More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day - and in the night nearly as often.
- Patrick, Confession (Irish, 5th century)
...but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
- Psalm 147.11
Patrick is recounting the process of his coming to faith and beginning to grow in the knowledge of the Lord. Being carried off into slavery got his attention; he knew that God was punishing him by this. But the punishment of God had the effect of causing Patrick to seek Him for the first time in his life.
The longer he was a slave - six years altogether - the more he sought the Lord, growing, as he puts it, in fear, love, and faith in God, all at the same time. Thus his "spirit was exercised," that is, his soul began to be strengthened, so that he was able to persevere in prayer, even as he fulfilled all the duties that were assigned to him with his master's flocks.
In Patrick's experience, growth in the Lord was the result of increasing in fear and love of God - fear, because Patrick knew what God was capable of with sinners such as he, and love, because Patrick knew how abundantly gracious and good the Lord had been to him, in spite of his rebellious ways.
As fear grew and love with it, faith increased, and Patrick's spirit grew strong. Prayer became the foundation of Patrick's spiritual life and the staging-ground for his redemption and deliverance from slavery.
We do not need to fear fearing the Lord. Indeed, how can we really love God unless we first fear Him? And unless we both fear and love Him, how will we ever trust Him or seek Him earnestly in prayer? And without prayer, how will we ever grow?
How do you grow in the fear of God? Contemplate Him, waiting on Him in silence, as you meditate on His holiness and power, and your sinfulness and ingratitude. Then, as fear begins to take hold, realize the power of His Spirit comforting, renewing, and drawing you closer to the Father through Jesus Christ the Lord. Then your love for Him will grow.
God will increase your faith and exercise your spirit unto obedience when you nurture fear and love for Him. In the fear of God you will pursue holiness more earnestly (2 Cor. 7.1); in the love of God you will proclaim the Good News of redemption and the Kingdom (2 Cor. 5.14, 15).
As your faith grows your spirit will grow stronger to seek and obey the Lord.
And then you will know true joy.