There is a hidden virtue that, in essence, is the key to all of life. It unlocks the purpose of your existence and attracts the presence, protection and providence of your Creator. In fact, its rewards are so encompassing that if anyone embraces it, it will lengthen their life, procure good health and ensure success, safety and a noble legacy—and that’s just the short list! Sound like fiction? I assure you it’s not. So, let’s take a journey to discover this forgotten virtue.
We will begin by looking at King Solomon. He embraced this virtue from a young age, and it resulted in him possessing wisdom beyond his years. He grew in noble character while achieving success, fortune and fame like no other in his generation. Kings, queens, ambassadors and various high-level leaders would travel great distances to catch a glimpse of his greatness, hear his insights and glean from his innovative operations that were the hallmark to his nation’s great strength and wealth. The people he led were happy, successful and fulfilled.
As time passed, this notable leader eventually stepped away from what fueled his achievements. He became wise in his own eyes and deemed it no longer necessary to heed the wisdom of this virtue. He lost his way and eventually fell to the depths of a bitter cynic. He was not the only one to suffer from his misjudgment, but also those he led.
To him, life became meaningless. He wrote disparaging statements such as, “We can never be satisfied in life,” and, “History merely repeats itself as there is nothing new under the sun.” Even more dramatic, he scribed, “The day you die is better than the day you’re born,” and, “What is wrong cannot be made right,” and, “What is missing cannot be recovered.”
In fact, he wrote an entire book depicting the scope of life’s pointless existence; to him, all was vanity. This one man, in a relatively short time, experienced the heights of success but rapidly plummeted to the depths of a flagrant pessimist. How could one man span such extremes?
Solomon’s story didn’t end in the depths of despair but had a happy ending. Coming full circle, he eventually rediscovered life’s most important virtue—and we are given a glimpse into his recovery. In the last chapter of his dismal book, Ecclesiastes, he begins by writing seven times in one form or another, “Remember your Creator,” with his final words being, “All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God … and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, AMPC, emphasis added).
This prized virtue is none other than the fear of God—it’s identified as God’s treasure and ours (see Isaiah 33:6). It is also Jesus’ delight (see Isaiah 11:2-3). Pause and let this sink in. When all is said and done, fearing God is what will secure lasting success. Solomon didn’t fully realize the tremendous value of godly fear, even though he wrote about it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As often occurs, many don’t realize the value of what’s most important until it’s gone.
What happened with Solomon happens to many today. By not making godly fear their treasure, leaders everywhere are burning out, breaking down or even blowing up. My heart breaks at how often a leader is caught in an affair, a despicable vice or other scandals. May we all learn from King Solomon’s mistake.
AN UNFORGETTABLE MEETING
In now 40 years of ministry, I’ve identified a common thread as to why these falls frequently occur. I first became aware of this trend in the early 1990s. Allow me to set it up. In the late 1980s, a well-known television evangelist’s corruption became widely publicized. At the time, his ministry was the largest globally, in both reach and finances. But sadly, he became known more for his crimes, the ensuing trial, verdict and imprisonment than what he had accomplished.
Fortunately for him, a 45-year sentence was reduced to only five years. During his fourth year in prison, my assistant received an unexpected phone call. The year was 1994—the early years of our ministry. The call came as a response to reading our first book, Victory in the Wilderness (now entitled, God, Where Are You?!). The fallen evangelist was deeply touched by what he read and consequently desired a meeting that would end up being one that impacted my life forever.
Once we sat down together in the penitentiary’s visiting area, it didn’t take long for me to realize I was speaking to a sincere, broken and contrite man of God. He began by stating, “John, this prison is not God’s judgment on my life; it is His mercy. If I continued walking the path that I was on, I would have ended up in hell forever.”
He elaborated on his deliverance from evil in his first year of imprisonment and continued by sharing all the wonderful things God was doing in his life and in his “prison church.” After 20 minutes of him sharing, I felt compelled to ask some questions, the first being, “When did you fall out of love with Jesus?” (His love for Jesus was evident in his early years of ministry, and I wanted to know when and how that love had diminished.)
With great sincerity, he stared straight into my eyes and said, “I didn’t fall out of love with Jesus.”
I was shocked and confused by his answer. I immediately fired back, “What are you talking about?! You committed adultery seven years before you were exposed and prosecuted for mail fraud. How can you tell me you loved Jesus the whole time?”
Without losing his gaze, he calmly said, “John, I loved Jesus the entire time … but I didn’t fear God.” I was stunned, my mind now reeling. Then he made a statement that still reverberates with me to this day: “John, there are millions of American ‘Christians’ just like me—they love Jesus, but they don’t fear God!” So many questions were suddenly answered by this statement, and the biggest aha of the moment was that his story put into words the reason why so many—then and now—are departing from the faith.
Just like Solomon, this famous evangelist didn’t fully realize the value of godly fear—he didn’t treasure and delight in it. I’m glad his story is different still to this day. It is my hope that the millions he spoke of will come to realize godly fear’s value so they don’t experience a fall—or everlasting separation from the One they profess allegiance to.
AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE
In the late 1990s, the importance of holy fear would be reaffirmed by yet another significant experience. I was ministering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was the last of ten services, and I was leading an altar call, which many had responded to, creating a large crowd five rows deep in front of the wide stage.
As we prayed, God’s presence suddenly manifested in a tangible way, resulting in great joy, which spread rapidly among everyone present. Not wanting to interfere in any way, I refrained from talking and just enjoyed watching the Lord strengthen and refresh His people.
After a few minutes, His beautiful presence lifted, leaving a stillness residing in the atmosphere. Within moments, however, God’s presence manifested again, but in a different way. This time it was marked by His authority and an awesomeness that was unmistakably real. Those who were laughing moments earlier, without any spoken direction, broke out almost simultaneously crying and weeping, and some of them profusely.
The presence grew stronger, and so did the weeping. It was as if these quiet Asian people were being baptized in the fire of God. Again, the awesomeness of His presence was unmistakable and intensified to the place I didn’t think we could take any more. My mind was thinking, I can’t handle any more! God, it’s too much! Yet, my heart was crying out, God, please don’t lift, please don’t stop!
During this second visitation, I had an uncanny awareness that any irreverence wouldn’t be tolerated. As I paced back and forth on the platform, I was trembling in awe when suddenly, something came out of my mouth that my ears heard for the first time after saying it. I had never thought of or considered this before.
I boldly stated, “This is the Spirit of the fear of the Lord!” As my mind registered the words that came out of my spirit, I shouted within myself, That’s it, that’s it! This is one of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit! (see Isaiah 11:2-3)
The entire manifestation of this second wave of God’s presence lasted three to four minutes, and then lifted. Once it did, the people in unison became quiet again. I, too, remained silent for several minutes in the calm and peace of the aftermath.
Once the service was soberly dismissed, I made my way off the platform and stopped to engage a man and his wife from India who were significantly impacted by God’s presence. The wife spoke softly, sharing, “John, I feel so clean inside.” Her husband nodded in agreement.
When she said these words, my heart leapt as she articulated accurately what I too was feeling in that moment. The next morning in my hotel room, I heard the Holy Spirit say to my heart, “Son, read Psalm 19.” I grabbed my Bible, opened to the passage, and started reading. Once I reached verse 9, I read, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever” (Psalm 19:9, NKJV, emphasis added).
Instantly I began to shout aloud, “That’s it! There it is!” I was in awe; this is exactly what the woman had said to me the day before: “I feel so clean inside.” There was an indescribable cleanness, a profound purity we sensed in our souls. Then the words “enduring forever” leapt off the page, and the Holy Spirt immediately spoke to my heart:
Son, Lucifer led worship right before My throne; he led the entire hosts of heaven as he was ordained and anointed to do. He was close to Me, beheld My glory but didn’t fear Me. Therefore, he didn’t endure before My throne forever (see Ezekiel 28:13–17).
One third of the angels beheld My glory, and aligned themselves with Lucifer. They didn’t fear Me; they didn’t endure in My presence forever (see Revelation 12:4,7).
Adam and Eve walked in the presence of My glory in the cool of the day. They didn’t fear Me; they didn’t endure in the garden of Eden forever.
Son, every created being who surrounds My throne for all eternity will have passed the holy test of the fear of the Lord.
In this moment of revelation, I began to think of all the pastors and leaders whose ministry effectiveness had been cut short or who didn’t finish well. Many of them started on fire, loved Jesus dearly and made significant sacrifices to obey God and to minister to His people. Yet over time became jaded, cynical and didn’t endure.
Others, who remained in ministry, began to use their influence as a means of gain and various other self-seeking purposes. Some would become sex predators, and some would become consultants and charge large amounts to craft deceitful messages for ministers to manipulate their followers to give large offerings. Others would lie about prophetic words from God, figuring out ways of ciphering information from the individuals they were supposedly ministering to and then proclaiming it as if it was revealed by God.
The list of corruptive behavior is almost endless. How do those who start out so pure end up so polluted? Why isn’t there longevity of effectiveness? The answer all boils down to the lack of holy fear. Listen to God’s Word regarding this matter: “How joyful are those who fear the Lord … Their good deeds will last forever. Such people … will long be remembered” (Psalm 112:1,2,6, NLT, emphasis added).
There it is: Holy fear is the key to longevity. What’s more, the Lord spoke to us over 30 years ago that the final move of His Spirit in this age would emphasize holy fear. The great benefit of this awakening would be the fulfillment of the single description in Scripture of the bride Jesus is returning for: “She will be holy and without fault” (Ephesians 5:27, NLT, emphasis added).
Notice she’s not a “relevant” church, although relevance is important in reaching the lost. She’s not a “leadership-driven” church, although leadership is so crucial to building a strong church. It’s not a “community church,” although community is so important because it’s not good for man to be alone. The only description of the bride He’s returning for is holy, which, interestingly enough, is perfected by the fear of God (see 2 Corinthians 7:1).
The fear of the Lord is a gift from our loving heavenly Father that protects us from departing from Him and veering off course. By cultivating a heart that fears the Lord, we’ll be empowered to separate ourselves from the things that separate us from God—positioning us to stay the course and endure to the end, ready for His return.
Recently, a respected pastor told me about an interesting conversation he had with a Bible university professor. This professor did an extensive study of individuals God called and commissioned in Scripture. He discovered that 75% of the chosen messengers had their effectiveness cut short, and many of them didn’t finish well. With our present-day ministry tragedies coupled with this professor’s research, longevity is the challenge we all need to take more seriously.
Friend, we don’t have to experience the tragedies of King Solomon, the televangelist, the 75% of those who didn’t finish well in Scripture and the others in modern times to discover how important holy fear is. But if you’ve found yourself tiptoeing along the lines of compromise—or even worse, immersed in it—there is hope for you. Earnestly repent and pray for a baptism of holy fear in your heart.
I’m in my mid-60s now, and with time often comes clarity. And here’s what I’ve learned: If you want to stay close to God, fulfill His call on your life and finish well, developing a healthy, holy fear of God should be your highest pursuit.
To help you treasure holy fear and to finish well, I’ve written a book called The Awe of God: The Astounding Way a Healthy Fear of God Transforms Your Life. This is a life message for me, and I’m so passionate about passing it on to you. Embracing godly fear as our most prized treasure empowers us to remain under submission to truth, and in so doing, it keeps us on the path of life which brings remarkable rewards.
Remember, it's not how we start this race that’s important, but how we finish it. Finish well.
Dear Heavenly Father, Your Word states that You are able to keep me from falling away and will bring me with great joy into Your glorious presence without a single fault. I know it’s by the redemptive work of my Lord Jesus accompanied by my embracing holy fear that secures this eternal relationship. I ask that holy fear would abide within me always, that I may forever live in Your presence. I ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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