One of David's favorite words seems to be "fear". Here is one of more than sixty examples throughout the Psalms: "I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.....Oh fear the Lord you his saints for those who fear him have no lack!.....Come, O children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Psalm 34:4-5,7,11
Most of the Christians I have known, myself included, struggle with how to define fear of God. I know the Hebrew and Greek definitions of the word and fear is fear no matter how we may want to redefine it in a more "politically correct" way. Jesus taught us to fear God because only He can cast our soul into hell (Matthew 10:28), but if you keep reading you will also hear Him say, "Fear not" because God values you more than the birds He cares for every day.
So here is the question we seek an answer to: "Does God really want me to serve Him out of fear?" Most of the preachers I have known have played the fear card in an effort to motivate their hearers to serve God. Having done that too, I am a bit sad that I failed to read and share all that God has to say about fear of Him.
I believe there are three primary sources of motivation. First, the promise of some kind of reward can motivate a certain action. Second, the threat of painful or negative consequences can prove effective at times. However both reward and fear will ultimately fail as long term motivators because both are external. They do little if anything to alter ones inner thought patterns for the rest of their life. I'm not saying reward and fear should never be used as motivators, all I'm saying is they wont last long because there must be an ongoing external stimulus and you have to keep upping the ante. At some point you reach a ceiling and then you're at a stalemate and will begin to see diminishing returns.
There is a third possibility, it's called LOVE. When asked what the greatest issue is between man and God, Jesus did not say "fear", He said, "Love the Lord your God" with all you are (Mark 12:30). Love is the most powerful of all motivators because it is internal, it resides in the heart and over time alters everything from the inside out.
So, I have finally located the definition of fear that helps me understand how to balance fear of and love for God. Check this out, "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God." (Isaiah 50:10) Two things constitute the "fear" God wants from me: trust in His name and reliance on Who He is. To get there requires a personal investment of time and effort, but you wont get there without love for Him.
Today I can sincerely affirm that I love God more than I ever feared Him despite the best efforts of a long line of well meaning preachers to cause me to continue to have nightmares about being cast into hellfire. I do still fear Him in the sense Isaiah speaks of but have no fear of hellfire any longer because Jesus came to give us freedom from that fear. Now that is worthy of a real HALLELUJAH!