#7 Wisdom and Fearing God (shortened)

(For full version of this Bible study "lesson," click here.)



            How many of us would like to be wise?  I’m sure all hands just went up.  Yet how many of us really know what it takes to be wise?  Here’s a hint: it’s not going to school longer or getting a better degree or reading more.  All of that is about finding more information, more knowledge. 

            But if we want to find real wisdom, there is a prerequisite, according to the Bible. 

            Psalm 111:10 says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  If we want wisdom, we need to fear Him.  Yet how easy is it to have more fear of everything else than of Him?  

            And “the fear of the Lord” seems like such a lofty concept.  What does it look like?  How do we “do” it?  

            Well, that answer is found in Proverbs 2.  Verses 1-5 tell us how to go about understanding what the “fear of the Lord” is:

            “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” 

            It goes on to say that you will have wisdom, that knowledge will be pleasant to your soul, and that discretion will protect you. 


            I have to wonder, How many of us can really claim that we have “the fear of the Lord” when we look at all that is required to understand it?  Accept His Words, store up His commands in our hearts and minds, listen for wisdom, seek understanding and insight with tenacity and conviction.  And then we will know the fear of the Lord.  And that will be the beginning of true wisdom.  

            I think many of us would rather redefine the “fear of the Lord” as admiring and respecting Him a whole bunch. 



            I think one thing that is critical to true wisdom and true fear of Him is immersing ourselves in the Word.  It is so crucial to a proper understanding of Him, a proper relationship with Him, and a proper fear of Him.  It’s where we find His commands, His words, and His wisdom.  It’s where we learn about who He says He is and who He says we are.  (We will get more into this in a later lesson.)              

            I fear that we, in our country, have become so familiar and comfortable with the Bible that we don’t cherish it and read it as much as we should.  We live like the Bible is optional reading in our daily Christian lives.  We don’t know the glorious, deeply satisfying feeling of hungering and thirsting for God’s Word . . . because we don’t dig deeply into it, as though we were searching for buried treasure.  Or maybe we do an equally troubling thing of dissecting the Bible and piecing together the pieces to fit what we want to hear.  Or we read it and then walk away, forget what we read, and fail to apply it.  Either way, we miss out on what God wants to tell us through it.  And we miss out on true godly wisdom. 

            What do our lazy disciplines say about us and about how we see the Lord?  Can we really claim that we fear Him if we won't make reading His Word a priority? 

            Of course, reading the Bible and praying and meditating on God do not, in and of themselves, earn us points or gain us wisdom or help us live in His love.  Not when we treat them as mindless rituals or items on a To Do list. 

            But the more we pour our hearts into these things – with the goal of finding Him, not just getting more knowledge or brownie points - the more we will know His heart.  And the more we know what He is really like (His love and His justness in proper balance), the more we will have a healthy fear of Him.  And the closer our relationship with Him will be.  It is this closeness and the passionate pursuit of Him that He wants for us.  And it’s what we need to live in the wisest, most fruitful, godly way possible. 



            In our country, I fear that we are failing at seeing God as He really is.  We are downplaying His justness and over-highlighting His love, turning Him into a mushy, weak God who winks at sin and just wants us to be happy.  And who would have any fear of or respect for a God like that?

            We think things and teach things like "God would never send a famine or economic distress to get our attention.  He would never send disease or disaster to open our eyes to our bad choices, to call us to repentance.  God is not like that.  He is a soft, squishy, feeble, all-loving, ever-forgiving God who would never dream of punishing or disciplining or causing any kind of pain for us.  Etc."

            Of course bad things do happen in a fallen world because of mankind’s sin and bad choices.  So a lot of what happens might happen mostly because of us, not because God specifically allows it or causes it for a reason.  But . . .

            “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord. 

            “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. . . People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord. 

            “Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew.  Locusts devoured your figs and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

            “I sent plagues among you . . . killed your young men with the sword . . . overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah . . . yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

            “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”  (Amos 4:6-12)


            We have forgotten what God is capable of.  We have shrunk Him.  We don’t fear Him anymore.  We have kicked Him off the throne.  We are fearing everything else but Him.  And we are not returning to Him.  And look at the problems it is causing in our society and world.  Are you ready to meet your God?


            “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  (Matthew 10:28) 

            “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Hebrews 10:31)
         



Jeremiah

            To gain a healthy fear of the Lord and to truly understand what kind of big, magnificent, powerful, just God He is, let’s look at one of the most terrifying books of the Bible: Jeremiah.

            Because it blows our Western idea of God’s mushy love and unending patience out of the water. 

            Of course, we all know that God is love and that His love is unending.  And we know that He is incredibly patient, pursuing sinners over lifetimes and history so that He can draw as many people as possible to Him.  But we – especially in America – seem completely unaware of God’s justness.  We are all about His grace and mercy, yet we forget His wrath and discipline.  And we are taking His grace and mercy and love for granted. 

            The thing is, we want to live the way we want to live, yet be able to call out to Him when we want something or when things get too rough for us.  We want Him to step in at the last minute and save us, after we have had all the selfish fun we could have.  And we think that this is really the way God works.  That He's here to serve us and help us whenever we call on Him.  That because His love is so great, He will always step in when we call out to Him, regardless of our attitude toward Him or our choices. 

            This is how it was in Judah during Jeremiah’s time.  The people wanted to follow idols and they rebelled against God, refusing to obey Him or keep His laws.  And so God sent Jeremiah to proclaim judgment on them over and over again, to call them to repentance.  And yet they wouldn’t listen.  They continued in their stubborn ways, even surrounding themselves with lying prophets who told them what they wanted to hear.  And they thought they were godly enough.  They couldn’t imagine that there was anything that they should be punished for, so they brushed off Jeremiah’s warnings. 

            Besides, they could always call on God last minute to come save them, to spare them from some terrible consequences, no matter how they lived or rebelled, right?  After all, isn’t He a soft, mushy God who is so loving that He will always jump in and rescue us from anything bad happening?  Isn’t He so patient that He waits around for years for people to call out to Him in their time of distress, just so He can reach down and make everything all better?  Doesn’t He overlook any and all offenses because His love is so great and because He is all about mercy and grace?  He never punishes or lets people get what they deserve because He is all about the love.  Right?


            Jeremiah 7:16: (God says to Jeremiah . . .)  “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.” 

            Jeremiah 9:13-16:  “The Lord said, ‘It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law.  Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts . . .’  Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water.  I will scatter them among the nations that neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have destroyed them.’”     

            Jeremiah 11: 14:  (God says to Jeremiah . . .)  “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.” 

            Jeremiah 21:4-10:  “’This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands . . . I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath.  I will strike down those who live in this city – both men and animals – and they will die of a terrible plague.  After that, declares the Lord, I will hand over [those people] who survive the plague, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the enemies who seek their lives.  He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.’ . . . ‘I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.  Whoever stays in this city will die by sword, famine or plague.  But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life.  I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord.’”  

            Amazing!  Freakin’ terrifying!  This should sober us greatly.  It should hit us to the very core.  Could you imagine not only facing the horrors of this lifetime – war, disease, famine, violence, natural disasters, etc. – but also knowing that you have no one to go to for help, that the very God of the universe has turned His back on you in His justness and is refusing to listen to your cry for help, that you have fallen into the hands of the living God!?!  To whom can you go then, when God Himself has decreed these punishments?

            If we truly understood who God is ... we would fear Him a lot more than we do.  We would fall on our faces in humility before Him, pursuing Him daily in His Word and through prayer, seeking to live righteous, God-honoring lives ... instead of tucking Him away in a little box in the corner of our minds, ignoring Him while we live our self-centered lives, taking Him out only when we need something. 


            “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Hebrews 10:31)



            What if the One you counted on to save you from the consequences of your rebellion refuses to help?  What if the God of the universe is the very One fighting against you, instead of coming to your rescue like you thought He would?  What if America pushes Him away too much and tells Him to "get out" so many times that He finally decides to leave?  What if He decides to respond to us out of His justness and holiness instead of His patient love and mercy? 

            What if, in our worst times of crisis, God Himself turns a deaf ear to our cries. . . because we have asked Him to get out of our country . . . because we have turned our backs on Him, pushing Him away with our continued rebellion and self-worship . . . because He has decided to do us harm and not good, as discipline and punishment . . . because we have taken His love and patience for granted for too long, smugly brushing it aside.  Because we have no fear of Him anymore.  

            What if? 

            Can you think of any more terrifying scenario than to know that God Himself has turned His face from you, that He would refuse to listen to your cries for mercy, that you have no one to turn to at a time like that? 

            “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Hebrews 10:31)

            And you know the most amazing thing about our God, the One who could destroy rebellious nations in His wrath? 

            Jeremiah 5:1:  “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”

            The same God who pours out wrath is the One who will forgive a whole ungodly city for one righteous person.  This love should never be taken for granted, ignoring it while we live the way we want.  But it should make us fall on our knees in thankfulness and want to know Him more.  It should make us want to live a more honoring life for Him.  It should make us pursue godly righteousness.  It should develop in us a healthy respect, awe, and fear.  

            Because that is some amazing love!  

            How could we continue to live in rebellion or apathy toward a love as great and patient as that?  There is no excuse!  And at some point, there may be no One to call on to save us from the consequences of our rebellion. 

            “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.”  (Psalm 12:1)

             “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”  (Isaiah 55:6)          


            “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  (2 Chronicles 16:9) 


            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15) 




Asking for Wisdom

            Earlier, I pointed out how the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  There is another aspect to wisdom that I want to look at for a moment.  A more practical aspect.

            James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” 

            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” 

            Isaiah 48: 17:  “This is what the Lord says . . .’I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’“  

            When I face a hard decision and I am not sure what the Lord wants me to do, it is all-too-easy to panic, to fear that I will miss “His Will.”  

            But God’s Word says that He will give us wisdom if we ask.  He said that He will make our paths straight if we trust Him with all of our heart and acknowledge Him in all our ways.  And He said that He will tell us the way to go.  We just have to listen.   

            He promised to do these things.  And I think having a proper fear of Him means that we believe Him and His promises, that we take Him at His Word when He says He will make our paths straight as long as we are doing our part.  It means that we trust that He is a good, loving, wise Father who will guide us and care for us and work all things out for good. 

            A healthy fear of Him will also lead us to become more concerned with righteousness, obedience, and glorifying Him than we are with fulfilling our wants and meeting our “needs” and planning our futures.  Because we trust Him. 

            I think our fear of Him is tied to our ability to trust Him.  The one affects the other and vice versa.  How can we have a healthy fear of Him if we don’t’ trust Him?  How can we trust Him if we don’t see Him for the powerful and magnificent God that He really is, if we don’t have a healthy respect and awe for Him? 

            But if we really know Him and have learned to trust Him and are walking with Him, we don’t have to be afraid that He will let us down, that He won’t straighten out our paths or give us the wisdom we need.  We don’t have to be afraid that we won’t hear Him, because He has promised to lead us.  As long as we are doing our part – seeking righteousness, walking in obedience, praying, abiding in God’s Word - we can trust that He will faithfully come through loud and clear when the time is right.  (And this will be especially helpful during those long waits and long trials when we are waiting on Him and not sure what to do next.)

            I tend to panic a lot when I need guidance from God and He doesn’t seem to be answering.  I worry that I will miss His guidance, that I will fail to hear His leading.    

            But over time, I have learned that if I do not yet have a sense of the next step God wants me to take - if it is still unclear - then He hasn’t yet revealed it.  Because when He does, it will be clear.  I won’t have to wonder.  So if I am still wondering and unsure, then I know I need to pray and wait some more, until it is clear.  I am learning that when He says He will give me wisdom, He means it.  I just need to relax and trust Him more.  


            Wisdom is tied to our fear of God.  Which is tied to our trust of God.  Which is tied to how well we know God as He really is, instead of just our own ideas of Him.  Which is tied to whether we abide in the Word or not.    


            “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”  (Proverbs 2:1-5)


            Psalm 147: 11:  “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”


            So how many of us would like to be wise?  Are we willing to put in the necessary effort and time to find wisdom, to understand the fear of the Lord?  Are we willing to open our eyes to who God really is, to really find Him in the pages of the Bible, and to fall down on our faces before Him in humility? 


            Or would we rather substitute knowledge for wisdom?  After all, knowledge is much easier to gain. 

            Would we rather substitute our own wisdom for godly wisdom?  Because we are pretty great Christians who know the Bible and know what we’re doing. 

            Would we rather think of God as soft and mushy instead of holy and just?  Because a holy and just God is a scary God and we don’t want to have to change the way we live. 

            Would we rather substitute serving the Lord for the fear of the Lord?  Because serving is easier and gets more attention and praise. 

            “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  

            Do we really understand what this means? 



Questions:

5.  What does an unhealthy fear of the Lord look like?  What causes it?  And how does it affect our lives and our faith?


6.  What does a healthy fear of the Lord look like?  How do we get it?  And how does it affect our lives and our faith? 


8.  What do “lazy spiritual disciplines” say about our view of God and our relationship with Him?  On the flip side, could there be anything wrong about super-strong disciplines?  What are the pitfalls of each?  And what should be the reasons for our praying and Bible reading?


9.  Do you think most Christians today have a proper fear of the Lord?  What makes you think this?


10.  What kinds of things get in the way of a healthy fear of the Lord?


11.  In our country, I fear that we are failing at seeing God as He really is.  We are downplaying His justness and over-highlighting His love, turning Him into a mushy, weak God who winks at sin and just wants us to be happy.  And who would have any fear of or respect for a God like that?” 
            What do you think the general view of God is in our society: soft and mushy, or harsh and punishing, or holy and just yet merciful and loving?  Where might we be going wrong in our thinking?  And what effect is it having on us and our churches and our country?  (How about for you personally?)


16.  What might happen if God is trying to get our attention and we ignore Him for too long, as individuals or as a country?  Examples?


23.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15) 
            This is fast becoming one of my favorite, most convicting verses.  What do you think about it and how does it affect you?


25.  Do we often substitute our own wisdom for godly wisdom?  If so, why do we do this and how does it affect our lives and our relationship with God?  Any examples from your own life?
   

26.  Would most of us rather serve the Lord than fear the Lord (doing all that is required in the Proverbs 2 passage)?  What else might we do instead of “fearing Him”?




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