Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Afraid of God? or Fear of God?

Recently, as I was walking into a church group meeting, I walked up to my friend (who also happened to be the speaker) and began chatting. As conversation began to weaken, I simply asked, more rhetorically than not, "Ready to speak?" Her response not only shocked me, but is what is fueling this article. She said, "No, I am never ready. This is the last thing I want to do." I laughed, thinking she was joking. When I realized she was not, I then asked, "Then why do you do it?" Her answer came very confidently, "I am afraid of being eaten by a whale!" The music began, to announce the beginning of the meeting, and I stumbled away.

"I'm afraid of begin eaten by a whale" refers to Jonah the prophet in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jonah not only disobeyed God, but decided to travel as far as he could from the real destination God had intended for him to go. While running away from God, by journeying on a ship, a storm came, he was thrown overboard and a giant fish or whale swallowed him up. Jonah sat in the belly of the whale, stinky as that must have been, and cried out to God. Being inside of a whale just so happens to be the very thing that he needed to get him right with God. He prayed for forgiveness and was duly dumped upon the shores of the city where he was originally to go! My friend essentially was communicating to me that she is a speaker in church because God has asked her to, not because this was some life long dream, and rather than disobey and be potentially swallowed up by God, she speaks.

The title of this article is, "Afraid of God? or Fear of God?" I believe they are two very different questions. To be afraid is, as Webster's Dictionary defines it, is to be "filled with fear or apprehension, filled with concern or regret over an unwanted situation." Fear, concern, apprehension are all words to describe a lack of trust. I was greatly afraid of my biological father, or differently worded, I had a great lack of trust towards my father. My father was a man who I will liken to a ticking time bomb. I never knew what or when he would explode. He was completely untrustworthy-thus I was afraid of him.

Okay, so are we to be afraid of God? Afraid that if we disobey God, He will swallow us up? No! One-hundred percent, NO! We are not to be afraid of God. God, in the story of Jonah, used a whale to basically transport Jonah where he needed to go. Why? I have several thoughts: 1) to remind Jonah that He is God. I think Jonah had a bit of pride and was confused between what is justice and what is mercy. He forgot who God is. Jonah thought he could simply say no to God, after pledging that he would be God's spokesman to a lost world, and run away. Jonah needed to be reminded that God is in heaven, He sees us, and you cannot just run away from Him. God found him on the that ship. He further showed Jonah or reminded him, who it is that controls the storms and the fish of the sea! Pretty powerful God, don't you think! 2) God knew Jonah's heart. He knew he would eventually come around, ask for forgiveness and go to Nineveh- his original destination. So, God provided a whale (another type of ship) to take him there. God could have sent another boat at just the right time to travel Jonah back to Nineveh, but I think, Jonah needed further nudging- and God knew that being swallowed by the whale would do the trick and it did. And 3) and perhaps the most important reason, God loved Jonah. God wanted a relationship with Jonah. As a father he didn't want Jonah running away from Him, He wanted Jonah to see the good in His plan. His plan was the salvation of hundreds of people through Jonah. God wanted Jonah to remember His heart. A heart full of love for Jonah and a lost world.

Now, what does it mean to have a 'Fear of God? Isaiah 6 shows us:

"... I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
"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."
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

I love this Scripture for many reasons. First, we see God on His throne in Heaven in all His Majesty. We are reminded that HE is on the throne, He is King, and He is so holy. Second, we get to see how holy God is by Isaiah's response in seeing God. "I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips!" In the presence of the holy, perfect, pure God, Isaiah recognizes his sin and his need for the Savior. He repents. Third, God has the answer- purify Isaiah. He cleanses Isaiah and forgives him of his sin. Only God can cleanse us and wipe away our sin.

So, was Isaiah afraid of God or did he have a healthy fear of God. I believe Isaiah had a right fear of God. He recognized how holy and perfect God is and how unholy he himself was. But what is also really important to see is how did God handled Isaiah's sin? He cleansed him because Isaiah was humble. God saw Isaiah's sin- He didn't have him swallowed up- He healed him. Why? Because God is our loving God. He created us and is our perfect Father of love. He is always calling to us..."Come."

"Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) 

So, to my sweet friend who is afraid of God-don't be. If God asks us to do something, and you don't want to,  remember He is God. He knew before He asked you that you didn't want to obey. Talk with Him. Share your heart, and your fears and have Him cleanse you and prepare you for the task, like He did for Isaiah. bottom line: God wants a relationship with you. Don't be afraid of Him- that only gets you blindly obeying, living in fear, and not getting to know the One you serve. Above all else, remember He is gentle and loving and beckons you to come!

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