Fear of the Lord has always held a negative meaning for me, so I have struggled with understanding this foundational gift of the Holy Spirit. Coming from a childhood where fear of punishment was the primary motivator to do good rather than love and respect, it is not a wonder that I have had to reframe my thinking.
Did you know we are gifted with the ability to be head over heels in love with God? To be smitten with the glory of God and His majesty, living in awe and wonder, and captured by everlasting love? By design, our Creator wants nothing more for us. But like any relationship, we must want and prioritize it, cultivate, and nurture it, and surrender ourselves to grow and mature to keep it healthy and alive.
Fear of the Lord is a filial or a reverential fear that moves us to do God’s will out of love. Because of His goodness, we are compelled to avoid doing anything that causes disconnection. We obey out of love and respect because we do not want to disappoint or break God’s heart. We fear hurting God and violating trust more than we fear punishment because He is God our Father.
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.Focus on His truth 1 John 4:18
On an intellectual level, I know we are to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. After all, He is God my Father. It is another thing, though, to have this move from my head to my heart. He is so big that my brain just cannot put Him in a box like that. Contemplating God’s love for me and being in a healthy place of self-love helps shift the knowledge of love from my head into the feeling of love in my heart.
God speaks our love language. He speaks all five love languages fluently: Words of affirmation, gits, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. When you discover your primary love language (quiz here), the benefits don’t stop at human relationships; you’ll find that your love for God and from Him is often expressed most strongly in that same language. Because God knows us intimately, He chooses to speak to us in our love language. For example, my love language is acts of service, so my love grows in God when I am helping and serving others.
Many of us hinder our ability to tap into love because we do not have a healthy sense of self. We treat ourselves as machines, driving ourselves to do everything and keep doing more. We wonder why we are exhausted and burned out. Around the world, three out of five workers say they are burned out. A 2020 U.S. study puts that figure at three in four. In the article Burnout: Modern Affliction or Human Condition? to be burned out is to be used up, like a battery so depleted that it cannot be recharged. In humans it manifests itself as exhaustion, cynicism, and loss of efficacy. Declining church membership is cited as a cause in this affliction, but burnout has been around since the Trojan War. This is nothing new, it is really part of the human condition when we are not drawn into relationship with God. We are designed body, mind, and spirit. Prayer, meditation, worship help us maintain the balance between the action and contemplation of our lives. Life does not work well when we ignore our spirit as we see today with the rise in anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Many factors contribute to our positive mental health and wellbeing. One Million Lives has developed a free mental health check-in tool to help users assess their current state of mind and provide suggestions for growth.
Here I go again, thinking this is all up to me (Lessons from a Dead Tree) and I am reminded that Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father, unless the Spirit draws Him.” And God’s method of drawing us is love. I find it is great news that the Holy Spirit wants to teach you and me the fear of the Lord!
What are some of the benefits of learning, understanding and living in the Gift of Fear?
- It fills us with awe or wonder and awareness of the glory and majesty of God, enabling us to avoid sin and attachments out of reverence and love of God. This gift allows us to have true poverty of spirit where we want nothing to separate us from God, igniting our souls to a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and sorrow for the sins that separate us from Him.
- It motivates us to have a vivid sense of God’s infinite greatness, have a real sorrow for sin, even venial sins, and to do penance to atone for sins committed and to be vigilant to avoid the near occasions of sin, to struggle against personal weakness and fight temptation.
- It perfects the virtue of hope. When I respect God as God, trust in His will, and anchor my life to Him, I approach the Lord with humility, docility, and obedience. I believe in His promises of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven.
- It perfects the virtue of temperance, which seeks to use all things wisely and in moderation, especially those sensible pleasures. With reason enlightened by faith, temperance controls the passions. Temperance is related to the gift of fear because one’s respect for God, and one’s awareness of being made in His image and likeness and being redeemed by Christ motivate a person to give glory to God by being temperate in actions and desires, not using, doing, or indulging in anything to excess or defect.
- It prevents us from being too familiar with God. We are the victims of original sin and suffer from concupiscence; therefore, each of us struggles with a rebellious heart. A person could easily take God’s love for granted and presume forgiveness without real contrition; or forget God’s majesty by taking His holy name in vain; or make demands of God and then be angry when He does not meet them; or forget that every gift is from God and be selfish; or neglect prayer and worship because there is not enough time for Him; or disregard God’s commandments and the teachings of His church. And without fear of the Lord, such a person might say, “God loves me just the way I am, and I am going to heaven.” One must ask, “Does such a person really love God?” While the Lord will never spurn a humble and contrite heart, He will humble the haughty.
How do we cultivate such an awesome gift? Daily prayer, worship at Mass, regular and careful examinations of conscience and regular use of the sacrament of penance. Also, meditating on the infinite majesty of God which I love to do in nature.
Last week, I went into our local cathedral for the first time since March 2020 just to sit in the presence of our Lord. Since I am still limited in being around people as my husband’s immune system recovers, sitting alone with God present in the Holy Eucharist filled me with awe and wonder and helped me fall in love all over again.
Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, historically known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi, in which we celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. I am so grateful that I made the leap of faith to accept this miracle after experiencing the Miracle of Lanciano on a pilgrimage to Italy, the site in the photo above where a monk who had doubts about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist found, when he said the words of consecration at Mass, that the bread and wine changed into flesh and blood. If you need more proof, this recognized miracle has science behind it as well.
I am thankful for the Gift of Fear giving me an awareness that God is God and I am not. This is the beginning of wisdom, to know that I am not God so I can surrender to a power that is much bigger and awesome than me!
Smitten with the Spirit’s Gift of Fear of the Lord,