Fear and Blessing
As we start this morning I want you to help me out; I know that you guys are very well read, so I want you to help me with the endings of some pretty famous stories.
First is the story of Cinderella, a book about a young girl being raised by a absent dad and a wicked stepmother. She goes to the ball meets a prince, leaves a shoe, and finally prince Charming shows up at her door step and they “lived happily ever after.”
Then there is the story of Sleeping Beauty, a young princess who pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep. 100 years later a prince finds her castle during a hunting trip, and enters to find the young princess and kisses her. She awakes and they “live happily ever after.”
Finally, the story of Jack and The Beanstalk. A young boy trades the family cow for some magic beans. His mom throws the beans out the window and the next morning there is a giant beanstalk. Jack climbs the beanstalk and steals a bag of gold, a hen that lays golden eggs and a harp. As he makes his escape down the beanstalk he is chased by the giant. When Jack reaches the bottom he chops down the beanstalk and the giant falls to his death. Jack and his mother “lived happily ever after.”
I was told that when Walt Disney used a fairy tail for one of his movies he always changed the ending so that the characters could live happily ever after. He knew that we all have this longing for our own fairy tale ending. We’re not asking for much we just want to be able to live “happily ever after”. If Trista and I are watching a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending, she gets mad. She wants the fairy tale ending. We desire happiness, we long for it, we search for it, we’ve got to have it.
We even read in the Deceleration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I’m not sure that we really understand what the founding fathers were saying. Most people believe that they were saying we have the right to be happy, but what it says is that we have the right to pursue happiness. Our founding fathers believed that we were responsible for our own happiness, and I agree and disagree with them.
Our Psalm this morning addresses the idea of finding true happiness, after all that’s a great reason to worship God isn’t it. The song begins with, “Blessed is everyone.” It may help you to know that the Hebrew and Greek word blessed can also be translated happy. So in biblical terms, happiness and blessedness is the same thing; to be happy is to be blessed, and to be blessed is to be happy.
So if the Psalmist is saying that we can be happy, then I think we may need to take a closer look at what it means to be happy. So many folks seem to have a skewed view of what happiness truly is. In our culture, most people believe that happiness comes with success, good health, a family life, and money and possessions. The problem with the American Dream is that even when it seems to pay off with wealth and success, there is no guarantee that we’ll be happy.
So this morning as we continue our look at the songs of ascent, we are going to spend some time talking about where we will find true happiness.
What Does It Mean to Fear The Lord? - Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!
I have been told that the worst thing you can do in a car is over correct. If your car goes off the road and you jerk it to try to get back on the road you will overcorrect and usually make things worse. The truth is that we can overcorrect more than just a car, and end up making a mess of things.
Twice in this song we are told if we want to find true happiness we must fear the Lord. For most of us here this morning that sounds strange, because we have overcorrected. There was a time when hell fire and brimstone sermons were in vogue. There were sermons written like Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that caused people to faint and fall into the aisle as he preached about the wrath of God.
We understood that just looking at the wrath of God was not a complete picture, so we began to look at His love and grace and instead of coming to a complete picture of who God is, we overcorrected and Jesus became my homeboy. We have minimized the call to fear God down to having some respect for Him. And since Jesus is my pal then what does it matter if I worship Him, what does it matter if I put Him first, or last, or somewhere in between. He’s ok with what ever I choose to do because that’s what real friends do.
The problem is that Jesus is not our equal, He is our Lord. I know that He calls us His friends, but there’s a very important stipulation that Jesus places on His friendship: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
All throughout the pages of the Bible we see the fear of the Lord. In Isaiah 6, the prophet finds himself in the throne room of God and says, How terrible it is for me! I cried out. I'm about to be destroyed! My mouth speaks sinful words. And I live among people who speak sinful words. Now I have seen the King with my own eyes. He is the LORD who rules over all.
In Exodus 20 we read: When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."
In Revelation 15 we read: Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.
And in the books of wisdom, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, we are told to fear God 59 different times.
It may shock you that the Bible isn't interested in whether we believe in God or not. It assumes that everyone more or less does. What it is interested in is the response we have to Him. We need to decide if we willing for God be majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or are we going to try to shrink Him down to a size our minds can wrap around. If we try to confine God to the boundaries we are comfortable with then we are not dealing with the God of creation and the Christ of the cross. Instead we are dealing with a cheap dollar store version of something made in our image.
In an effort to keep us from making Jesus our pal, the Bible talks of the fear of the Lord; not to scare us, but to remind us of the overwhelming majesty of God. The Bible wants us to stop the whining and fidgeting, and says that we must spend some time being still so that we can really see God and listen to Him as He speaks His merciful, life-changing words of forgiveness.
We need to be reminded from time to time that everything’s about God, not about us. Martin Luther’s great cry was to “let God be God.” A.W. Tozer said “that to know God is to fear Him and to be stunned by the splendor of His presence.” God does not exist just to meet our needs. We exist to bow before Him with an attitude of holy fear so that we will worship Him with our whole life.
Most of us could stand to tremble more in the presence of God. He’s not just the big guy in the sky, or the man upstairs. He’s the Lord of Hosts, the Most High God, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Almighty who is holy, holy, holy.
The concept of fearing God in order to find happiness may seem confusing because we tend to think of fear as something to be avoided. But fearing God takes away every other fear that paralyzes us. I love the perspective of Oswald Chambers who said “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”
When we truly fear the Lord, we will recognize that He is the Creator and we are the created. He is the Master and we are His servants. He is the Father and we are His children. The phrase fear of the Lord literally means to, live before the face of God. It’s the idea of being so in awe of God that I long to obey Him; it’s really another word for worship. It involves an awareness of being in the presence of the Almighty which results in an overflow of respect and admiration. You can tell that you fear God when His opinion about your life matters more than anything else.
Last month, Jason Collins, an NBA player came out of the closet and declared that he was a homosexual. You may have heard about it, and you may have heard that everybody from the President of the United States on down praised him for being brave. The fact of the matter is that in our Politically Correct society, Collins wasn’t being brave. He was proudly declaring his sin, and there was no way he was going to lose his job. Everybody in the media was going to sing his praises. He had nothing to fear. Because there is no fear of God in our society, we believe that God will let us do whatever we want and He has no power and He has no rule in our lives.
Until Chris Broussard, a reporter from ESPN, said on air that Collins was “walking in open rebellion to God” and that living an openly homosexual lifestyle, as well engaging in adultery and premarital sex, is “openly living in unrepentant sin.”
Which of those two men do you think fears the Lord? There are going to be times when we’re going to be afraid of standing up for our Christianity. We’ll be afraid of losing our jobs, or promotions, or our spot on the team. We’ll be afraid of losing the respect or affection of someone we care about, and so, sometimes we’ll be tempted to deny or backpedal on our faith. We’ll be tempted to leave our Christianity at the church building for fear of what man could do to us.
A person who fears what people will do, or say, or think, will do whatever is necessary to distance themselves from God. They’ll find ways not to confess Him. In fact, they’ll deny Him if necessary. Because they’ll fear man more than they fear God.
It’s only when we fear God that we understand the joy that comes from not fearing anything else. When we fear God we can be delivered from the fear of man. It’s only when we learn to fear God that we can find true peace, and happiness in this life. That’s why the Psalmist could write and we can sing Happiness is found in those who fear the Lord.
Receiving a Real Blessing
The Psalmist says that a result of having a proper understanding of who God is and who we are, is that our fear brings about blessings. So what does it mean to be blessed?
I’m sure if I were to ask you to write down what you would consider a blessing you would have a very different view than what the Psalmist says. Remember that the illustrations the psalmist uses are steeped in the Hebrew culture. The picture painted of a grape vine and olive tree was meant to express the idea of a large family. And while a family might be on your list of blessings, I am sure that you would also include things like: financial prosperity, emotional stability, or physical well-being.
While I believe that those things are external manifestations of God’s blessing, we all know people who are financially prosperous, emotionally stable, and seem to be in good physical health who do not have a relationship with God. So, there must be a deeper meaning to the promise of being blessed by God.
The Hebrew word for blessed used in this text is the word ?????? (esher) and while we translate it blessed or happy, it is interesting to me that the word that has to do with our relationships, specifically our relationship with God. It is not a promise of physically blessings, instead it’s a greater promise of a relationship with God. After all that’s what Christianity is, we are invited into an active and dynamic relationship with the living God.
I am constantly amazed at people, even people who come and sit on a pew three sundays a month, who struggle in this life. Good people, who wonder why do we try, or if the struggle is worth it. These are folks who treat coming to church as a miracle pill, that showing up a few hours a month is supposed to make everything ok. They don’t realize that their struggle is a worldly struggle, they are living a life without a relationship with the giver of abundant life. They continue to lie to themselves and die of thirst when God offers a spring of living water that will never run dry.
Going back to the images that the Psalmist uses we see that this blessing, this relationship comes in two ways; The idea of a grape vine carries with it the idea that God’s blessing will multiply. In this relationship we get to experience His love, provision, and promises and these gifts or blessings from God are not a one time gift, but they continue to grow and multiply in our lives.
The second image is that of olive shoots. This is a symbol that God’s blessings that will endure. I am told that an olive tree can provide fruit and income for twenty to thirty generations. So, God’s blessings don’t just come today, but He offers us a relationship that will last through out all time.
As we close this morning I want to make an important clarification. The Psalmist uses present language, as in God has already blessed us. As Children of God we realize that His blessing is through Jesus. We realize that this blessing is so much greater than money, or possessions, or power, or prestige. We understand the blessing of this world will end up in the garbage heap while the blessing of a relationship with God is forever.
Questions For You To Consider
In the psalm there is a strong connection between fearing the Lord and obedience. How do you see that worked out in your family relationships between parents and children?
Are we too permissive or “buddy-buddy” with our children in ways that undermine the proper respect that we are trying to instill and thus undermine their obedience?
How can trying to be our children's pals cause difficulties later in their relationship with God?
Why would the Psalmist feel the need to tell us to fear God twice?
How would your life change if God was the only one who mattered? How would it make you a better person, better spouse, better student, better friend, better…
The blessing is a relationship with God, is that enough for you?
If God is all that we need then why do we chase after the garbage this world offers?