The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10, NKJ)
Those of us who have been called to the ministry often find ourselves vulnerable to the enemy due to diverse factors. One such factor is that we often become too busy for the Lord; travelling, ministering, preparing sermons and doing a lot to “save the lost world.” Sometimes we find ourselves in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar cultures. The enemy can easily creep in when we are fatigued and lonely hence the need to cultivate the fear of the Lord lifestyle both in private and in public.
Our ministries should spring out of our relationship with the Lord. God’s call to come precedes the call to go. (Mark 3:14) Our ministry to others should therefore be secondary after ministering to the Lord and spending time with Him. God delights in relating with us and having constant fellowship with us.
Since He is a holy God, our fellowship with Him is most enriching when we are in a right relationship with Him. Care should however be taken lest we think that it is our good deeds or hard labor that gets us approval with God. By developing the fear of the Lord lifestyle we are able to gain strength from Him. This gives us courage and confidence as we minister to others. Paul Bucknell summarizes this and observes:
The fear of the Lord keeps us humble and listening. We dread His displeasure and the fear of the consequences of disobeying Him. When we fear God, we know He can and will carry out this chastisement. This keeps us alert to what He wants and how He wants it done. Without regularly meeting God, however, this fear can wear off. We can begin to forget what we learned and had agreed upon. When this occurs, we begin to make confident decisions based more on our impulses than what is right and good. Those bad decisions will produce horrible consequences in our lives (Biblical Foundations for Freedom; http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net)
The writer of Psalms observes, “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant.” (Psalms 25:14) Besides enriching our spiritual walk with God and giving us confidence as we serve Him, the fear of the Lord makes us know the secrets of the Lord. King Solomon also observes Proverbs 22:4 that the fear of the Lord brings wealth, honor and life. The gateway to success, honor and fullness of life is therefore the fear of the Lord. This applies both to our personal lives as well as to the ministries that God has called us to.
When God commissioned Joshua to take over from Moses and lead the Israelites to the promised land, He made it clear that it was only in everyone obeying all the law that he would be successful wherever he went. (Joshua 1:7) God-given success, honor and prosperity is therefore dependent on keeping God’s commands in reverence to Him. Any other success brought about by our charismatic gifts and abilities is not only destructive but short-lived.
The fear of the Lord lifestyle is not palpable hence the need to be cultivated. We are born sinners and prone to sin hence the need to be intentional about this kind of lifestyle. Since no person is immune to sin we have to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12) The good news is that we don’t have to do this in our own strength because, “It is God who works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) Our responsibility is therefore to fully surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit on daily basis. As we live a life of yielding daily to God by the Holy Spirit, our weaknesses are overshadowed by God’s power within us. We however have a responsibility hence the use of words “work out” which implies some effort on our part.
Cultivating a lifestyle of fearing the Lord involves at least three things. It involves intimacy with God, spiritual disciplines and making ourselves accountable.
Intimacy with God.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, God first calls us to Himself and then commissions us to do ministry. Jesus ordained the twelve apostles, “that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach.” (Mark 3:14) Although God is concerned about the lost world (Mark 6:34) and the scarcity of laborers (Luke 10:2), He never intended the ministry to take His place.
The seduction of sin has greater impact on us when we neglect our intimacy with God. It is therefore imperative that we make spending time with God and developing intimacy with Him our first priority. This is a challenge to many who are so passionate about “saving the world” yet hardly have a rich ministry to the Lord. The tendency is to go to God to ask for help to do ministry. We also need to go to Him to fellowship with Him and to enjoy His presence.
Sin and carelessness can easily mess up our intimacy with God. The scriptures admonish us not to take the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1) Since God is holy, sin separates us from enjoying the benefits of a close intimacy with Him. (Isaiah 59:1-2) It is therefore a two way process. Our love for God and the desire to be intimate with Him motivates to develop a lifestyle of reverence and worship. Secondly, as we worship and reverence Him, we are changed into His likeness. The more we get close to God the more we realize how wretched we are and our need for continuous cleansing. (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Spiritual disciplines are practices and spiritual habits that we intentionally engage in consistently in order to maintain a close walk with God and vibrancy in our Christian service. They involve life choices that a person makes for the purpose of entering into deeper awareness and relationship with God for personal growth and service to others. They include but are not limited to disciplined prayer life, fasting, study of God’s Word and quiet moments of listening to God.
These disciplines not only help us draw inner strength from the Lord for Christian service, but also help us in maintaining our intimacy with God. As we engage in these disciplines, our spirits are renewed, our spiritual skills sharpened and our spiritual discernment improved. Spiritual disciplines therefore help us receive God’s grace in our lives, one of which is to maintain the fear of the Lord lifestyle.
Rather than being legalistic, as perceived by some, spiritual disciplines could be a source of spiritual liberty as well illustrated by Donald Whitney in his book; Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. (Nav. Press, 1997) In the scriptures we find Jesus withdrawing from the crowds to lonely places for moments of prayer and fasting. (Luke 5:16)
Making Ourselves Accountable
The terms “accountability” and “transparency” have become synonymous with democracy and development. Those of us who are from Africa or are familiar with African politics are well aware of the dangers of the lack of the same. Needless to say that accountability is essential for any society to function properly.
Similarly, one discipline that we need to develop in order to cultivate a fear of the Lord lifestyle is that of making ourselves accountable to mentors and colleagues. This involves willingly opening ourselves to others and sharing personal and sensitive information with such. In doing so we allow them to speak to our lives, pray with us and correct us. (Proverbs 12:1) Such people are not there to police us but are a support system in our walk with God and service. They are there to “stir us to love and to good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
Dr. Richard J. Krejcir has written a detailed article on this topic worthy reading, Understanding and Developing Christian Accountability. Together with giving a strong biblical support for this discipline, he cites prevention of burn out and stress as two benefits of accountability. The most important benefit of making ourselves accountable however is that we are kept in check lest we error or lose our intimacy with God.
Since this topic is very wide and draws mixed reactions from Christians, I have chosen to deal with it only as a Christian discipline critical to maintaining the fear of the Lord lifestyle. In the most vulnerable moments of our lives when we are fatigued, lonely and alone (2 Samuel 11), creating accountability groups to “keep an eye on us” becomes vital in our Christian walk.
To be on the cutting edge of our callings and ministries, we need to intentionally cultivate a lifestyle of fearing the Lord. This does not mean being afraid of the Lord but rather reverencing Him for who He is. Our love for God and desire to please Him should be the motivation for us to maintain this lifestyle.
Since we are human beings full of weaknesses and vulnerable to sin, developing spiritual disciplines including prayer and fasting, study and meditation of God’s Word, and making ourselves accountable could greatly enhance this lifestyle. Above everything else, developing an intimate relationship with God will change us into who He is. In His presence we will be always conscious of His holiness and our weaknesses. Only then can we maintain a cry like that of Paul, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death.” (Romans 7:24) It is when we cultivate this life of reverence to God that we can confess with Isaiah:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5-NIV)