As the father of three children so far, I have spent a lot of time pondering the impact I want to have on my kids. We are choosing to homeschool our children to maximize our control of the factors that we believe will lead them to the most fulfilling life. It is our sobering responsibility to train them and mold them. As a parent I never want to play god in my children’s life. It is not my job to make sure they conform to my dreams and goals for their life. At the same time, I believe that God has put these children in our care for a reason. And we have a duty to our Creator to instill in our kids the ideas and goals that He wants us to. I will stand before God some day and give an account of what I taught my kids. I don’t know about you, but I want to get this right!
What does God say is the most important thing we can teach our children? It seems to me His answer is the fear of the Lord. In Deuteronomy 10:12, God tells his children that the first thing He requires of them is to “fear the Lord your God.” Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 12:13 that the “conclusion of the whole matter is to fear God and keep his commandments.” Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1:7 and Prov 9:10). Jesus commanded in Matt 10: 28, “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.” We are also commanded to “be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day” (Prov. 23:17). I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The Scriptures are also loaded with promises of the benefits of fearing the Lord. These benefits are on any loving parent’s checklist of things they desire for their children.
Proverbs 22:4, “By humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches and honor and life.”
Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence.”
Proverbs 14:27, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.”
Proverbs 19:23, “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction.”
A fountain of life? Abiding in satisfaction? Strong confidence? I’m getting the idea that this is a really good quality for our children to have.
But what is the fear of the Lord? I have heard many people say that that their relationship with God did not blossom till they realized that God was not someone they should be afraid of. Yet here is scripture commanding us to fear Him! In most cases, fear is something that keeps us away from the object of our fear. How can fearing God bring us closer to him?
Life seems to contain a constant struggle between discovering the truth (the way things really are) and being sucked into a deception (a false world). I believe there are really only two religions to choose from. One, where you get to know and obey the God who is really there, or two, you follow an imaginary, manmade god. There is no getting around it – the real God is terrifying. Think about it: a Being who has unlimited power and the ability to end not only your physical life but destroy your soul. A Person who knows all the wrongs you have ever done and sees right through the facade you want to project. A holy Judge who gave us life and demands we give an account to Him of how we used it. No wonder some people want to create a safe, make-believe world where God doesn’t exist – they can’t handle the truth! The moment we decide that an imaginary god isn’t good enough for us, and begin looking for the real thing, that first step has to be terrifying. If it isn’t, you might just being exchanging dream lands.
But thankfully this real God that we encounter is amazingly good, perfect, and loving. He is the Source of beauty and laughter. He is better than anything we can imagine. His holiness (perfection) is our greatest hope, but also our greatest fear. God is pure goodness, which means He cannot tolerate evil. He is angry with wickedness. How can love not be furious when the object of that love is cruelly abused? Every one of us has committed acts of cruelty or neglect that make us worthy of wrath. Don’t think so? That is because we use our powers of selective memory to our advantage, and we can just photoshop the actions we dislike out of our past. But they are still there. We need a solution if we are going to survive in the blinding presence of Pure Goodness.
Amazingly, our loving God gave us such a solution if we accept – the offer of an exchanged life. Jesus gives us the results of his perfectly lived life and we give him our messed up life and he takes the consequences on himself, which He paid for on the Cross. But what Jesus offers us is not merely a free ticket to heaven or a giant eraser, it is a life-giving union with the living God of the universe. The same God who is as passionate about our holiness and happiness as ever. The same God who still hates the things that deceive and destroy us. Even for Christians, it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a living God. (Heb. 10:30)
So then, I believe that the fear of the Lord is knowing God as he really is. “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him” (Psalm 25:14a). This enables us to see life as it really is. It is so easy for us view the world with God airbrushed out of the scene. In one sense this view is appealing; we believe we can indulge in anything our sinful nature desires without consequences. However, there is a dark side to this atheistic illusion – no loving, sovereign God in charge means this world is a scary place. Accidents and cancer can randomly strike without meaning or purpose. Our tragedies become senseless. So do our achievements. Apart from God, there is only emptiness at the top. Thankfully this is not that case. The evidence for a loving Creator is abundant to anyone who is brave enough to face it.
One of the commands most often repeated in scripture along with this injunction to fear God, is to not fear anything else. Fear is one of Satan’s weapons that he uses to control us. Fear distracts us from the goodness of God and prevents us from stepping out in obedience. The fear that comes from encountering the power and holiness of God brings with it the assurance that this God is good and strong enough to execute his wise and loving plan for our life. This is why there is a strong confidence and abiding satisfaction for those who fear God.
Fearing God is the soul-satisfying tremble of being awakened to His awesome presence. It is a fear which burns away the lust and covetousness that make us dead to the pleasures of God. Fearing God means grasping the fact that we are not our own. We were created by God for His purposes and His glory. He is the One who lends us breath and keeps our hearts beating. He is the one that we will stand before and give an account to when this life is over. God does not owe us anything. When we realize this we become overwhelmed with gratitude for all that God has graciously given us.
Leading our children to a right knowledge of God is by far the most important thing we can teach them. The more they understand the beauty and power of God, the less susceptible they will be to falling for Satan’s deception. You can help instill these ideas in your children by emphasizing that they are created by God and belong to Him. Remind them of the fact that you yourself are under God’s authority, which is why you are asking them to submit to yours. Model the humility that comes from fearing God and the awareness that God alone is the righteous judge. Watch your heart for a critical spirit. The more aware you are of the fact that you will stand before God and give an account of every word you speak, the less you will criticize and run down others.
In the end, words are not enough to awaken this life-giving fear of God. Only God can open our children’s eyes to His reality. But He uses our prayers and our instruction to achieve this. Make sure this fear of God is a reality in your life. It is the critical first step in the job He has called us to.