In this post, I’m continuing to respond to one of the questions a person who reads our blogs raised in the comment section to one of our blogs. One of the questions he asked was “how do you overcome unbelief and doubt” and the answer I’m giving this series is really related to the question how do you develop a more robust fear of God? But what I’m writing about in terms of how to develop a robust fear of God is the same answer I would give to the question “how do I develop a stronger faith and overcome unbelief”? (And as I previously mentioned, the answer I’ll give in this series of blogs is also the answer to another question raised by a responder about how to overcome consuming lust.) Now here’s an absolutely essential second factor for developing and sustaining a robust fear of God or developing and maintaining a strong faith: to develop and sustain the fear of god you must be devoted to fervent and persistent prayer. “You have not because you ask not” or because you ask for purely selfish reasons is the word of God that explains why the faith of many of us is weak (James 4:2, 3).
Several years ago when Vince Lombardi was a well known coach of one of the best and winningest American professional football teams he stood one day at the beginning of the season before his seasoned, very experienced football players and brought a stirring message to them. He was attempting to motivate them to become a strong, dedicated, skilled and winning football team. There they sat before him as a group of massive human beings eagerly waiting for instructions from their experienced and knowledgeable coach; there they sat wondering what pearls of wisdom about how to be a winning team would come from his lips. And what did he say? He said something similar to what he had often said and would often say in the future. It’s reported that he said something like this, “Gentlemen, if you want to be a good, strong, winning football team you must concentrate on the basics. The game of football is not really that complicated. When you boil it all down, the game of football consists of blocking, tackling, running, passing and catching and doing all these basics with abandonment. Let’s get back to the basics. That’s how you win football games by learning and doing the basics well. Teams lose football games because they neglect the basics.”
Well, the message that Vince Lombardi brought to his football team is the message I’d like to bring to Christians who want to build a strong faith in God and a robust fear of God. My message is, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for us to get back to the basics. It’s time for us to learn and practice and do the basics of Christianity well and with abandonment. Instead of looking for new techniques and gimmicks for developing super duper Christian lives, for building a strong faith and increasing in the fear of God, let’s get back to learning and practicing Christianity 101. That’s how to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And failure to practice the basics well is why many Christians are losing the battles in their spiritual lives.”
In Psalm 86:11 the Psalmist is an example for all of us who want to be more God-fearing in our approach to life. Here we find him praying, “Unite my heart to fear Thy name.” David who wrote this Psalm teaches us several things about becoming a more God-fearing or a person with a strong faith. One, he makes it clear that you have to begin with the heart. The fear of God (or strong faith) is developed in the heart before it is ever experienced anywhere else. If we have a powerful fear of God it will emerge from the heart. If we lack the fear of God, something is wrong in our hearts. Two, David realized that for a person to have a robust fear of God his heart had to be united. David knew that his heart was the mission control center of his life; he realized that if his heart was not united nothing else would come out right in his life. He was aware that a double hearted or triple hearted or quadruple hearted person is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). He knew that his heart was the reservoir from which all of the issues of life flowed (Proverbs 4:23). He realized that frequently our hearts are divided in terms of their focus. He knew that sometimes our hearts begin to drift or become distracted from what is really important.
Sometimes we lose our focus, and like Martha, we become focused on many things rather than the one thing that is needful (Luke 10:38-42). Sometimes our hearts get out of control and run off in many different directions. Sometimes we forget that the fear of God should be a priority issue with us. David knew that he couldn’t control his heart on His own. He knew this was too big a task for Him. He knew that if his heart was to be united, God had to give him strength to do it. This petition was both an expression of his desire and also an expression of weakness. He realized he desperately needed the help of God if he were to have a united heart controlled by the fear of God.
In essence, David has learned the lesson about prayer that Jesus was teaching in the model prayer He gives us in Matthew 6:9-13. In this prayer Jesus used different words than the ones David did, but the meaning is the same. He said that when we pray we should begin by praying that God’s name (which represents who and what He is) would be hallowed. And what is it to hallow God’s name? It is to set it apart as holy, unique, worthy of reverence and holy respect. By indicating that this is the first petition we should pray, Jesus was teaching us that reverence for God should be a primary focus of our lives and prayers. And, the fact that he taught us to pray that God’s name would be hallowed indicates that we can’t do this without the help of God.
Developing and sustaining a healthy, robust fear of God should be a primary emphasis in our prayer lives. We will never be able to give God the respect and reverence that is His due apart from His help. You show me a person who isn’t praying the way David prayed in Psalm 86:11 and the way Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9 and I’ll show you a person in whose life the fear of God or his faith in God is very small or non-existent.
So to develop a robust and influential fear of God or a stronger faith you must make the acquisition of such a matter of fervent and persevering prayer. Scripture makes it clear that faith in God and the fear of God are His gifts to His people (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Galatians 5:22, 23; Jeremiah 32:39, 40). And along with that, Scripture makes it clear that God bestows these gifts on people who fervently and faithfully ask Him for these gifts (James 4:2; 5:17; Matthew 7:7 – 11; Luke 11:13).
This, then, is the second factor in answering the questions: how can I develop a strong, robust fear of God? How can I overcome unbelief and doubts? How can I overcome consuming lust? If you are serious about overcoming unbelief and doubts and lust you must make sure that you are fervently practicing the privilege of devoted prayer. This, again I say, is only one of many factors, but it is a foundational factor. I close this blog with a paraphrase of a statement made by John Piper. He wrote, “Much prayer, much power; little prayer, little power and no prayer, no power.” Well, I say, “Much of the right kind of prayer, much faith; little prayer, little faith and no prayer, no faith.” (God willing, we will move on to other factors in the near future.)