When it comes to our relationship with God, one of the things that can often be under-emphasized is the notion that we are to fear God. Even as I say those words, many of us probably cringe at the idea that part of how we should relate to God is by fearing him. And yet, one of the key verses on Biblical wisdom reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 10:9). Fear, it seems, plays a pretty important role in both how we relate to God and how we learn to live with wisdom in our lives.
So, the question I want to wrestle with today is, do we have a healthy fear of God?
We can learn a lot about a healthy fear of God by looking at the story of Jonah in Jonah 1:4–17.
These verses begin with God’s response to Jonah’s flight. For those of you familiar or not with the story of Jonah, let me catch you up real quick. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah said heck no and ran as far away from Nineveh as possible. And currently, we find Jonah in his flight aboard a ship. Ok, now we are caught up.
So, God responds by sending a great wind and a mighty storm such that it threatens to destroy the very ship that Jonah is on. We see that the context for the story is God’s mighty and powerful nature and intervention. This part of the story follows God’s activity focuses on the response and actions of two key characters, Jonah & the Sailors. Through their actions in the story, we are forced to wrestle with the question, who is it that truly fears God? The answer to this question in this passage might be a bit surprising to you.
This passage of Scripture shows us three characteristics of people who truly fear God.
1️⃣ People who seek God with their questions.
As God responds to Jonah’s defiance by bringing a storm to wake him from His spiritual malaise, we immediately recognize that Jonah has no interest in responding or seeking after God [v.5]. As chaos ensues around him and threatens the lives of others because of his spiritual rebellion, Jonah is so settled in his defiance that he is peacefully asleep. What is pictured here is someone without a healthy fear of God who thinks they know better than God and are so settled in their defiance that they are entirely ignorant of how their sin harms others around them.
While Jonah moves away from God, these sailors begin to initially move towards God in this first part of this passage [v.6]. First, they recognize that the storm is no ordinary storm, but there is a supernatural reality behind what they are facing. Their immediate response to this is fear.
One of the ways that we can recognize a reverent fear is by looking at our disposition towards God in the challenging moments of our life. The sailors here display for us where reverent fear begins. It begins by turning to God in prayer, seeking understanding, and asking questions to understand the deeper reality. On the other hand, Jonah shows us what a lack of fear entails, no prayer, no seeking, no desire to follow God’s will even when his life is on the line.
2️⃣ People who call out to God in their struggle.
As the passage continues, we again find the sailors standing in contrast to Jonah. They exhibit a reverent fear that recognizes the sovereignty and power of God [see verses 9–14]. The difference between the sailors and Jonah forces us to ask how we respond to the struggle and challenges of life. When it seems like God isn’t working the way we think he should, or life seems like it’s against us, do we turn away from God in defiance, or do we cry out to him to intervene?
These questions force us to wrestle with whether we have the right view of God’s power and sovereignty. Do we have a reverent fear or awe of Him? We will cry out to God amid our struggles if we do.
3️⃣ People who respond to God with submissive worship.
As the passage concludes, Jonah is hurled into the sea, and immediately the storm ceases. But we also see something else, take a look:
So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Here, the sailors show us what genuine worship looks like in response to God’s mighty acts. For worship is when we praise God with our lips, but we also praise him with our lives by living for Him. This integration of loving God and living for Him is the heart of true worship and a healthy fear of God.
Reverent fear is a healthy part of submissive faith. For when we see God for who he is as the sovereign and almighty God, and we recognize the salvation that he offers to each one of us through Jesus Christ, then we will respond by standing in awe of Him and offering our lives in worship. That is what it means to fear God.
A friend of mine says that the heart of worship is seeing God and responding with “Wow!” and “Thank you!” The “Wow” is us recognizing God for who he is, the “Thank You” is recognizing what He has done. “Wow” is reverent fear. “Thank you” is the submissive faith that receives what God has done for us in saving us in Christ Jesus. The journey of faith is where we continually seek to look to God and respond with lives that portray “Wow” & “Thank You!”