Last Sunday we were tackling Habakkuk’s prayer (from Habakkuk 3) at Grace Church Wrecclesham. For me, one of the striking lessons was that the way we think about God shapes our prayers and our life. And amongst other things we see in his prayer a real sense of ‘fear’ (Hab 3:2 – “your work, O LORD, do I fear”) – a right response to God’s revelation of His judgement on the nation.
But it got me thinking about how, as NT believers in Christ, this ‘fear of God’ is shaped by our salvation in Jesus.
At this point I found Timothy Keller’s new book – Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God – very helpful. (The title of this post is a phrase from his book). He discusses (97-99) ‘Joyful Fear’ in prayer, relying on the work of Calvin, and asks the question about what kind of fear we should have and why. It cannot be a fear of punishment – for we know that Jesus has taken the punishment that should be ours. Here’s how he puts it:
We could say that fear of punishment is a self-absorbed kind of fear. It happens to people wrapped up in themselves. Those who believe the gospel – who believe that they are the recipients of undeserved but unshakable grace – grow in a paradoxically loving yet joyful fear. Because of unutterable love and joy in God, we tremble with the privilege of being in his presence and with an intense longing to honor him when we are there. We are deeply afraid of grieving him. To put it another way – you would be quite afraid if someone put a beautiful, priceless, ancient Ming dynasty vase in your hands. You wouldn’t be trembling with fear about the vase hurting you but about your hurting it. Of course, we can’t really harm God, but a Christian should be intensely concerned not to grieve or dishonor the one who is so glorious and who did so much for us.”
Keller, Prayer, 99
I think that is a really helpful analysis. And it should focus our minds in prayer. If we had an audience with the Queen it would be unthinkable that our mind should wander away to jobs that needed doing around the house or bills that needed paying. A right sense of awe and respect would focus our attention on the one to whom we were speaking. In the same way, “The very fact that we have access to God’s attention and presence should concentrate the thoughts and elevate the heart.” (99)