Joyful Fear

Good morning. It is Thursday, August 20, 2015. Pre-Friday.

Today’s word of the day, from Merriam-Webster, is obeisance. This noun means, 1. “a movement of the body made in token of respect or submission : bow,” or, 2. “acknowledgment of another’s superiority or importance : homage.” By the way, that last word is pronounced “a’-mij,” NOT “oh-maj’.”

Today is Chocolate Pecan Pie Day. I’ve had pecan pie, but I don’t know that I have had chocolate pecan pie. If it has chocolate, it must be better, right?

We had such a magnificent day, yesterday, that I don’t think I have enough time to tell you about it all. But it was a wonderful day, and we were exhausted at the end. Perhaps even more tired than if we had spent the day at work. But it was infinitely better than a day at work. I’m positive that Stephanie had a wonderful day, as well. We started by opening presents, then had breakfast at IHOP (no Krispy Kreme, she decided to wait on that), pedicures, and shopping at Target. Then we went home for a little while and had some cookie cake. After that, we went bowling. Back home to rest for about an hour, followed by dinner at Fogata’s, after which we came back home and all pretty much collapses.

The only down side is that my stomach is not feeling well this morning. That’s a shame, but it is what it is, as they say. This, too, shall pass.

Christi doesn’t have Huddle tonight, so we have told Stephanie that she can pick dinner tonight, as well. She initially said she wanted to go to Hoffbrau, but we’ll see if that is how she still feels after work today.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

Not surprisingly, I did not remember to read my Bible readings yesterday, so they will be the same for today. The thing is, I typically read them during my morning break at work, so it’s easy to remember. On days when I don’t work, it’s more of a challenge. So, today, it’s Exodus 4 and Matthew 25.

Today’s Psalm, from Heart Aflame, is Psalm 94.

O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!
O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?
He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge—
the LORD—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.
Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,
to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.
For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?
If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute?
They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.
He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the LORD our God will wipe them out.

“It is only in the Lord’s school we can ever learn to maintain composure of mind, and a posture of patient expectation and trust under the pressure of distress. The Psalmist declares that the wisdom which would bear us onward to the end, with an inward peace and courage under long-continued trouble, is not natural to any of us, but must come from God.” (p 233)

(From Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God)

In chapter 7, “Rules for Prayer,” we move from the letters of Augustine and Luther, to John Calvin’s massive work, Institutes of the Christian Religion. In this work, he includes a section called “the rules for prayer.”

His first rule is a principle of reverence or the “fear of God.” “Calvin calls Christians first of all to have a due sense of the seriousness and magnitude of what prayer is. It is a personal audience and conversation with the Almighty God of the universe.” Rather than being completely “devoid of awe,” we must approach prayer “‘so moved by God’s majesty’ that we are ‘freed from earthly cares and affections.'” This idea of the fear of God, Keller says, is one of the most misunderstood ideas in all of Scripture. What does it mean to fear God? Fear means afraid, “but afraid of what–and why?”

The most natural thought for us is to be afraid that God is going to punish us. But in 1 John 4:18, we are told that perfect love casts out fear. We are also told that this kind of fear, that is cast out, has to do with punishment. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. In Romans 8:1, we get this: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, this kind of “fear” that we have before God cannot be a fear of punishment.

What are we to do with Psalm 130:4? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Timothy Keller gives us an example. He compares it to suddenly getting the opportunity to meet someone that you have had a great admiration for, perhaps even “hero-worshipped.” When you go to shake this person’s hand, it hits you. You are actually meeting her. “You discover to your embarrassment that you are trembling and sweating, and when you try to speak, you are out of breath.” What is happening, here? You are not afraid of punishment. But you are afraid of doing or saying something inappropriate. “Your joyful admiration has a fearful aspect to it. You are in awe, and therefore you don’t want to mess up.”

If this is how we feel when meeting a human whom we admire, how much more so should we feel this way when approaching God? Keller goes on to cite a portion of The Wind in the Willows, a chapter called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” In this chapter, Mole and Rat meet their deity, Pan. When they hear him play his pipes, this is their reaction:

“Rat,” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet–and yet–O Mole, I am afraid!”

Keller says, “That captures the concept of the ‘fear of God’ as well as anything I know.” The fear of punishment is the kind of fear that people have when they are completely wrapped up in themselves. “Those who believe the gospel–who believe that they are the recipients of undeserved but unshakable grace–grow in a paradoxically loving yet joyful fear.” What we are afraid of his grieving him. We are afraid of dishonoring him.

So, when we approach God in prayer, this is a crucial part. “The very fact that we have access to God’s attention and presence should concentrate the thoughts and elevate the heart.”

Father, I pray for this kind of fear in my times of prayer. There still lingers within me this fear of punishment with which we ought not be stricken. I have learned to appreciate your grace even more, and that kind of fear has dissipated greatly, yet it still lingers. Teach me that joyful fear of being in your presence, Father.

I pray for this day, Father. May our trip to work be safe and smooth. Keep us mindful, Father, that area schools will be starting soon, which will affect our morning drive. I pray for our work day, that we will realize your presence in the midst of whatever assails us. I pray also for physical mercy, for any pains that might be experienced, that your hand of mercy would grace us, helping us to feel better. I pray that Stephanie has some great memories from yesterday. I also continue to pray that we would hear something from the state agency in charge of the program for which she interviewed. I pray that Rachel is getting some good rest as she ponders her next steps, and may you be close to my mother today, in whatever she finds herself doing. We look forward to worshiping with her on Sunday.

Your grace is sufficient, Father.

May we experience a joyful awe and fear in our times of prayer in God’s presence.

Grace and peace, friends.

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