"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." says the wisdom writer (Pr 9:10). And it’s not hard to see why.
In the moment you see the beauty and perfection of God you also see the standard for goodness, which means you also see (if you are brave and honest enough) what you ought to be and even what you could be if you got your act together, which means you also begin to see all the ways you don’t have your act together and aren’t what you ought to or could be.
Whether God is judging you in that moment or not, you can’t help but judge yourself because you’ve seen the measuring stick and know you could be better.
Having beheld the ideal, you also get the sense that to come up as short as you have is a dangerous place to be. If you’re honest enough, you realize there’s likely nobody to blame but yourself for the trouble you’re in, and that if you don’t change things are bound to get worse.
Maybe this is at least part of why fear is the beginning of wisdom: the fear of judgment and suffering can move you to repent and take the first steps in the life-long journey of transformation.
God is perfection. But he is also love. The journey of transformation begins as you enter into the life of God and let it enter you, surrendering to the flow of His love, so that, though the fear of God may have gotten you pointed in the right direction, it is Love that picks you up and runs away with you. In that current we discover that “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..." (1 John 4:18).
It’s around about this time you will need to learn to master the art of non-judgment—getting off God’s throne and letting Him be judge, not only of others but also of yourself (2 Corinthians 10:7-12). He’s the only one who’s qualified after all. Until you learn non-judgment for others and self, your transformation journey will be hit and miss and often self-defeating because a) shame binds us to our sin and b) we will always be comparing ourselves to others--proud when we’re better than and ashamed when we aren’t.
What will it take for us to become “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13)? I think among other things it will take humility—the kind of humility that’s willing to aim low at first, doing the long and regularly humiliating work of transformation, one small victory at a time. I think of it like going to the gym. You have to be humble enough to lift the light weights before you go after the heavier ones, trusting along the way that, as Oswald Chambers wrote, “Jesus Christ did not come only to teach— He came to make me what He teaches I should be.”
People often come to me for advice about songwriting. I always say the same thing: be humble enough to write bad songs, because you’ll have to write about 10 to 20 bad songs in order to get to the good one. As I see their face fall, I often think, “huh. This must be what Jesus felt when he spoke to the rich young ruler…(Matt 19:16-26)” because more often than not they walk away disheartened by my answer.
But every journey worth taking begins with one small step. And then another. And so on, one at a time, with humility and persistence. Progress matters more than perfection.
Once we make peace with all of this, the journey becomes less about the destination and more about the joy of discovery along the way. It will take a life-time and a moment to become who we most want to be, but there is so much wonder and grace as the mystery of who we are unfolds before our eyes under the loving guidance of our Maker. And who knows? Maybe there will always be more yet to learn even on the other side of this life. Maybe we will always be becoming. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?