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Why do we fear God when He is loving?

Soft focus of Christians raising their hands up to worship together in church revival meeting with an image of wooden cross over cloudy sky.
Soft focus of Christians raising their hands up to worship together in church revival meeting with an image of wooden cross over cloudy sky. | iStock/Getty Images/freedom007

To have the “fear of God” seems counterintuitive. When hearing the word fear, our minds go to a detrimental image. But to fear God is the greatest force of confidence, comfort, and protection available to any being in the universe.

Holy fear can be broken down into two definitions: to tremble at the presence of God, and to tremble at His Word.

The psalmist declared, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him” (Psalm 89:7 NKJV). I added italics to greatly feared.

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The truth is, you will never find God’s wonderful presence in an atmosphere where He’s not revered and held in awe.

This became a reality to me in 1997 when I spoke at a national conference in Brazil. As we drove to the arena, I noticed the parking lot was packed. The conference was well attended. But I quickly noticed the presence of God was missing. I was baffled. This was a believer’s conference. The worship team was among the best in the nation. Why the absence of His presence?

Scripture identifies two types of God’s presence. First, His omnipresence. David testifies, “I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to Heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there” (Psalm 139:7–8, 12). God is everywhere.

The second type is shown in Jesus’ statement, “I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21 NKJV). The word manifest means “to make apparent ... to let oneself be intimately known and understood.”

This presence occurs when God reveals Himself to our mind and senses. Jesus states, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 NKJV). This is the presence missing in the arena that night.

I soon noticed that most of the people were not engaged in worship. Some were gazing around nonchalantly or looking bored. People milled around the auditorium or went out to purchase snacks at the concession stands. Many were laughing and talking.

When I took the stage, I didn’t open the evening message with, “It’s great to be in Brazil.” Rather, I asked, “How would you like it if, while you speak to someone sitting across the table, they ignore you, stare at the ceiling, or carry on a conversation with the person next to them?”

I probed further: “What if, every time you knock on your neighbor’s door you are greeted with a disinterested look and a monotone voice saying, ‘Oh, it’s only you.’ Would you continue to go to their house?”

I then said, “Do you think the King of the universe is going to manifest His presence or speak in a place where He is not honored and revered?”

I continued, “If your president stood on this platform, he would have been granted your full attention. Or if one of your favorite soccer players stood here, most of you would be on the edge of your seat, anticipating every word. Yet while God’s Word was read a moment ago, you paid no attention to it.”

I then spoke for the next 90 minutes on the fear of the Lord. They were a bit stunned by the confrontation but nevertheless listened intently.

Once finished, I gave the call, “If you are a believer, but you lack holy fear, and you are willing to repent, stand up!”

Without hesitation, 75% of the people stood to their feet. Within moments, the manifest presence of God filled the arena. People started sobbing and crying as the wonderful presence of God touched their lives. The holy fear did not scare them away from God. It drew them in close.

That night was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had in ministry.

Remember Daniel. He was overwhelmed and fell to the ground in the presence of an angel. He wrote: “When I heard the sound of his voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground. Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, ‘Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.’ When he said this to me, I stood up, still trembling” (Daniel 10:9–11).

Being in God’s presence is crucial to the spiritual health of every believer. It used to be difficult for me to enter God’s presence in prayer. But I started doing something, practically by accident. Instead of beginning my prayer time singing or speaking words, I merely pondered the awesomeness and holiness of our God. Almost immediately, I was met with His presence. I did the same the next day and experienced the same result. And on the third day, it happened again.

I asked, “Lord, why is it so easy for me the past three days to get into your presence?”

I heard the Spirit of God say, how did Jesus teach His disciples to pray?

I started quoting the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name ...” I got it. Jesus taught His disciples to come into the presence of God with holy awe and reverence.

David stated, “In fear of YouI will worship toward Your holy temple” (Psalm 5:7 NKJV).

The bottom-line truth is, where the Lord is reverenced, His presence manifests.  

Adapted from The Awe of God: The Astounding Way a Healthy Fear of God Transforms Your Life by John Bevere. Copyright © 2023 by John Bevere. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson.                                                                                                                                   

John Bevere is a minister known for his bold, uncompromising approach to God's Word. He is also an international bestselling author who has written more than 20 books that have, collectively, sold millions of copies and been translated into 129 languages. Along with his wife, Lisa, John is the co-founder of Messenger International — a ministry committed to revolutionizing global discipleship. Driven by a passion to develop uncompromising followers of Christ, Messenger has given over 50 million translated resources to leaders across the globe, and to extend these efforts, the MessengerX app was developed, providing translated, digital discipleship resources at no cost to users in 118 languages and counting. MessengerX currently has users in over 19,000 cities and 228 nations. When John is home in Franklin, Tennessee, you’ll find him loving on his g-babies, playing pickleball, or trying to convince Lisa to take up golf.

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