There is a vast difference between “the fear of the Lord” and being afraid of God, but the difference gets blurred in many people’s private moments of wondering what God is like. Small children often form misconceptions from adults’ insensitive remarks, from the attitude that envelops the words “the fear of the Lord” in ominous mystery.

How can one, instead of shrinking away from thoughts about “the fear of the Lord,” desire to experience the richness of what God means his children to have in this important area of our relationship with him? For me, Psalm 147 is a place to start.

“Praise ye the Lord,” the psalmist begins, and he tells us it is good, pleasant, and appropriate for us to praise the Lord. He then gives us a pattern of praise that lists specific things which the Lord does for his people. Reading this should cause in us a rush of praise and thanksgiving as water rushes through a break in a dam.

“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds”: this is the first reminder of why we should praise the Lord. God cares about brokenhearted, wounded members of his family. This dear Father looks for the proper gauze and ointment to bind up the wounds, whether they are psychological, spiritual, emotional wounds, or physical.

Next we are reminded of his fantastic knowledge, as we are told that he not only knows how many stars there are but has a name for each one of them! Those who study the stars are in awe of the endless number, and of the time it takes to learn the names of the few that men can distinguish and name—but God knows them all.

The next verse speaks with trumpet notes: “Great is our LORD, and of great power: His understanding is infinite.” This infinitely great One understands us. Our little fears, doubts, excitements, hopes, imaginations, ambitions, pains, joys, battles, struggles, disappointments, sins, faults, weaknesses, strengths—all are understood. What a comfort to communicate with One who understands us, and to be alone with that One. A desire for praise should be a natural result of thinking even a short time about such a reality.

We go on to discover that the Lord lifts up the meek. Lifts them up where? Well, we speak of our being lifted out of depression, don’t we? We speak of being lifted out of dullness and a humdrum routine, don’t we? We speak of being lifted up spiritually, don’t we? He promised to lift up the meek. He lifts up others, too, in different needs. Is it any wonder that in the next verse the psalmist urges us, even commands us, to sing? “Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God.” Maybe you have the voice of a nightingale, or maybe you croak like a crow; regardless, bursting into a song of praise is what each of us should do at times we think upon some of the wonders of what God promises to do for us, and of who he is. Maybe you have a harp, or a banjo, or a piano, or a recorder; it too can give forth praise to accompany the song—God says so. The important thing is the spontaneous expression of praise and thanksgiving, not just in church, not just formally, not simply with other people when it is expected, but alone with the Lord.

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More description is given to open our understanding of God. He covers the skies with clouds, gives the marvel of crop-watering rain, makes the grass to grow upon the mountains. He filled the Swiss Alpine slopes where I live with purple-blue gentians, creamy white edelweiss, myriad varieties of wild flowers mixed with the grass and the moss. He always gives abundantly more. This same gentle One gives food to the beasts, and cares about nourishing the ravens.

We have been prepared in these verses to meditate upon the positive things God does for us, and given specific things to praise him for. We should be flooded with warm feelings of trust, confidence, and expectancy, ready to pray on a background of praise for any immediate need.

In the midst of this preparation that draws us toward the gentleness of God and fills us with a certainty of open arms and loving care, we come to something that may bring us up short. “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” What are we being told?

Here, against the background of things God is reminding us he does for us, we are brought to thoughts of God’s own pleasure. We are being told that there are things we can do to give God pleasure. This is a two-way relationship. God desires to bring us pleasure and of course is preparing fabulous things for us in eternity. Now He tells us there are things we can do for his pleasure right now.

The negative is given first. He doesn’t take pleasure in human strength, even though he made man to have marvelous legs such as can run races and leap over the bar in the high jump. Part of God’s creation is the beauty of the human body’s possibilities in a variety of achievements. But here we are told that it is not our abilities that bring pleasure to God. What pleases the Lord does not require special strength in any area of body or mind, or education or equipment that puts one above another.

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“The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in His mercy.” We need to understand and attempt to do something that the Lord says will give him pleasure. This must not be passed over. What is this fear? In the context of Psalm 147 we know it is not being afraid; it is rather a mixture of awe, adoration, appreciation, some degree of understanding, of the titanic reality of God’s being infinite. It is bowing as a creature before the Creator and recognizing that perfect wisdom, perfect love, perfect justice, perfect compassion, perfect creativity, call for an emotion in response that cannot be encompassed in a single word. The word “fear” must cover so much that as we realize some portion of it, we feel like praising and singing but at the same time we feel like falling flat on our faces in worship.

Coupled with this great combination contained in the word fear is “hope in his mercy.” We are to realize afresh as we fear God that this Lord is the Lord of compassion and of great mercy. This, then, is the One to whom we can pour out our requests for the needs of ourselves and other people. There is no need for anyone who fears God in the real sense ever to be afraid of Him. But there is a need to pray for all who do not fear God, because one day they will be afraid when they see him and cry out for the rocks to hide them.

Fearing or afraid? Let us be sure we are among those who fear him, and let us ask him to use us among those who will one day be afraid unless they turn to him while there is still time.

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