AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Our three glorious Creators love us more than our tiny minds can even fathom and They want nothing but the best for us. Where things get sticky is that Their idea of what is best for us often differs quite a bit from what we feel is best. Of course, being our Creators, They’re always right. Ever try to argue with someone who is always right? It really grates on the old pride. After a while, you find yourself stubbornly defending some really stupid argument just because you’re tired of always having to back down. We play the same games with the Holy Spirit all the time. He tells us to do something, we say we know better, we realize how lame it is to claim to be smarter than He is, yet we just don’t want to back down. And then there are those times when He asks us to behave in a way that will make us look stupid and feel misunderstood. Uh, no thanks. Why does God have to mess up our lives right now?
God is like the doctor who wants to give his young patient an injection of medicine that will help reduce his pain. The child doesn’t see relief coming at him. He just sees a long scary needle. He’s already miserable—why is the doctor insisting on adding to his pain?
God is like the mom who wants her child to eat his vegetables. She’s thinking about nutrition. All the child cares about is good flavor. God knows what we need and He loves us more than we can fathom, but we just can’t see giving Him the benefit of the doubt in many cases. When He traps us in some nasty situation, we tend to think He’s nasty in Character, and soon we’re fussing and whining and wanting to rebel. What’s the spiritual equivalent to mom holding down her flailing kid so that the good doctor can give him that pain reducing injection? Reverence. It is reverence that saves us from so many stupid decisions. It’s reverence that stops us in our tracks when we’re trying to run from God and drives our stubborn little selves back into His waiting arms. Reverence is fabulous, and when you’re cultivating the right kind, there’s no such thing as having too much.
THE BENEFITS OF REVERENCE
So what exactly is reverence? It is a respect for God that is a byproduct of understanding how incredibly powerful He is. See a fence and you think, “That’s just a fence.” See someone get electrocuted when they touch that same fence and suddenly you’ve got a whole new respect for it. Suddenly you’re taking that “KEEP BACK” sign very seriously and you just don’t think it’s funny when your friend tries to dare you to touch it.
Now when it comes to God, there are good and bad types of reverence. The good kind comes from understanding that God is not just incredibly powerful, He’s also kind. He’s not the raging father who chases his son around the house with a bat because the boy accidentally knocked over a glass of milk. God is more like the fire in your fireplace: you and the fire will get along just fine as long as you keep a respectful distance and don’t try to stick your hand into the flames. In fact, on a cold winter night, that fire is going to be a real blessing to you. In the same way, having a relationship with God is an incredible blessing, and you’re going to greatly benefit from His Presence with you as long as you respect His boundaries.
Just as your fire isn’t going to leap out of the fireplace and try to burn you, God isn’t interested in trashing you just to do it. He loves you and He is for you. He will certainly put you through your share of trials in life, and some of those trials might be pretty intense. But there’s a big difference between making a kid do chores because you want him to learn self-discipline, and making him do chores because you’re trying to exhaust him to tears and break his spirit. God’s motivations towards you are very positive and when He puts you through tough times, it’s to help you, not trash you. But He’s also not interested in a one-sided, coercive relationship. He wants you to want to mature in life. He wants you to lean into the lessons He’s teaching you. To motivate you to do this, He teaches you to revere Him, which essentially means to be afraid to cross Him.
The right kind of reverence draws you closer to God. The wrong kind results in a feeling of distance. A destructive reverence for God is one in which you totally lose sight of His positive motivations towards you and you view Him like some scary, roaring lion who is pacing around you looking for the best angle of attack. False beliefs about God are what cause Christians to cultivate the wrong kind of reverence, and then they end up feeling afraid to talk to God. If you think God is up in Heaven just waiting for you to make one wrong move so He can hurl some bolt of pain and sorrow down on your head, then you’re entrenched in destructive reverence. The same is true if you can’t picture God’s face without seeing Him glaring down at you in angry disgust. But the good news is that destructive reverence is fueled by lies and lies can be unlearned. We have a lot of material that can help you get a more accurate view of God’s positive motivations towards you. Here’s a good principle to remember: God’s truth will make your soul feel hopeful about succeeding with Him. Lies will make you feel unwanted and rejected by Him. The reality is that the Holy Spirit is a very positive Teacher who thoroughly enjoys working with humans who want to please Him. If that sounds too good to be true, then you need to ask the Holy Spirit to help you get a more accurate view of Him.
So then, God is for you and He loves you intensely. But He isn’t going to force you to obey Him—instead, He wants that to be your choice. Because He understands that you have a lot of very strong motivations not to obey Him at times—things like doubts and fears and plain old fatigue—He helps you develop motivations to obey Him which will counter the others. Reverence is a very powerful motivator, and the more God helps you develop the right kind of reverence, the easier obedience will become.
Whenever God asks us to do something that we don’t want to do, we find ourselves caught in a war of countering motivations. On the one hand, we want to please Him. On the other hand, we want to please ourselves. Then we’ve got self-preservation concerns—is God asking us to do something that will expose us to physical, emotional, or social discomfort?
Let’s get out a balance scale and set a 50 pound weight onto one of the scales—that represents our desire to please God. With nothing in the other scale, the balance immediately tips in the favor of obedience. But now let’s set three 50 pound weights onto the empty scale. Those weights represent our various fears about what will happen if we attempt obedience, plus our general aversion to the whole idea. Now the heavier side wins—the balance tips towards rebellion. We’re going to end up going with whichever side wins the battle of weights. Right now rebellion is definitely in the lead, so what’s going to swing us back towards obedience? Here’s where reverence comes in.
If we’ve got only a little reverence for God because we’ve never been properly taught about His wrath and we think He’s just some big Pushover who is all sweetness and smiles, then we won’t have enough pounds to add to the side of obedience to tip the balance in that direction. But suppose we actually have a lot of reverence for God. Suppose we’ve had time to really think about the fact that He’s the Creator and Controller of all those hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes that we read about in the news. We’ve had time to think about the reality of Hell and about the many terrifying miracles that Yahweh did in the Old Testament. We’ve learned to see His hand at work in passing storms and the power of the sun, and in the sheer power of an ocean wave crashing down on a beach. We’ve got a lot of reverence for God. We understand that He has some seriously scary power and that He controls our every molecule. He’s not Someone we want to mess with. He’s way more powerful than that fire in our fireplace or that deadly electric fence. No, we’re not going to act like the fool who pokes the sleeping bear with a stick. We might not like what God’s telling us to do, but we revere Him too much to defy Him. This kind of reverence translates into a 1,000 pound weight that we add onto the obedience side of the scale and suddenly our dilemma is over: obedience is the only option we will consider. It’s not a close race, it’s a wipeout.
This is the fabulous effect reverence has on us: whenever disobedience starts looking like a really tempting option, reverence acts like the hooked staff that a shepherd uses to pull some wandering sheep back over to the rest of the flock. Reverence is the strong wind that pushes us back from the edge of a cliff, it’s the fence that flies up in our face before we can take another step away from God, it’s the invisible leash that stops our flight and then reels us back into the loving arms of our Maker. Reverence is glorious. Without it we will never find the impetus to sufficiently submit to our Makers. Reverence drives submission, and submission is critical to salvation and ongoing maturity. Reverence is the first step we take towards God, and for that reason it is rightly described as “the beginning of wisdom.”
So when have we learned all there is to know about reverence? Never, which is such an enticing thought. Because as reverence deepens, submission deepens as well, and deeper submission leads to greater intimacy with God. See how it works? There’s a thrilling chain reaction that is constantly going on between these two essential soul attitudes which results in an ever deepening bond with our three glorious Makers. Because of this, the wise Christian will cherish reverence and be eager to learn more about it as the Holy Spirit leads. An ever deepening fear of the Lord is a truly wonderful thing.
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The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes