Fearing God: Learning to Trust
30 July 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Fearing God: Learning to Trust
Does your Christian life look more like that of the unbeliever who doesn’t really fear God? Can your level of interest in spiritual things be described as “ho-hum”? Medical questionnaires ask about your normal level of physical activity. Would you be a spiritual couch potato? Are you spiritually feeble?
What we’re going to explore today requires an intense focus on God, on who He is and what He is like, on His trustworthiness to carry out His promises, and on His sovereign ability to protect us. To do this, we must be in His word every day, we must give careful thought to what we learn, we must recall these truths and bring them to bear upon the threats we face. The Christian life is not for sissies! It requires strong faith, confident trust, relentless pursuit of God Himself and a rigorous diet of His word. That is why I asked the questions I did at the beginning.
Often we look to David to show us how to face life in ways that please God and in ways that really help. That’s what we find in Psalm 56. David is honest about life. We face fearful circumstances. And our tendency is to respond in panic, worry, dread. David honestly admits that there are times when he starts to panic. He confesses, “when I am afraid”. [Step through Psalm 56:1-6 noting causes of fear]
But in those times, David doesn’t let himself stay in panic mode. He chooses to pursue the opposite. The exact opposite of fearing things is fearing the Lord. The very heart of fearing God, is trusting God. So David uses “fear” and “trust” interchangeably. He forces his panic to give way to what he has already prepared in his heart. He forces panic to give way to confident trust in Yahweh his God. His trust is strong because his God is strong. But that move from panic to trust isn’t automatic.
He moves from “when I fear” to “I shall not be afraid, what can man do to me” (Psalm 56:4, 11) because of hard work he has done. He says that it is because “in God I have put my trust”. And notice the hard work that he has done in stocking up truth about God in his heart. [Step through Psalm 56:4, 8-13]
No longer driven from God by terror-fear, we are compelled toward God by trust-fear. And so as we continue our study of the fear of God and focusing on the trust aspect of that fear, I want us to explore two things this morning: that the Lord helps us trust Him and we are to respond by cultivating trust in Him. Note the sense of proactive work we must do.
Before we launch into what we must do, we need to know what God has already done to prepare us to learn how to fear Him and how to trust Him.
I. The Lord helps us trust Him. How does He do that?
1. God calls us to trust Him.
In Isaiah 50, the Lord contrasts the wicked people of Israel with the Servant of Yahweh. He is also known as Messiah, Jesus our Lord. God tells about the horrible treatment that His Servant will endure and the Servant’s resolve to trust Yahweh. Look at Isaiah 50:6-9. Then, the Lord calls people to trust Him. And there’s a contrast here in Isaiah 50:10 of those who will respond in godly fear and obedience with those of Isaiah 50:11 who find their own truth and develop their own way in religion.
The first group submits themselves to God in healthy terror-fear and in obedience to His Servant. The second group will be punished by God. Look at Isaiah 50:10. Do you see what’s going on here? By faith, these people move from godly terror-fear to trust-fear. God calls us to trust Him.
2. God teaches us to fear Him.
In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon presents the absolute sovereignty of God in the context of wisdom. First, we must humbly accept God’s absolute sovereignty. He ordains what comes to pass. Look at Eccl 3:1. Then we have that famous passage describing how there is a time for everything (Eccl 3:2-8). God has given man the ability to view life from the eternal perspective, although man can’t know the reason for everything (Eccl 3:11). In Eccl 3:14, Solomon points out that man can do nothing to hinder God’s plan.
But look now at the end of Eccl 3:14 “God has so worked that men should fear Him”. God enables His people to view life from the perspective of eternity. Life might seem meaningless, cyclical, or like a machine that works on its own. But it is all part of God’s intricate plan. When we meditate on that, God teaches us to fear Him—to respect and humbly submission to His sovereign plan. He is God.
What does this have to do with learning to trust Him? Instead of being discouraged by we should be awed at God’s work in it all, moving history toward His intended goal to build His kingdom. What steps can you take to improve your day-to-day interpretation of events and circumstances?
3. God provides us with His presence.
In Ps 23:4 David paints a beautiful picture of trust where Yahweh is the Shepherd and David is the sheep: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” Using a different picture, David encourages believers to trust in the Lord because, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” (Ps 34:7). Then David bases this on God’s character, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the Lord, you His saints” (Ps 34:8-9). He ties together trust and fear. So, how are we to respond?
II. We are to fear God so that we vigorously cultivate trust in Him.
1. Cultivate fear of God to promote whole-hearted trust in Him.
In Prov 3:5-7, Solomon calls us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding…Fear the Lord…” Bruce Waltke explains, “One is a fool to rely on his thimble of knowledge…or on his own understanding, which is often governed by irrational urges that he cannot control” (NICOT: Proverbs, p. 244). Instead, we must fear the Lord and that will build in us a trust that relies totally on the Lord. It will result in a whole-hearted trust in Him.
2. Cultivate fear of God to fortify confident secure rest.
It might sound funny that “in fear you can have confidence”, but that’s what Solomon promises in Prov 14:26, “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Solomon expands the benefits of fearing Yahweh to the person’s immediate family, particularly their children. Solomon is writing to his son who will one day be the head of his own home. While this applies to moms too, it is applied particularly to dads. A father’s spiritual perspective will color the entire family for good or harm. Will his home be a place of refuge or will home be no different than the world out there where threats abound?
The word for ‘strong’ describes that which is firmly fixed and indestructible. It describes confidence so strong that the person “can be unconcerned” (Waltke, p. 603). For the parent who fears the Lord, both they and their family will find home to be a place of refuge from the dangers of the world. They will actually find a rest that is so secure that they are not worried when troubles arise.
For example, Ps 91:2, 5 says that those who trust in the Lord will not “be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day”. Or consider the midwives in Egypt around the time when Moses was born. They chose to disobey Pharaoh’s order to murder the babies. Why? Moses tells us in Ex 1:17, 21 that “the midwives feared God”. Or think about how Paul’s example of trusting God while in prison impacted other believers. He reports in Phil 1:14 that “most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear”.
3. Cultivate fear of God to tighten your grip on God.
Let’s return to the illustration I used in an earlier lesson, about the little girl who ran to and clung tightly to her Dad when she was frightened by that growling dog. Our trust should look like tightly clinging to the Lord. Turn to Deut 10 and let’s look at Deut 10:12-21.
As Moses calls the people of Israel to commit themselves with all their heart, he weaves throughout that passage this theme of fearing God. But as they fear Him, they must also cling to Him (see also Dt 13:4). As I mentioned at the beginning, no longer driven from God by terror-fear, we are compelled toward God by trust-fear. Clinging to God is a beautiful picture of loving trust.
Think of that small child. If she’s afraid, she clings tightly to her father. Her fear of the outside world compels her to cling to her father who can protect her. She is drawn to him because she trusts him to protect her. Our faith must be like that little child’s faith, as Jesus taught us. Our faith must be simple and total. Our faith must be total trust in Him.
Cultivate the fear of God in your heart. In that, develop trust that is whole-hearted, that rests confidently in His sovereign care, and that clings tightly to Him.