Fear Factor

February 10, 2010 | 18 comments

Eyelid of dawn opens, and from the shore, I watch Earth stretch awake. Light illuminates the magnitude of sky and sea, and I feel so very small — like a grain of sand on this Mexican shore.

I tremble at the bigness of the seas, and the smallness of me.

Ocean waves slap against my farm-wife shins. The vastness engulfs. Did the salt I taste on my lips once touch shores of Haiti, or farther still, Senegal? The expanse buckles me at the knees, and now I taste salt from spilling eyes, too.

Waves at my feet; waves in my innermost spirit … And I recognize the source of my trembling: I’m overcome with fear of the Lord.

Not fear, like fright. No, there is no terror in this fear.

This fear is bursting-awe and reverence and yirah.* It is a sudden reawakening and awareness of His Heaven-high majesty and His ocean-depth power. I’m so overcome that I back away, half-afraid it will carry me out to sea.

It’s the Fear Factor of God. The Yirah of Yahweh.

I’ve been here before. I’ve felt it at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and biking down Haleakala. I’ve felt it at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and in my little country church, with the wooden pews and small white steeple. It’s the bigness of God, crashing up like a tidal wave against the smallness of me.

I’d felt it, in fact, the day before when — with mask and snorkel — I swam along the edge of an underwater cavern that plummeted the depths of ocean back-waters. Holy yirah. I was in such awe that I had to return to the boat’s edge, for fear the discovery would suck me under.

I’ve even felt it while watching movies, like during that scene in Finding Nemo where the little fish stop cold and wide-eyed when they reach the reef’s “Drop-Off.”

These are breath-catching moments that leave me in awe of God’s magnified majesty. And I feel like a gimpy-finned clownfish at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of him.”
— Psalm 33:8


I feel this way about Christ’s love, too. I cannot fathom the depth or breadth or height of a love like this.

And yet, He calls us to love with depth. But how? My efforts seem so puny.

I walk down the shore, in search of the Catholic chapel that I saw on the resort map. It’s a glassed-in octagon overlooking the ocean. I walk inside while the world awakens. The glass door closes behind me, and I stand in a room that muffles the sound of waves and morning wind.

But even here, in a small, quiet, empty place, I feel the vastness of Yahweh. I tremble again with yirah.

I run hands along the clothed altar. I stand at the feet of a sculpted Jesus hanging on the cross. Behind the Christ figure, the sun rises higher, illuminating more of what leaves me in awe.

I press my forehead against the glass; my breath leaves a fog.

I’m here in Cancun Latitude: 21°08’N. I draw an invisible line past curve of sea, to Haiti, Latitude: 19º 00’N, and to African shores beyond.

So many hurting people. And I’m standing here with a $1,000 camera around my neck.

“How do I love like You love?” I whisper, voice cracking awkwardly in the holiness.

I keep forehead pressed to glass, watching waves crash ashore. He whispers in the Spirit voice, the one that I can’t hear audibly but sense deep within my own spirit: “You love them like Jesus loves them.”

And I think about my love, so small. How could I ever, ever, ever love like Jesus loves?

His love is like the ocean. Mine is like a grain of sand.

His love flowed down from a cross; some days, I can barely carry mine.

Then the verse from Matthew 25:40 settles into the soul: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“Whatever you did for the least of these …”

“Whatever you did …”

Yes, I know LORD, that even small human gestures of love toward mankind are gestures of love toward You.

And Yes, LORD, I know you didn’t ask me to save the world. You already did that.

But, but …

But I’m still left feeling like I’ve somehow tamed Your Gospel — boiled down love to writing a check, or donating a few blankets, or serving a meal. I know it all counts — like one grain of sand on top of another on top of another to create a shore. This is the multiplication of giving: One + One + One …

But I know there’s more. I feel it in the yirah, in the bigness of You, engulfing the smallness of me.

Father, your love is like an ocean. I want to taste more of it, by giving more of it away. I want to love like You love — with reckless abandon for the Gospel and for “the least of these.” Lord, show me how.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
— From “The Love of God”

*Yirah — Hebrew, for fear, reverence.

Photos from a sunrise walk in Cancun:
1 – Buoyed by God’s love.
2 – On the shore — grain upon grain of sand. One + one + one …
3 – At the foot of the cross in the seaside chapel.

holy experience

Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp as we consider ways that our hearts draw nearer to His. This week, she asks us to explore what it means to Love Like Jesus.

Related Post: A Heart That Beats for Haiti.

by | February 10, 2010 | 18 comments


  1. jasonS

    Experiencing that fear of the Lord- our smallness and His greatness- is so amazing. I can think of only a few times in my life that I have felt this as you describe, but they were emotional and life-affirming. Nothing can replace that. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  2. Dan King

    What an amazing post Jennifer! Just reading it breaks my heart and makes me feel much like you do. Oh God, forgive us for making You our size!

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful reflection and launching me into the heart of worship today!

  3. Bina

    I love how God enables you to see Him no matter where your feet are planted. Such truth…and in fact, just entered into my journal "I don't know why You love me…but I love you simply because You do."

    Stay Warm… 🙂

  4. Lisa notes...

    Beautiful words. I think about this sand analogy: we may feel so small as we attempt to move one grain of sand here and there to make a difference, but to the individual grain of sand that was moved, it's a world of difference. Keep it up!

  5. RCUBEs

    So much reverential fear came over me as I read your words. Yes, His awesome love that is so unfathomable. His ways that are totally opposite of what this world teaches. He wants us to serve, not to be served. He wants us to die so we can live. He wants us to be the lowest so we can the greatest.

    He is the God of love. Who wants us to love even our enemies.

    That picture of Jesus hanging on the cross is so powerful. Thank you for this awesome post. God bless.

  6. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought

    Beautiful opening to this. I can think of no greater question to ask than, "How do I love like You love?"

    The lesson is in the living. Thinking of God love as the ocean puts fear of Him in perspective.
    ~ Wendy

  7. LisaShaw

    Wow taking this all end I had to read it twice dear sister. Thank you for pouring out…

    I love your heart in the LORD and your transparency and encouragement.

  8. Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife

    I know exactly what you mean. It seems like what we do is just a drop in the bucket. Not really sacrificial compared to so many other Christians who give everything they have to one another and risk their lives daily to spread the gospel.

    I love the picture of the cross in the sunset. Very beautiful and unique!

  9. Arianne

    What a wonderful post! You had me captured from the first photo. Oh, how great His love is. I felt every word I read in my heart. Thanks for your reflection….

    In His grace…

  10. Lyla Lindquist

    I've read it over and over and over. And it's taken a stranglehold. Yet here I am again, waiting for words to populate your comment box.

    They will not come.

    They will not.

  11. David@Red Letter Believers

    your post takes my breath away. It transports me to places. It moves my heart.

    Fear. Embrace it!

  12. Andrea

    Sitka has an award for you at All Gods Creatures.

  13. Monica Sharman

    The way you can communicate something like this…

  14. Tea With Tiffany

    I absolutely love reading your entries. You know just how to speak my heart language. Thank you for drawing me closer to the SON today. I really appreciate your blog. I only wish I could stop in more often. Maybe you should write a book, so I could hold it as I relax on my couch or on my bed. 🙂

    Love you, friend.

  15. Cindy

    Oh friend, What is it about the vastness of that ocean and beach. It brings you to a place of worship and awe I know. Thanks for bringing me back there again through your words. I love you and miss you tons. Blessings today my friend and may HIS vastness warm you today with HIS love.

  16. S. Etole

    there are times when words aren't sufficient …

  17. Deborah Ann

    Got sumpin' for you at my blog!

  18. ~*Michelle*~

    WOW…….just WOW!

    Your words and photos are leaving me speech-less.


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