You Worship What You Fear

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

This week I had a conversation with someone who is consumed with fear of getting COVID-19. This person, who lives alone, has no health problems (what we’ve all now learned are called “co-morbidities” — a horribly fearful label) but has not ventured out of their house since March except for a single weekly trip to Publix and any needed doctor’s appointments. That’s eight months of self-induced alone time driven solely by fear of contracting a virus.

This is not a post to talk about the politics of COVID-19. There is clearly a lot of opinion being bantied about, some based in facts and others not. I am not going there. But, as a pastor and community leader, I am extremely concerned about the lives of multitudes of people who are unnecessarily being driven by panic. I have six very dear people in my life who have health issues that make this virus a serious consideration for everyday life. But most people do not. It is one thing to approach public life with wisdom — wearing a mask when needed, physical distancing, and washing hand consistently. But it is quite another to let this fear control and even ruin lives.

Last year I led the Palmwood Church family through a series entitled True Worship. As part of our discovery of what actually constitutes the worship of God, we developed a three-part biblical definition: Reverence, Adoration and Glory. In that teaching, we looked to multiple scriptures from the Old and New Testaments to show that the foundation of Adoration is unconditional and unrestricted love toward God. We showed that Glory is primarily comprised (on our part) of unconditional and unrestricted obedience toward God. But it’s the last “leg” of this stool on which I want to camp: Reverence. Reverence is unconditional and unrestricted fear of God. Fear and worship go hand in hand (the same is true of love and obedience). The bible describes the fear of God as a good thing. This is not terror (when it comes to God’s own people). This is a healthy fear — its unending awe.

The scripture says things like, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10; 111:10) and “You must fear the Lord your GodIf we fear God rightly, we never have to fear anything else. and worship him and cling to him. Your oaths must be in his name alone. He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21). When Jesus raised a widow’s son, the crowd of witnesses experienced this fear – “Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, ‘A mighty prophet has risen among us,’ and ‘God has visited his people today.'” The writer of Hebrews says, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). The link link between the healthy fear of awe (reverence) and worship is clear. The bottom line is this: we worship what we fear. If we consume ourselves with the pursuit of God — learning everything we can about him and striving to faithfully live on mission with Jesus — our worship will be filled with awe, wonder, joy and real peace (shalom) that impacts every single area of our lives regardless of our circumstances. If we are consumed by the fear of anything else instead of God, we will ultimately be bowing our whole lives at that proverbial altar and will have anything but wonder, joy and peace. And it’s our choice!

The bottom line is this: we worship what we fear.

Today I am dealing with all kinds of people, young and old, who are driven by this unhealthy, COVID-related fear. Again, mask wearing, physical distancing and hand washing are all good and right practices. But when every choice we make in life must first be filtered through the fear of this virus, we’ve begun to worship a false God. That sounds harsh — but it has become reality. If we are consumed with worry because we fear the virus, we have stopped trusting God. We believe the virus is more powerful than our God. We’re worshipping the virus.

The virus is real. The virus makes people sick. Some people are at a great risk if they catch it. All these statements are true. But it’s also true that our Triune God is more powerful than any virus. Could it be that he’s using this season to test the mettle of your faith in him? Are you passing? Several times a week someone asks me if I’m afraid of getting sick. My answer is no. I don’t have to hesitate. I have suffered on and off with anxiety in my life and I know both rational and irrational fear. I’m simply not afraid. I don’t want to catch it, but I know I might. That has not changed the way I live my life in the least — beyond adding wise steps like those I’ve outlined above. I’m learning every day how to dwell in the awe of my God more and more. It’s amazing how little power COVID-19 has in my life as I do that. For me, caution is wisdom but fear is foolishness.

If you’re dealing with an unhealthy level of fear — even bondage — from COVID-19, you can be free from it. The folks of Palmwood Church are happy to talk with you more about it if you’d like to have that conversation. Our God reigns — and he is the object of our reverence, adoration and glory.

Dr. John Kimball is the Lead Pastor of Palmwood Church in Oviedo, Florida. The church meets Sundays at 11am in the Oviedo YMCA, 7900 Red Bug Lake Road in Oviedo. He is also the Director of Church Development for the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference – a denomination that not only holds to but strives to live out the tenets of historic biblical Christianity.


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