s voice and saw His glory, they were filled with the fear of the Lord:
- The prophet Isaiah responded with fear when He saw a vision of God in the temple. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
- When the prophet Daniel saw a vision, he testified that he had no strength and fell down prostrate: “Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground. And, behold, a hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling” (Daniel 10:8–11).
- At the time of the Apostle Paul’s conversion, he was astonished at Christ’s message to him on the road to Damascus. The revelation of God’s reality and glory overcame all previous misconceptions about Jesus’ identity: “And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will thou have me to do? . . .” (Acts 9:5–6).
- When the Apostle John received the revelation about the end of the world and saw Jesus on the Isle of Patmos, he was filled with the holy fear of God: “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. . . . And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not . . .” (Revelation 1:12, 17).
When we encounter a power that is far greater that we are, we often respond with fear. This response was demonstrated by people who witnessed the supernatural power of Jesus Christ:
- The disciples were afraid when Jesus stilled the storm: “And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
- When Jesus cured a man possessed by many demons, the people feared Him: “Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear . . .” (Luke 8:37).
- Jesus’ disciples were frightened when He appeared to them after His resurrection: “And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:36–37).
Welcome God’s Chastening
When we rebel against God’s holiness, we will surely face consequences. God’s chastening of sin is painful, yet it is the expression of a loving Father’s care for His children.
- Scripture instructs us to embrace God’s discipline and learn from the reproofs of life: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Proverbs 3:11–12).
- The Body of Christ is challenged to receive God’s chastening and become more holy: “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? . . . We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:7, 9–11).
- David expressed the pain of past failure in Psalm 51 and humbly sought God’s mercy and cleansing: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:4–10).
Give a Tithe of Your Increase
Along with supporting the work of the local church, one of the purposes of giving a tithe is to learn to fear the Lord: “Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, and tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always” (Deuteronomy 14:22–23).
- Long before God’s Law was given to Moses, Abraham demonstrated his fear of the Lord by giving tithes: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (Genesis 14:18–20).
- Part of walking in the fear of the Lord is acknowledging that God is in control of every aspect of our lives, including our resources. When the children of Israel failed to obey God’s instruction to tithe and give offerings, which was God’s plan for supplying resources for the priesthood, He cursed them: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation” (Malachi 3:8–9). Then God told the Israelites how they could once again enjoy His blessings: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightful land, saith the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:10–12).
- The Apostle Paul reaffirms the same truth: “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly: and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Corinthians 9:6–8).
Recall the Chief Duty of Man
Israel’s King Solomon is renowned as the wisest man who ever lived, yet he made serious mistakes. Solomon forsook the fear God. Even though he received tremendous blessings from God, he disobeyed God’s Law in numerous ways and eventually worshiped false gods. God held Solomon responsible for these sins and brought judgment to the nation of Israel and to Solomon’s family because of them. (See Deuteronomy 17:14–17, I Kings 4:26, and I Kings 11:1–13.)
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon records his observations about the meaning of life. In the end, he states that the “conclusion of the whole matter” is the fear of the Lord. Let’s heed these words of warning from a man who knew the justice and judgment of God!
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).
This material is adapted from IBLP’s booklet titled The Overlooked Requirements for Riches, Honor, and Life.