When is the last time you trembled?
Maybe it was when a semi truck came uncomfortably close to your vehicle on the interstate or when you showed up to class only to discover the term paper was due and you forgot to finish it last night. The last time I trembled was one sunny day (or so I thought) when I was getting the kids ready to go play outside and was startled by a booming thunderclap. The flicker from the corner of my eye was met a second later with such a loud cannon blast that it left the house shaking for a few seconds. Needless to say, we stayed indoors till the storm passed. What makes us tremble in these moments? It is the sudden realization that we are not that powerful after all. In these moments we are brought down to size and reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
In Isaiah 66:2, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and declares, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Then a few verses later we read, “Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word.”
The trembling that brings a blessing with it is this soul trembling God calls for in response to His Word. But what does it mean to tremble? We know it cannot mean trembling for fear of punishment, for Jesus bore all God’s wrath for the believer on the cross. What it must mean then is a humble and prayerful listening to the Word from the heart; the opposite of an independent and boastful attitude which thinks we know best apart from the Word.
Then the question arises: “What if I’ve lost this sense of trembling over God’s Word? What if the Word that once seemed so alive is now dry and lifeless to me? How can I recover this trembling at the Word?”
To rekindle this sense of the fear of God as we read His Word we must…
Read Scripture as though God were speaking to us (because He is)
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” so we must read our Bibles as though God were speaking from heaven to us. In his recent book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper compares our Bible reading to a conversation over the lunch table with a friend. He says if he finds his mind wandering while reading the Bible, it’s just as rude as letting your mind wander when someone is talking to you over the lunch table. Since you would apologize for not listening to a real person, we should also confess to God when we aren’t listening to Him speak in His Word. We all would love to hear the audible voice of God guiding us in the course of this life like Moses did on Mount Sinai or like Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Ironically, we have the voice of God before us in black and white and often don’t tremble over it. Peter himself tells us, “We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention…” (2 Pet. 1:18-19a). As I’ve heard it said, if we want to hear God speak out loud, all we have to do is read the Bible out loud.
Pray as though God were listening to us (because He is)
If we wish to tremble at the Word, we can’t just read it though. We’ve got to respond to it in prayer. One practice I’ve always found helpful, which I got from Piper, is to pray before you read that God would show you His glory, pray as you read that God would help you understand, and pray after you read that God would help you respond appropriately. But if we’re not careful we can even feel numb in our prayers to God. We must remember Who it is we’re praying to and what it cost us to even approach Him. At the Together for the Gospel pastor’s conference a few years back, I’ll never forget how David Platt brought this home in his prayer. Before praying, he noticed that the 10,000 pastors in the room were being irreverent in the way they were casually walking around and texting and talking when we were about to pray to our most awesome and holy God. After he rebuked us for our lackadaisical attitude to prayer in such a conference setting, a sudden hush fell over the massive gathering and it felt as though we were all united in prayer with this man. This is how we must bring ourselves to pray every time we do so; with the realization that we’re approaching the Holy of Holies.
Live as though God were watching us (because He is)
If we are faithful to read Scripture with trembling and pray with trembling, but we aren’t faithful to live with trembling, we’re missing the point. At the beginning of our text, we saw how God said, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit.” It should humble us that God is the watcher of all mankind and yet it should even more greatly humble us that He will look with special affection on those who fear Him. Francis Chan has rightly noted, “The fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you is nothing short of astonishing.” Since this holy God looks our way in Christ, we should live daily in the fear of Him. In his book The Joy of Fearing God, the late Jerry Bridges defines the fear of God as reverential awe. Our daily decisions and encounters with temptation should be marked by reverence for who God is and awe before Him. If we wouldn’t say, do, or think something if we knew people around us were fully aware of it, we shouldn’t with such a God fully aware of it. This is why Paul tells the church at Philippi to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). This is also why the author of Hebrews tells us, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28b-29).
My great uncle Clark Harrison was paralyzed by a sniper bullet in World War II. After a period of licking his wounds so to speak, he decided he would not give up on life. He went on to be one of the founders of the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and even got his pilot’s license. One day while sitting on the wing of his plane as it sat on the tarmac, he noticed the smell of burning flesh and looked down to discover his numb, paralyzed legs had received second and third degree burns from the wing by sitting there and he didn’t even know it.
Like my great Uncle Clark, we must remember that when our hearts grow numb to God, this does not minimize in any degree His blazing holiness. If you find your heart hard and numb and cold, confess it to God and repent. Use all manner of His ordained means to once again tremble at His Word. Pray, read, and live in a way that acknowledges you are nothing without Him and He is worthy of your zealous worship. Then this holy God will once again lead you to tremble at His Word.