When you hear the phrase "the fear of the Lord," what comes to mind? Do you picture Dorothy and her pals trembling before Oz? Do you think of a superstitious dread, a morbid fear of a God who's up in heaven wearing a frown, ready to pounce on you if you make a mistake?
The Hebrew word for fear means to revere or respect. So the fear of the Lord is simply a reverential awe that produces humble submission to a loving God. It's based on relationship, not repercussion. It's based on the fact that you love Him and you know He loves you—not on the thought that He's going to get after me if I do something bad. It's based on you being so in awe of the Lord that you don't want to displease Him.
The fear of God is one of the great themes of the book of Proverbs. From the very beginning, Solomon wrote that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning"—the most important or chief part—"of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). Later on, he said that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). So the most important aspect of knowledge and wisdom is fearing the Lord.
Throughout Proverbs, we see that this kind of fear does at least two things for you. First, it keeps you from evil. Proverbs 16:6 says, "By the fear of the Lord one departs from evil." And Proverbs 8:13 says, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." It's a guardian that keeps you from doing certain things.
Think of Joseph as an example: when he was a servant in Potiphar's household, Mrs. Potiphar came onto him and not so subtly said, "Hey, Joe, hop into bed with me." His response is telling: "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). Joseph cared more about what God thought than anything else, and it kept him from a moral evil.
A second thing the fear of the Lord will do is increase the quality of your life. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly," or, as the Message puts it, "better life than they ever dreamed of" (John 10:10). How does that happen? The fear of the Lord. As Proverbs 14 says, "In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death" (vv. 26-27).
Think of Abraham's story. God told him to offer his promised son, Isaac, as a sacrifice, and Abraham was about to go through with it when the Angel of the Lord stopped him and said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad...for now I know that you fear God" (Genesis 22:12). The fear of the Lord enabled Abraham to live such a life of faith and confidence that he figured, If I kill Isaac, God will raise him up (see Hebrews 11:17-19).
While that's not a test anyone would want to go through, that's life at a whole new level. The fear of the Lord will amp up your life and heighten everything—more excitement, more joy, more peace. Are you living in that life-giving, reverential awe today?