Watching the roaring of the Niagara Falls with a healthy regard and respect for its immense power is what we might call regular fear. It is entirely natural to feel this way about something so immensely powerful. Staying far away from New York for fear of accidentally falling into the torrent is an unhealthy anxiety, what we may call ruinous fear. It is unnatural to be paralyzed by fear for no rational reason. However, gazing in amazement at the falls while simultaneously recognizing your own frailty is what we would call reverential fear; it is perceiving both the magnificence of the falls and your own smallness—and standing in awe as a result.
And that kind of reverential awe is precisely what God expects when He calls us to fear Him (cf. Psalm 33:8; Eccl. 12:13; Luke 1:50). He doesn’t want us to be crippled by deleterious terror, the way a slave cringes before his master. Rather, the Lord desires that we possess and express a holy fear of His greatness and grandeur. It is a fear produced from understanding the supremacy of God and the sinfulness of man. Such reverential fear says, “Lord, I revere You because You are holy, righteous, and good—and I am not.”
It is the fear Isaiah felt when he beheld a glimpse of God’s glory. He cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). He fell in prostration before the Lord because he understood the gravity of his sin and the greatness of God’s holiness. It is the awe Peter felt when he witnessed the boundless power of Christ: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8b). It is the fear that the first church experienced when they watched God slay Ananias and Sapphira for telling a little white lie: “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11).
Such fear is the essence of wisdom—indeed, it is the very first step toward living wisely. As Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7a). This is because fearing God is a mentality that understands both the foolishness of living in sin and the worthiness of living in obedience. That’s why Solomon also said, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Prov. 14:17). A life of fearing God is truly the best life you can live: “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Proverbs 19:23).
Bible Gleanings is a widely-read weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English Shepherd), and Dot (Bluetick Beagle).
For more devotional entries like this, check out Brandon’s latest book, Bible Gleanings Volume II, which features 100 daily devotionals gleaned from God’s word: