I was searching the internet and found that there is a phobia list. That’s right it list all the things people are afraid of. The list claims that every phobia listed is backed by a reference from a medical journal. At current there are 530 phobias listed. People are afraid of a great many things. Listed among those phobias is two interesting phobias for my lesson today. They are Zeusophobia the fear of Gods or gods and Theophobia the fear of Gods or religion. I researched a little about these two words. Zeusophobia is the fear of Gods or mythical gods and their hold over one. This can include fear of anything related to the church, the Bible, or anything having to do with God or gods. Theophobia is an acute fear of God. This may be a person who has grown up under the idea that God is just waiting to zap them for doing something wrong or bad. They are constantly in fear as to what God will do to them and therefore they stay away from all spiritual influence.
Some of you may have grown up with a little of Theophobia in your religious upbringing. I know that when I misbehaved in church my Mom would put Theophobia in me by making sure I understood how and why I messed up and she normally helped me to remember it. She was being a good mother. I grew up with a fear of God. There was a time in my life when I knew I was not living correctly and I was constantly worried when God would bring down the hammer. I remember sharing this with one of my youth workers one day. We then went to the ice cream store, about 6 of us in a car. On the way back a thunder storm came up and while we were riding down the street a transformer blew up right next to our car. I remember my youth leader asking me had I been bad lately. She was joking, but it helped cement it in my mind.
Thankfully I have learned better. God never wants us to fear Him in a way that makes us feel as if He is waiting to bring down the hammer. God wants us to know He loves us and He wants the best for us. The wrath of God is not intended for those whom He loves and are seeking to follow Him. Throughout the Bible the wrath of God is for those who choose to not follow God and live life their own way. Today I want to explore a little more of the fear of God in the Old Testament. I want us to look at King David and some of his Psalms. I also want us to look at the words of a few of the prophets and listen as see what they teach us about fear.
The Psalms are an expression of feeling put in verse. Most of the Psalms can be sung and they probably were. Not all of these Psalms are penned by King David, but most of them are by his hand. There are Psalms of praise and majesty. There are Psalms of love and gratitude. And yet there are Psalms that show us King David’s fear and reliability on God. Here are a few examples:
1. Psalm 14
David contrast the evil and the good. He begins the Psalm by saying, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Then he proceeds to let us know what the foolish world is up too. There is no one who seeks God. There is no one good, everyone is corrupt. David says in verse four that they never call on the Lord. Then in verse 5 he says, “But there they are, overwhelmed with dread (fear), for God is present in the company of the righteous.” The fear of God is recognized when the contrast is recognizable. When the righteous are living according to God’s ways and are living in the joy that God gives, the foolish recognize it. They begin to fear God because they know they have been living a lie.
One of the things missing in our world today is the very essence of guilt for our sin. One of the things that worry me about today’s prosperity gospel is that you don’t have to repent from your sins. You just have to learn to be happy. As long as you are not hurting someone do what you want to do. Live like you want to live. Why do others have the right to tell you how to live?
Well others do not have the right to tell you how to live, but God does. God tells us that if we choose to live our way there will be consequences to pay. For the Israelites if they choose to ignore the covenant then God would withdraw His protection. For you and me today if we choose to ignore God’s covenant we will spend eternity in hell.
We can choose to live foolish or smart. When others see the joy even in uncertain times they begin to recognize something different in you and me. They begin to see God looking out for His children. They begin to fear and that brings conviction. Paul was very precise in Romans 1 when he said God would turn them over to themselves and they eventually destroy themselves. Only through God can we not fear, but have faith that God will not leave us nor forsake us. Hear David in verse 6, “…but the Lord is their refuge.”
2. Psalm 56
I learned verse 3 as a young boy. I had a dear friend who was an older gentleman who took me fishing and taught me how to shrimp. He let me drive his boat and helped teach me how to ski. One evening while we were coming in from fishing it was getting dark on the river and I guess he saw my anxiety. He very lovingly said to me, “You know David there is a verse in Psalm 56:3 and it says, ‘What time I am afraid I will trust in thee.’” I will never forget that evening and I remembered that verse ever since. I didn’t realize until later the significance of that verse until I read the whole Psalm.
David is in a fight for his life. He is running from King Saul and runs to Gath. (I Samuel 21:10-15) He is going to implore King Achish of Gath to give him refuge, but the people of Gath recognize him as a mighty warrior and are stirring up animosity against him. David begins to act like a madman and King Achish basically says there is nothing to worry about this man is mad. David escapes from Gath and finally a small band of men begin to follow him.
It is at Gath that David pens this Psalm. He calls out for God to be merciful to him. His enemies are pursuing him on every side. Yet in his distress he realizes who his God is. His God is the Lord. And out of his mouth comes these words, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
I love that last question. What can mortals do to us? What can a virus do to us? What can a pandemic do to us? Yes it can change our behavior. It can change our worship venue. It can cause us to stay at home and be separated from our friends and family. But as a child of God nothing can happen to me that God does not orchestrate. If I fully trust in Him I can be smart and do what I am supposed to and trust God is going to see me through. Death cannot steal my joy. The virus cannot steal my joy. Circumstances cannot steal my joy. I am not afraid!
David calls on God to not let his enemies win and again in verse 10-11 he sings, “…in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?”
Are you like David? Do you have more faith in God that fear of the unknown? God would never want us to defy smart information. We need to take every precaution to stay safe and well. Yet we do not need to fear the “What ifs” of life. To worry about the “what ifs” is to not trust God for each day. In Matthew 6:34 Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And each day God is in control. So let’s do as David, “In what time I am afraid, I will trust in you.”
3. Isaiah 8
Isaiah, a prophet to the nation of Judah and Israel. God speaks with Isaiah and tells him what to prophesy to the people. Exile is coming for Judah. Israel has been exiled to Babylon and now Assyria is coming down on Judah. Isaiah is trying his best to get the people to repent and turn back to God, but to no avail. Judah has left the Lord. They have become a people who worships false gods and turns away from the living God. Isaiah is telling the people that destruction is coming, but they are not listening and they have trust in their own devices.
It makes me wonder about the lives we live in the world we live. How much are we depending on ourselves to fix whatever problem has come our way? We live in a world and a nation that only calls out to God when trouble comes and problems persist. When we have mass shootings, politicians call for us to pray for the victims and their families. When there is a terrible storm we are told to pray for those in the path of the storm. Now almost every day we are updated with case numbers and death totals and we are told to pray for those affected by the virus.
It is almost like locking the gate after the dog has already escaped. Why were we not praying before? Have we ever heard a politician ask for prayer when congress was in session debating a bill? Have we had politicians ask us to pray that the right person be elected or just that they get elected? Have we had anyone outside of church tell us that God is the answer to our nation’s struggles?
Isaiah has rained down some pretty harsh words on Judah and God reminds Isaiah that because he has listened to God and followed God he does not have the same fears. Listen to these verses, “This is what the Lord says to me with His strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of the people: Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” The people who are not attached to God fear the things of this world. They fear COVID-19. They fear the falling stock market. They fear the stores will run out of toilet paper. God says, “Don’t fear what they fear, fear me.” God is more powerful than a virus. God can make things much worse than having no money. God wants you and me to make sure our fear is not based what the majority is telling us, but on what He is telling us. God can do so much more.
When speaking to the multitudes, Jesus sensed their fears and worry and He said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:32-34
Only if we could rely on Jesus for everything. If we could place all our cares on Him and not fear. Remember be responsible, but do not fear. Hear the words of Isaiah, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him.” 8:17.
4. Malachi 1:6-14
How does God see our worship? How does He know we are truly seeking to allow Him all the praise and honor and glory due His name? How much have we given to Him in the sacrifice of our praise? I often wonder when we worship, why we worship. Why do we come to the church building and sit in our pews, sing songs, pray and listen to the Bible read and preached? Why? Are we truly seeking to elevate the name of our God? Are we marking off a task on our to do list? Have we come to fall on our face before a holy God or do we have our God in a box and we take Him out and play with Him?
Malachi was entrenched in this type of worship. He was privy to the sacrilegious actions of a nation. They no longer held to the strict teachings of God in sacrificing animals upon the altar. They defiled the altar by bringing sick and blemished animals and figuring God will understand. Well He didn’t. He was truly upset with those that were supposed to be elevating His name. The very priest that He commissioned to do things proper and in order have gone away from their teaching and are making a mockery out of the worship of God. And yet the priest defend themselves acting as if nothing is wrong. God ask through Malachi, “…where is the respect (fear) due me?” The people of Malachi’s day had left their true worship of God. They were going through the motions, but their heart was not in it. Have you ever found yourself in this place? Have you ever just gone through the motions, but your heart was not in it.
The priest and the people had found worshiping God as a burden. They no longer saw it as a privilege and a desire to sing praises and give glory and honor to the God that had set them free. Hear the words of Malachi, “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands will He accept you?” God is not in the business of secondhand worshipers. He is looking for those who come to worship in beauty and holiness. He is looking for those who have a fear (reverence) for God and what He brings to our lives. He wants to be praised. He inhabits our praise.
Our lackadaisical worship of God allows others to see God as non-significant. They see God as a play thing not a real life person who cares for our lives and provides for our needs. When we His people worship Him as Jesus calls us to in John 4, “in spirit and truth.” Then the world begins to take notice. Our worship begins to transform our actions and attitudes. Our circumstances are not as important as our actions. We do not cry out in fear or dread over pandemics. We do not rush to our church buildings and places of worship because of a pandemic. We should already be there before the problem begins.
I realize we have a separation of church and state in our nation. I am all for it because I do not want a government to tell me who and how to worship, but when we have these governmental officials telling us to pray and stay home and be safe wouldn’t it be nice for one of them to just blow the world away while they are giving a press conference and say, “Would you bow with me in prayer for all the victims, families and those suffering with the COVID-19 virus. I would be amazed to see our president or governor start praying on television. Maybe if these leaders would do what they call all of us to do in public God would take notice.
God is the only God to be worshiped. He says in Malachi 1:14, “’Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am the Great King,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and my name is to be feared among the nations.’” God will never be feared or revered among the nations until those who call Him by name begin to worship Him with their whole being.
Our God deserves to be revered. He deserves our respect. I knew a man in Kentucky who lived in the town where I had my first pastorate. He was a big ole Kentucky boy who had married and had two children. He did not attend the church where I was the pastor, but I got to know him real well. His wife grew mums and sold them in the early fall. One day I was over there picking up some mums for Peggy and he was walking around with me as I chose. We were talking about many different things and his two children, a boy and a girl were playing on their swing set. They stopped for a minute to run up and tell me hello and were very polite. After they went back to the swings I remarked to him how polite and well-behaved his children were and ask him his secret. He smiled and said, “Well, David, I would hope they would respect me and do what is right out of a sense of good raising and good manners.” But then he reached down to his waist where he wore a large buckle attached to a pretty wide leather belt and grabbed the buckle by his hand and said, “But if that doesn’t work I always have a ready answer to any of their grips and misbehaving’s.” I smiled and remarked how I’m sure that was a very good motivator.
God hopes we learn to respect Him and worship Him out of our love and gratitude for all He does for us. He wants us to realize that every desire for us although we might think it is hard is for our best interest. He wants us to do good and show Him our worship by our actions and attitudes when we come into His house of worship or whether we are in the fields of life. But like my friend in Kentucky God is ready to chastise His people when they do not act accordingly. We must revere (fear) Him for the right reasons, not to be afraid of Him. He is looking forward to the day when we gather in heaven and the only thing on our lips will be our praise, glory and honor for the one and only true God!