Friday, November 24, 2017

Fear God, Not Man

by Nicky Smith

A long time ago I came to realize I have a problem with fearing man instead of fearing God. The word "fear" to which I am referring has an archaic meaning; it entails respect and reverence. There have often been moments in my life where the Spirit has whispered to my mind that I sometimes have more respect for the words and thoughts of certain people than God's. In other words, I place some people above God. When we use the opinions of others to define who we are, what we believe, or what we ought to do, we give those people authority and they become gods (or idols) to us.
13 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
14 Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you. (Deuteronomy 6; emphasis added)
It is easy to make the assumption that I only fear God. However, the Lord has shown me that fearing others is far more subtle than often assumed.

Fear is About Approval

As I have examined the root of my struggle of fearing man more than God, I can see that often it is because I desire particular people to approve of my actions and decisions. Everyone desires to be loved and accepted by others. However, there are times when this desire to be accepted can conflict with our desire to do the Lord's will. 

Sometimes His will for us involves doing things that may seem crazy to other people. It seems natural to worry about what others may think, however the Lord wants us to worry only about what He thinks about us and whether He approves of us. When others persecute, falsely accuse, or criticize (revile) us angrily because we are doing God's will, that is something to rejoice over. Jesus said,
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5)
Often we expect that our spouse, family, and friends will accept us and our decisions as we try to follow God's will, but the reality is that God cares more about us doing His will than our feeling accepted and loved by others. In fact, I have come to realize that God cares more about our progress than our happiness. Of course He wants us to experience joy (Psalm 5:11; 2 Nephi 2:5), but that doesn't mean that He will make our lives stress-free just so we can experience happiness. Progress almost always involves pain. Rejection, ridicule, and disapproval from others have far less value in God's eyes than we often place on them. The only thing that matters is doing the Lord's will and that will at times lead to conflict. Jesus said,
32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10)
As I have experienced the criticism of others from doing what I understand the will of God to be (such as how many children I have, how I mother them, or how I homeschool), it has at times caused me to feel confused about what I ought to be doing. This cognitive dissonance can result from hearing opposing views, especially when they make a lot of sense and seem true. This confusion is a product of fearing man and respecting their thoughts and opinions rather than what I have been told to do by God. It is especially hard for me because I want to please others and avoid conflict. It is something I am working on overcoming. As I continue to pray to know God's will, He reminds me of the promptings I have previously received and what His will is. This helps me to increase my faith in what I know I ought to be doing. But, I want to get to the point where I feel confident in what the Lord's will is for me and can quickly (if not instantly) recognize things that aren't true or are in opposition to God's will for me and then stand firm in what I know I am supposed to be doing, while remaining open to further truth from the Lord. 

In Jesus' day, some believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but due to their desire for the approval of the Pharisees and their fear that they would be cast out of their faith, they weren't able to follow God's will. They damned themselves. 

42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:
43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12)
Instead of worrying about whether the Pharisees approved of them, they should have been worried about whether God approved of them. Consider whether there are things the Lord could ask of you that you would struggle to do due to other's disapproval, rejection, or ridicule. If you can't think of anything, ask the Lord to show you where you may desire man's approval more than God's. If you sincerely desire to know this, He will show you if that is the case. 

Fear is About Trust

Fearing man not only shows we desire approval, but also shows a lack of faith in God. It shows we lack trust in Him. It shows we have greater trust in specific people than God. 

When Jesus was being tried the night before He was crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times. In these instances, Peter feared man more than God (John 18:15-27). He lacked trust that God would protect him in dangerous situations. Interestingly enough, Jesus had previously taught Peter:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Proverbs also states:
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe. (Proverbs 29:25)
Furthermore, God said through Isaiah:
I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass. (Isaiah 51:12)
Most (if not all) of our experiences will not involve a possible threat of death, but they will likely be unpleasant. Fearing God is about having faith in His will for us and being willing to do it no matter the cost. Joseph Smith stated that for faith to exist one necessary element is: "An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will." (Lectures on Faith 3:5) Without knowing the God approves of the course you have taken, you cannot exercise faith in Him, since faith involves knowing His will. When we fear God we seek to know and do His will rather than the things that please others. We seek to please God above all others. Paul said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6) The greater our faith, the more we trust God and the more we fear Him over others. When I fear others, I don't trust that God is going to come through on His promises or I have forgotten about the promises He has given me. 

Recently a friend told me I should not be writing on this blog in order to spend more time on my knees praying. Although I do try to spend time praying each morning and night and as often as I can during the day, I could see that there would be wonderful benefits from even more time in prayer. This friend has much truth to offer and has taught me many things and since this made sense, I put the blog aside and aimed to pray more. Soon after that I felt reprimanded by the Lord because He has told me to write on here. My knowledge of His will for me had wavered and I was no longer pleasing God. I immediately repented and realized my faith and trust in His words given to me previously to write on here was weak. I respected this friend's words more than the Lord's words to blog because that person has offered so much truth previously. I trusted that that friend was telling me God's will for me, instead of going to the Lord for His will. I feared man and not God. 

Fear is About Obedience

Not only does our fear or respect show whose approval we want and whom we trust, but we tend to obey those we fear. I recently noticed a link that exists in the scriptures between fearing God and obeying Him (contrasted with fearing man and obeying him). 

And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. (Deuteronomy 6:24; emphasis added)
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul. (Deuteronomy 10:12; emphasis added) 
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 31:12; emphasis added)
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13; emphasis added)
In 1 Kings we read of a man who spoke true prophecies and healed the hand of the king using the power of God. The king was very grateful and wanted him to feed him as a reward. 
8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
9 For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. (1 Kings 13)
It seems evident that this man wanted to be obedient to the Lord no matter what. Now, there was another older prophet who heard about the prophecies and works of this younger prophet and went on a journey to find him. He then found the young prophet sitting under an oak tree and he invited him to return to his house to eat and drink. The young prophet similarly replied:
16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
17 For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest. (1 Kings 13)
The older prophet told him that he was also a prophet and then lied, saying that an angel came to him telling him the word of the Lord, saying "Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water." The young prophet believed him and went with him to his house to eat and drink. The word of the Lord then came to the older prophet saying to the young man that as a result of disobeying the word of the Lord, his "carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers." Then, when he left on his donkey a lion came and killed him. The older prophet felt really sad for this young prophet who had disobeyed the Lord.  

This young prophet had received a commandment from the Lord but upon finding out that the other man was a prophet, believed that he had received the will of God for him. He trusted the older prophet, when he should have asked God if what this man was saying was true. He feared and obeyed the words of a man who claimed to be prophet more than the words of God. Believing someone's words because they have some calling or some authority means we have made them an idol and we fear man more than God. God is the only one whom we should obey. Any deviation from this points to our fear of man. 

Learning to Fear God

In learning to fear God, I first had to recognize that this was an issue. It was the Spirit who whispered to me that there are times where I respect certain people's words and opinions above God's words. I want their approval and I trust their thoughts and opinions. Self-observation and asking the Lord to enlighten your mind can help you recognize those whom fear more than God. It doesn't have to mean that you do it all the time or you do it with everyone, but if there are times when you place certain people before God, you need to repent. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to examine whether you may fear someone more than God:
1. Do you worry what others think of you? 
2. Are you a people pleaser? Do you try to make people happy with your actions and decisions in life?
3. Do you believe people because of their position of authority?
4. Do you believe people because they seem to have a lot of truth or have had more experiences than you with the Lord?
5. Are you hiding a belief or a decision you made from others? Do you feel embarrassed about it or seek to cover it because you fear being rejected or ridiculed?
6. Do you worry about losing friends or family relationships? Do you worry about losing a job or social standing? Does this fear mean you don't do what God has commanded you?
7. Do you do what another says just because it makes a lot of sense? Do you do what another suggests because they seem to have their life together? 
8. Do you make choices based on the views or choices of others? 
9. Do you define your righteousness on the standards set by others? 
10. Are you satisfied with approval from authority figures in the absence of evidence of approval from God?
11. Do you seek the council of man to help you decide right from wrong?
12. Do you accept practices and truths that contradict scripture?
13. Do you want others to approve of your decisions before you follow through? 
As I have discerned whose thoughts and opinions I place too much respect on, I have done a few things to help me change.  

1. I beg God to help me strengthen my faith in the things He has told me. I ask Him to give me further light and truth and help me increase in confidence in those things He has revealed.
2. I question why I fear rejection and why I believe certain people without question. I examine my desire to be accepted and determine that I ought to really only worry about whether God accepts me. 
3. I consider an eternal perspective. I think about how pain and difficult experiences are for my growth and I consider their temporary nature.
4. I remember my experiences from the past in which God came through for you and how I can trust Him and His promises to me. 
5. I decide to only fear God and seek only His approval no matter the cost (see Acts 5:29 & Hebrews 13:6)

Fearing God instead of man begins with a decision to do so, remembering that deciding to fear only God will possibly lead to upsetting someone at some point. It may seem scary being willing to cause conflict for what you know to be true, but as you develop faith and trust in God, you can get to the point where you no longer feel afraid of the possible consequences. I love this verse, "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." (Deuteronomy 31:6) The more we trust in him, the more He comes through for us. God wants to be the one from whom we seek approval. He wants to be the one we trust. He wants to be the one we obey. He wants us to fear Him alone. I know that as I seek to fear only Him, my faith will grow and my love for Him will increase. This is worth everything! 

1 comment:

  1. Much needed reminder for my current situation. Thank you for putting Matthew 10:37 into context for me, I never really understood it until now.


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