Day 19, Chapter 19: The Listener
I grew up believing I was ugly. With my movie-star good looks, I know this seems unbelievable, But all joking aside, it's true. Because of this, meeting and conversing with people was difficult for me; I became introverted, insecure, and shy.
This intensified when I was 10 years old. My Sunday school class had a scripture memorization program, and at the end of it we were scheduled to quote our verses in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning. When my turn came, I couldn't remember my verse. Panic sat in, which only made it worse, and my mind went completely blank. I doubt if I could have spelled my name. No one prompted me, aiding my memory.
The Pastor was sitting on the front row, and he lost patience with me. This, of course, made my memory loss worse. In complete embarrassment and humiliation, I began to cry. This angered him and with disgust, loud enough for all to hear, he told me to go sit down. That Pastor was my dad.
Dad had insecurity issues of his own, and I have always assumed that my failure embarrassed him. Then my weakness (crying) angered him. I don't mean to dishonor his memory. He tried his best to be a good father, and I know he loved me. In spite of his failures and weaknesses, I loved him, as well.
Nevertheless, this experience scarred an already insecure kid in a horrible way. From that moment forward I couldn't speak in front of people. One-on-one I could function, but anytime I was in front of a group - whether it was a class at school, a youth group, or a room filled with people - my mind would go blank and I was finished. Eventually, I stopped even trying. I preferred receiving an F on an oral book report than trying to give it. It was a paralyzing fear.
Fear - whether of the dark, of failing, or of rejection - is a tormenting and debilitating thing. Thankfully, I have been freed from my fear of public speaking. But for years, having experienced such fear, I had difficulty embracing scriptures that spoke positively of "the fear of the Lord." Why would anyone want a relationship with someone they had to be afraid of? I wondered.
It certainly is not possible to enjoy God if you're afraid of Him. I do not ever remember enjoying the pleasure of His company for the first 19 years of my life, even though I was definitely born again. My relationship with Him can be described by the boyhood experience of T.H. White:
“My father made me a wooden Castle big enough to get into, and he
fixed real pistol barrels beneath its battlements to fire a salute on my birthday. He made me sit in front of it.... to receive the salute, and I, believing I was to be shot, cried”.1
That pretty much sums up my early concept of God. He was looking for any reason to shoot me. As far as I was concerned, He was makin' a list, checkin' it twice, to see if I'd been naughty or nice. And if I was less than perfect, there would be hell to pay - literally. The fear of the Lord was anything but appealing to me. In fact, like most people I believed the devil wanted me to have fun; God, the serious and stern Judge that He was, wanted me to be sober-minded and live a boring life. How horribly inaccurate. Thankfully, my perception of Him has changed and I now believe wholeheartedly in His goodness.
I have since discovered that my concept of "the fear of the Lord" was distorted. Several different Hebrew and Greek words in Scripture are translated as "fear." Phobos, for example, is a dread or terror. Our English word phobia originates from this word. Scripture makes it clear that God doesn't want us to experience this type of fear. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). All four of these words for fear are phobos.
There is also the word deilia, which is a timidity, insecurity, or cowardice type of fear. As a young boy I had become deilia through my insecurities. But God says in 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (deilia), but of power and love and discipline." Our heavenly Father doesn't want us to be timid or insecure.
What type of fear, then, are we to have toward the Lord? The Greek word is eulabeia, which is a reverence or piety; it is an awe, and overwhelming feeling of wonder, admiration, or respect. Jesus actually possessed this type of fear toward God, our Father, though He certainly was never afraid of Him: “In the days of his flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety (eulabeia) (Hebrews 5:7).
Possessing a respect and awe of God brings great reward to us. It is spoken of as the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). It is also used to describe the respect Abraham had for God, which enabled him to trust the Lord even with his son Isaac's life (Genesis 22:12). It is somewhat ironic that a word sometimes translated as "fear" engendered faith, but it did. Abraham's respect of God caused him to believe fully in His goodness, and that He was trustworthy. This is also the type of respect we are instructed to have for our parents, which carries with it the promise of a long life (see Leviticus 19:3).
There's a revealing description in the book of Malachi of how this type of honor blesses the Lord. The context of this biblical book is the unfaithfulness of Israel, a people God loved very much and who were supposed to be walking in covenant with Him. They had turned away from Him, however, and instead were worshiping idols. God's desire was for them to return to Him, and He was using Malachi to challenge them accordingly.
In the midst of this season in which God was experiencing such painful rejection, several individuals who still honored and respected Him were conversing. Based on the passage, their conversation was obviously honoring toward Him. As they were speaking to one another, the Lord heard it and was deeply moved.
Then those who fear the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and HEARD it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. "And they will be mine," says the Lord of hosts, "On the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him. So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him." (Malachi 3:16-18; emphasis mine)
This passage says the Lord "heard" these individuals. Among other definitions, this Hebrew word also means "to eavesdrop." God began eavesdropping on their conversation, not to catch them doing something wrong but because their conversation was blessing Him!
God's heart is so incredibly misunderstood. Jesus, who came to show us the true nature of God, was so kind He was loved by young and old, including sinners. Only self-righteous, religious legalists and the truly evil didn't like Him. He was interesting, compassionate, and kind.
In Malachi's day, God's heart was so moved by these people who loved and honored Him that He instructed angels to create "a book of remembrance" and record their names in it. He would honor them later. He called them "mine" and His "possession" (segullah). Segullah was the word for a treasure or jewel. The Lord was so deeply moved by what He was hearing, He referred to these friends as a treasure to His heart.
You, too, can be a treasure to Him. It won't be because you perform well enough, but because you love, respect, and honor Him. He is listening, not to catch you in a failure so He can humiliate and punish you, but to enjoy your company. In the midst of all the rebellion and idolatry on the planet, give Him some love.
Talk to Him. Today.
Pray with me:
Father, we are so grateful for Your Son, Jesus. Jesus, You are perfect love personified. You drive away all our fears, You complete us and redefine our worldview. Knowing You, we can wholeheartedly believe in the Father's goodness and draw near in reverent awe. May we walk in the awe and respect of You that results in the highest honor and admiration.
Let us reap the rewards of walking in the appropriate fear of the Lord: wisdom and revelation, knowledge and faith, and a trust in You that is constant and strong.
We pray that Your listening ears, today, God, would be drawn to the sounds of endearment toward You from our hearts. Let it be such that the angels record our names as Your treasured friends, just as they did in Malachi’s day.
In Your Christ’s name we pray…Amen.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
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1 T.H. White, The Book of Merlyn (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977), pp ix-x.