I often tell people that whatever we fear is what we serve, so that the object of our fear basically becomes our god. This morning a passage in Isaiah reminded me of that truth.
“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me? I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. When you cry out for help, let your collection [of idols] save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Is.57:11-13).
“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me…” I’m not sure how much more clear that could be! At the heart of being unfaithful to God is usually a fear of something else (no matter what that something else is, I’d call it an idol). An idol is anything we meditate on, and spend our time trying to appease. For years, I did the dance of fear trying to keep an abusive husband happy so he wouldn’t lash out. I feared him much more than God, and the result was I served him rather than God. In fact, he became my god, because of the way I served him.
Another interesting thing about this passage is “I will expose your righteousness and your works…” Very often people do good works out of fear—they worry what people think and are trying to impress them rather than God. This fear of man is idolatry of the worst sort. It becomes works-based rather than love-based. God does not desire our feeble efforts; he desires our love. From that love, genuine works of righteousness will flow naturally. The ones born of fear of man are wood, hay, and stubble mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 3. These works may look wonderful to people, but they cannot stand before the Judge.
This passage should be a wake up call to the people of God. The warning here is not based on actions, but on misplaced fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and when we are more worried about pleasing him than people or unpleasant circumstances, that is wisdom. Then we will be like the man who built his house upon the rock in in Matthew 7:24-25. No matter what life brings our way, we can overcome because we know the One we fear is in control and his love casts out sinful fear. We can stand firm knowing he is in charge. Sinful fear dreads losing control, and that is why the Israelites sacrificed to idols. They believed that appeasing them would make things run smoothly, and that if they didn’t sacrifice things would go badly. When we live in fear of man, we have a similar mentality. “If I can just…” everything will be ok. We’re trying to maintain control. Yet, the Lord calls us to leave the control in his hands. That is what the fear of the Lord does. It trusts in his goodness for the outcome, and we have nothing to dread.
Lord, help me never dread anything more than I desire to love and please you. Help me to avoid the trap of misplaced fear. Nothing on this earth is more powerful than you, so I need to reserve my fear for you alone. Yet, it is a different sort of fear than dread. It is honoring you above anything else, and resting in your control rather than trying to be in control. You are worthy of all honor and praise. Nothing on earth can ever cause me to be consumed with fear as long as I am consumed with you. Amen