When I was little, the street sweeper terrified me. Back then I must have understood of the beast's purpose somewhat, because I called it the "Finders Keepers, Loser Sweeper." If I was in the front yard when the insidious piece of machinery decided to sweep our street, I hid behind a young tree immediately upon hearing its approaching roar. Honestly, for as little as I was, that poor little sapling did little to hide me no matter how tightly I closed my eyes and hugged it. Although it was a silly fear, to a little one who didn't know much about the world, it was very real.
Fear manifests itself in many ways. My irrational fear prevented me from enjoying peaceful playtime in my own front yard. Most people (and perhaps many children) probably knew that my giant monster had no intentions of jumping the curb to gobble me up, but I didn't understand that. My ignorance was a catalyst for my fear.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, all who follow his precepts have good understanding. (Psalm 111:10 NIV)
Fear in the context of this Scripture is a reverent respect for God, unlike my scary perception of the street sweeper. We should not fear God in a scary, traumatic sense, but rather in a way that recognizes His power and authority. In a loose comparison, we should respect street sweepers (and other types of heavy equipment) enough to stay away from them when they are in use. If I had been older I could have met my fear head on and investigated that intimidating iron beast. I would have discovered the beast's true purpose was not to eat little girls. Imagine the peace I would have experienced. It's the same with God. When we fear Him it should cause us to want to learn more about Him. That's why Psalm 111:10 tells us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
Maybe our fear of God does begin with a fear similar to mine, but it doesn't have to stay that way. As we investigate God, His love for us is unveiled. And, the more we learn about Him, the more we fall in love with Him. A reverent fear is appropriate with God, but an irrational fear is never appropriate. If you think about it, the principle we can draw from the Psalm is to use fear to our advantage; let's make an effort to understand all our fears. Who knows, we might find we have nothing to fear at all.
Fear not only affects people, but it can also cripple animals. My dog, Watson, is very fearful. He was abused long before we found him and he hasn't fully recovered. He never seems at peace. He is extremely skittish and still cowers when approached too suddenly. One thing Watson's fears is our vacuum cleaner. As soon as I pull the bagged brute from its closet lair, Watson goes nuts. He runs away, but often seeks shelter in the room I plan to vacuum. Have you ever seen a dog panic because his nemesis is blocking his only means of escape. It is quite pitiful to see one of God's creatures gripped with such fear.
I sought the Lord and He delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4 NIV)
A sad aspect of fear is that it can separate the fearful from those who are best equipped to offer them comfort and deliverance. Out of our entire family Watson adores me the most. When I'm vacuuming, his fear hinders his ability to come near me. It is the same with God. Sometimes our fears cause us to run from God; that hinders His ability to comfort and/or deliver us.
This happens in two different ways. We may run from God unintentionally. Our fear may cause us to seek food, drugs, or other ineffective things instead of turning to God's Word. Maybe we become shopaholics, alcoholics, or workaholics when going to God in prayer would serve us better. In Romans 8:37-39 we learn that nothing can separate us from the "love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That is true. However, when we turn from God, we create an obstacle. God is still there, but we keep Him at a distance.
The second way fear affects our relationship with God is that we fear going to Him because we think we have done something that He cannot forgive us for. That is so far from the truth. Again, just as it says in Romans 8, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can separate us from the love of God. We can erect walls, but God is always there waiting for the walls to tumble down so He can embrace us and give us peace. Don't allow fear to build a wall between you and our loving Father.
Fear will manifest itself in any place we allow. It can be an irrational fear like that of my street sweeper or a fear than originates from less than perfect circumstances from our past; and that's only two methods fear uses to cripple its victims. Practical Christianity not only faces fears, but doesn't allow fear to adversely affect our relationship with God. Practical Christianity runs to God for deliverance. You probably won't find this definition of fear in any dictionary, but I think fear can also mean "lacking faith". Anytime we fear something, no matter what it is, we can probably break it down and find that our faith is waning.
What are you afraid of these days? There is a lot to fear, but are you going to sit back a tremble as our world goes crazy? Or are you going cling to God's truth, sovereignty, and eternal hope? It's up to you whether you are going to let go of your faith or if you are going to "fear not."