Cultivating "fear of the Lord" is more about fostering a loving relationship with God than being afraid of God's lightning bolts.
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “fear of the Lord.” It’s one of the most confusing “gifts” we could ever get. At face value it makes it seem like we should be afraid of God, as if he were a unjust master, ready to strike a servant who does something wrong.
It may be tempting to see God as a “Zeus” figure, sitting on his high throne, looking down at us, ready to strike a sinner with his lightning bolt!
In this context, living in “fear” of God means constantly cowering away from God, afraid of his wrath.
This is not what the Church means when it talks about “fear of the Lord.”
Pope Francis gave an excellent reflection on this gift of the Holy Spirit during a general audience in 2014, explaining the true meaning behind this phrase.
The gift of fear of the Lord, which we are speaking about today, concludes the series of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It does not mean being afraid of God: we know well that God is Father, that he loves us and wants our salvation, and he always forgives, always; thus, there is no reason to be scared of him!
Being “scared” of God does more harm than good, and is not what the Church is talking about.
Fear of the Lord, instead, is the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we are reminded of how small we are before God and of his love and that our good lies in humble, respectful and trusting self-abandonment into his hands. This is fear of the Lord: abandonment in the goodness of our Father who loves us so much.
It is more about recognizing the love God has for us and the immensity of his goodness. This may seem to contradict the phrase, but it does not. Pope Francis further explains how “fear” comes from a loving relationship with God.
When we are pervaded by fear of the Lord, then we are led to follow the Lord with humility, docility and obedience. This, however, is not an attitude of resignation, passivity or regret, but one of the wonder and joy of being a child who knows he is served and loved by the Father. Fear of the Lord, therefore, does not make of us Christians who are shy and submissive, but stirs in us courage and strength! It is a gift that makes of us Christians who are convinced, enthusiastic, who aren’t submissive to the Lord out of fear but because we are moved and conquered by his love! To be conquered by the love of God! This is a beautiful thing. To allow ourselves to be conquered by this love of a father, who loves us so, loves us with all his heart.
We must think of it in terms of seeing God as a loving father, and doing things out of love.
Fear of the Lord shouldn’t create anxiety within us. Instead, it should spur us on to love God more and to trust in his loving concern for us.