“How joyful are those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 128:1).
“A happy family is but an early heaven.” – George Bernard Shaw
“There’s No Place Like Home” – Dorothy, Wizard of Oz
Here in the middle of our journey, we take a closer look at our homes.
In Psalm 127 our focus was foundation; the structure of our house. Now we move inside that home to taste the culture that comes alive around the family table, described in words like blessed, happiness, fruitful, joyful, flourishing, prosperous and peaceful. Let’s admit it! These are a few of our favorite things. These words define the kind of atmosphere every family longs for, some actually find and others only dream of. There’s also one more very beautiful word here: GRANDCHILDREN … “your children’s children.”
So what’s the key to this culture? What’s the source of this “early heaven” George Bernard Shaw spoke of? The songwriter gave us the key right there in the first line in the form of a puzzling statement, which sounds like an oxymoron or a contradiction. He writes, “How joyful are those who fear the Lord.” Seriously? What possible connection could there be between fear and happiness? He says it again in verse four, after listing a bundle of benefits. “This is the Lord’s blessing for those who fear Him.” We’re not used to considering happiness and blessing as being the result of fear. Fear is a great thief. Fear doesn’t deliver gifts of joy and blessing; it destroys them. Fear creates unrest, tension and terror.
Let’s see if we can make sense of this. We all know that one word can have many different meanings. Cleave can mean “cut in pieces” like a stick or piece of meat, or “hold tightly” like a spouse or friend. Likewise, there’s fear that causes trembling and dread. And there’s fear that serves to keep us alive, moving us back from a dangerous cliff. The fear of the Lord is not a phobia that makes us run away in terror. It’s the wisdom that makes us run toward Him, cling to Him and walk with Him. This is deep respect, fierce love, loyalty, transparent humility and the genuine worship of surrender to a God we are safe with and a purpose better than our own.
This fear is the deepest awe and life-stabilizing respect for God. In one word, to fear God means to honor Him as God, an honor rising as a response to His astounding love that moved Him to present Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. Our fear of God transforms us from rowdy prodigals to happy sons and daughters. Then His blessing, fruitfulness, prosperity and joy follow in unexpected, ever-increasing measures.
• The happy home is an enclave where Jesus’ words have become our trusted foundation.
• The fruitful family is a tribe that understands they are only at their best when living out God’s mission for their corporate life.
• The thriving household is one that discovers that only in obedience to God’s call can every member become all they were intended to be.
Look again at verse three. A wife resembles a flourishing vine. Children become like sturdy, vigorous olive trees. These are images of growth and vitality.
The family that follows Christ must become fruitful, and among the many tangible blessings of prosperity, protection, security, abundance and gladness, God adds one richer gift to these God-fearers: “…May you live to enjoy your grandchildren” (Psalm 128:6).
Another way of saying that is, “ May you at least live to the ripe old age of 40.” You gotta love that.
Perhaps the pause on these “family songs” is designed to remind us that a great family culture is no accident. Lasting sweetness in life is directly related to this kind of godly awe and honor.
• What if we gave all we have to create such beautiful vineyards and fruitful orchards?
• What if the conversations around our tables fostered hope and passionately celebrated each member of our families, and not just on their birthdays?
• What if the wonder and awe of the beauty of God became the centerpiece we gather around?
• What if our children and grandchildren heard us making a big deal about the love and compassion and mercy of Jesus?
• What if they knew that their home was a safe place to be honest about their disappointments, dreams and desires as well as their failures and fears?
In that kind of culture, within the structure of a “house” that the Lord builds, we would all learn the freedom found only in the humble, fortifying fear of God. And we would, of course, discover that sweet substantive strength our Jewish friends called “SHALOM,” a word that relates to the fruitful life Jesus spoke of when He said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).
All this talk of happy families is hard for some of us. We don’t all have pleasant memories of shalom in our home. Scenes of pain and dishonor dominate some personal histories. I’m so sorry about that. But your past doesn’t need to determine your present or your future. God’s peace can become one of the dominant elements of your story. It all comes down to letting God be God at home and walking in the balance of the fear and love of God, which will prepare your family for continual fruitfulness.
God is poised to bless you and prosper you in all the ways that matter most.
He’s prepared to pour blessing over your home that will cascade down for generations to your wonderful children and those amazing grandchildren (I’ll show you pictures of mine).
Dorothy was right. When God is honored as Father and the head of our tribe, there really is no place like home.