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I rarely read modern Christian non-fiction books anymore. The main reason is that the ones coming from the evangelical space seem to all have been written by the same (boring) ghostwriter, and they’re all spouting the same hooey about revival coming, about how my lack of supernatural power is due to my lack of faith and prayer life, how I’m lazy because I’m not banging on all my neighbors’ doors and convincing them to believe the Gospel, how the world would change for the much better overnight if only believers would work their behinds off to become perfect (and most of the above statements aren’t even biblical).

These books go from being a cheerleader one page, to guilt manipulators the next.

Dang, sounds a lot like most church fellowships.

But when the title A Year Of Living Prayerfully showed up in the Fussy Librarian’s e-mail for free books, I was intrigued. Part of it had to do with a book that came out around fifteen years ago entitled The Year Of Living Biblically. I never read it, though I wanted to at the time, but I knew from reviews that the author was a non-practicing Jew who decided to live according to the laws of Deuteronomy for one year.

The idea that someone had done something similar, focusing solely on improving his prayer life, whet my appetite. I clicked on the link and was impressed by both the book blurb and the reviews, several of which talked about how the book was inspirational and life-changing.

I’m about sixty percent into the book as I type these words, and I’m here to tell you that those reviewers are spot-on.

My spiritual life is in the process of going through an overhaul. Though I haven’t been as prayer-less as the other, Jared Brock, I wasn’t thirty percent into the book when the Lord began dealing with me about my wrong priorities. He’s been using the book in conjunction with my forced time of rest and relaxation to bring me back to the life that I really want.

I’ll elaborate on that in a future post.

The book is a memoir of how Jared, and sometimes his wife Michelle, spent a year traveling to different places and meeting different people of various traditions of the Judeo-Christian faith to learn how to connect with God, and how to tighten that connection. He learned valuable lessons from every single place and every single person.

I’ve been learning those lessons vicariously. Been applying them to my own life.

And it’s turning my world upside-down.

Whether, like the author, you haven’t had much of a prayer life; your prayer life has gotten boring; or you feel like you’re missing something in your walk with God, you can benefit from Jared’s inspiring book, A Year of Living Prayerfully. Click here to check it out. It may not be free now, but I assure you, it will be worth whatever price you have to pay.

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I have a strange religious background. Strange, as in, I went from one extreme to the other.

I was raised Catholic. Then, at the age of twenty-five I had a power encounter with the Lord at a revival meeting in a charismatic Christian fellowship. Soon thereafter I left Catholicism for good and began attending that fellowship – may I say, religiously. After getting married about ten years later, I attended a couple of other similar fellowships with my husband until the age of forty-three.

Basically, I’ve been both Catholic and Protestant. But not just any kind of Protestant. No. Being the extremist that I am, I jumped head-first into the non-denominational denomination that teaches that if you pray for healing and don’t get it, you’re either in sin or you don’t have enough faith.

And believing in Yeshua’s words that “they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover” isn’t enough. If you’re tight with God, are a “real” believer, you’ll get instant healing. Or, get healed much more quickly than is natural.

Because “greater works than these shall you do.”

Like all denominations of Christianity, the charismatic sector likes to pick and choose its favorite verses and ignore the rest.

How many people have walked away from God altogether because of that instant-healing doctrine? They or a loved one got sick or injured, and didn’t get healed immediately. Or if recovery happened, it took the same amount of time that it would for a non-praying heathen.

Why am I thinking about all that right now?

I have learned to appreciate my shoulders.

Long story short: two different injuries, more than a month apart, produced shoulder tendonitis in both shoulders as well as shoulder impingement in my right arm…at the same time.

I’m dealing with these issues right now, as I write these words. In addition to his regular chores, my husband has had to take on most of mine. I also can’t lift anything heavier than a half-gallon of water. Though my shoulders show signs of recovery, it’s a slow, gradual process, some days a two-steps-forward-three-steps-back kind of deal. It’s been really hard, because I’m an active person. And, it’s springtime. I love to be out in the garden, working. But this year, I have to ask J to do all the hard weeding. And my husband does not have the affinity for outdoor work that I do.

If only I were Catholic…

My mother, who turned eighty-four this year, will be Catholic until the day she dies. When I was on the phone with her a few months ago, she said something about one of her friends suffering from some ailment or other.

She commented, “I suppose she’s offering it up to the Lord.”

The charismatic-Protestant part of my mind initially scoffed at the idea. But when I thought about it later, I wondered why the concept was so bad. After all, Yeshua did say that we would have tribulations. Also, the apostle Paul suffered all sorts of hardships, yet he worked to be content in all situations. He counted all things as dung in order to achieve life with Christ.

“Take up your cross and follow Me.” That single statement is where the Catholics get the idea that their suffering should be as an offering to the Lord. They may take it too far sometimes with the belief that God has placed the suffering on them in order to teach them something (I think He does it more often than charismatic Christians want to admit, but less often than Catholics think).

Whether or not suffering and hardship come from God is irrelevant. Throughout the New Testament (and in many of the Psalms), believers are encouraged to “count it all joy.” To be content. To be thankful in all things. To be of good cheer despite the tribulations, because Yeshua overcame the world.

To yield ourselves to God’s will, to trust, to live at peace.

Yes, we are to pray the prayer of faith. But we’re also to remember that God isn’t  a divine Santa Claus. We’re to remember that we live in a fallen world, and stuff happens. To us. Us believers who are doing our level-best to live righteously.

For decades, I’ve known in my heart that suffering, regardless of its source, is an opportunity to grow in my faith and trust, an opportunity to rise above my circumstances and find true joy, peace and contentment.

It’s just now clunked down into my heart.

I get it.

I have a choice.

My shoulders are sore. They ache. They’re injured, and because of it the muscles lower down on my arm are atrophying from disuse. It’s going to take time and effort to get everything functioning properly and pain-free again.

I can choose to accuse God of not answering my prayers for healing. I can choose to be angry at myself for not being careful that day I tripped and fell. I can choose to be frustrated that I’ll have to redouble my efforts to get my arms back into shape in a few months, to feel bad that J has had to take on extra work. I can choose to complain about my plight.

Or, I can choose to offer my suffering to the Lord. To be grateful for everything that’s right with my body and with my life, and to be content. I can choose to remember that when He was crucified,Yeshua suffered much worse things than I am now so that one day, I’d be able to escape this frail body and receive one that would never be injured or feel pain again.

I choose to offer myself up as a living sacrifice. I choose to be a little bit Catholic. Because, in this area, Catholicism is a little more biblical than charismatic Protestantism.

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Inasmuch as possible, I avoid participating in the male double standard that has been ruling Western culture for hundreds of years. I’ll start wearing makeup and shaving my legs and armpits the day that men are required to do so in order to be considered attractive and sexy.

No, I won’t. If that ever occurred, I would realize that the brainwashing of society had gone so deep, I’d need to disappear from it.

“Brainwashing.” Hmm. An incendiary word, don’t you think? Goes right along with “indoctrination,” which leads me to another double standard I’ve only become aware of during the past few years (probably because I quit watching mainstream media news eons ago).

I’m referring to the liberal double standard. If a person who holds to “conservative” beliefs and values, and they have children whom they teach those beliefs and values, they are brainwashing, or indoctrinating, their children.

Children who are taught that the Yeshua is the Son of God, and to follow His teachings, have been brainwashed.

Children who are taught that abortion, conjugal relations between people of the same gender, and pre-marital sex are wrong have been indoctrinated.

You rarely hear the words “brainwashed” and “indoctrinated” going the other way. They are almost always slurs from the mouths of liberals against conservative Christians.

Everyone “brainwashes” their children.

There is no such thing as a parent who doesn’t pass down their values to their children. Even the pathetically misguided parents who let their children roam completely free and never teach them safety, personal hygiene, or appropriate treatment of others are passing down their belief that children should be allowed to have absolute freedom.

A liberal parent who teaches their children that all paths lead to God, is indoctrinating them.

A liberal parent who teaches their children that animal rights are more important that human rights is brainwashing them.

A liberal parent who puts their teenage daughter on The Pill and gives a pack of condoms to their teenage son and tells them to go have fun, that sexual pleasure is their right, is brainwashing them.

I’ve brainwashed my son to believe that eating a whole-foods diet low in animal foods will help him be much healthier in the long run than otherwise. I’ve indoctrinated him with the belief that rinsing his mouth out with water every time he eats will reduce his risk of getting cavities.

Many parents “brainwash” their children into believing that attending school is good for them. I have “indoctrinated” my son to believe just the opposite.

And it’s not just parents

Politicians typically have an agenda they want to shove onto the public. When a person is frequently in the public eye harping on the same topic, saying thus-and-such is normal/natural/should be legal, how is that not an attempt to brainwash?

“No, no, no, Emily. That’s persuasion.”

Sure, it’s persuasion. If it’s a liberal politician doing the talking. But if it’s a conservative, nuh-uh. They’re trying to brainwash. Attempting to indoctrinate.

Knock it off, people!

You have the freedom to believe whatever you want. And, if you have children, to pass on your beliefs to them. Whether you consider yourself liberal or conservative.

Your neighbors have the same freedom…regardless of their political or religious bent.

So, unless we’re talking about a legit cult leader who’s ultimate goal is to get a bunch of followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, let’s stop accusing each other of “brainwashing” and “indoctrinating.” It’s that utter disrespect of each other that’s tearing the nation of the United States apart. Once that happens, good-bye democracy, and hello dictatorship! Or maybe, hello, communism!

I recently watched a video by comedian John Crist that points out just how horrifically intolerant Americans on both sides of the political spectrum has become. Here it is; watch it, and let it inspire you.

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In the first three verses of Psalm 1, the Lord reveals how to become blessed and prosperous. In today’s study, I want to focus on the fourth verse. (Click here for my thoughts on Psalm 1:3).

The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.

The wicked

The first thing I need to point out is that the word wicked here does not refer to people who commit obvious sins: adulterers, murderers, thieves, and so on. When you’re studying the Bible, you have to take the whole into account. “Wicked” is being contrasted with the man described in the first three verses of the psalm, the one who avoids the world’s sinful patterns, instead delighting and meditating on the Lord’s instruction. Taking that into account, we can rightly conclude that a bona fide Christian, one who has faith in Yeshua as their Savior, could be labeled as “wicked.”

Yes, there are a lot of church-goers who have never made a heart commitment to God. But there are plenty of those who have, and who sin on a regular basis and don’t realize it!

How can that happen? Two steps. First, they become entrenched in the world’s way of thinking because it surrounds them, has infiltrated their minds since birth. This cultural brainwashing leads to self-deception, which is the most dangerous kind of deception. Because we are products of the mainstream culture, we can become blind to the many ways its worldview clashes against God’s holiness. That blindness enables us to hear godly preaching, or read the Bible, and justify our actions which clearly contradict what we’re hearing or reading.

I believe that once saved, always saved (assuming a person comes to God of their own volition with a humble and repentant heart, rather than merely making a head-acknowledgement of belief). However, even true believers can get lost.

That doesn’t mean that they are eternally damned. It means that in this life, they’ve lost their way with the Father.

When you take the first four verses together, “the wicked” include both those who have never acknowledged God and desired to live to please Him, as well as believers who have backslidden.

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Chaff is the hard shell around grain that must be removed before the grain is edible. It weighs almost nothing, so any little breeze can blow it around.

So those who are lost, for whichever of the two reasons I just mentioned, are neither fruitful or blessed. Rather, because of their choice to follow the advice of the ungodly and to walk in the paths of sinners, their lives are empty, void of any of sense of purpose. Because of that, temptations and opportunities can and do blow them every which way.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion gained by worldly and fleshly pleasures. Once the pleasure is over, they find that they remain an empty shell. And once again, the ways of the world influence them, instead of they being able to influence the world.

Your next step

If you have never humbled yourself before God and asked Him to be Lord over your life, that is what you need to do in order to be blessed and to prosper in everything you do. If you are a believer and you have any sense that you have backslidden; if you’re tired of feeling purposeless; if you’re laden with guilt and shame because you know you haven’t kept your heart, mind and actions set on the Father; then you need to turn back to Him. Pray to be able to trust Him again. Because in the end, believers backslide because they stop trusting God and start trusting the world.

If you are in neither of the two above categories, pray for someone who is. Every day.

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In the last post in this study of Psalm 1, we looked at what it means to delight in the Lord’s instruction and to meditate on it. Now, let’s move on to verse three:

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

The third verse of the first Psalm describes the benefits of a person who avoids sin and ungodly ways by delighting in the Lord’s instruction. Let’s take them one at a time.

Like a tree…

Stop right there. People who are blessed by God because they walk in His ways aren’t like a blade of grass. Or a sunflower. Or a bush.

They are like a tree. They aren’t easily cut, broken, or torn up. They are strong, resisting all but the most destructive of winds.

…planted besides streams of water…

Such a believer is not like just any tree, but one who has a constant source of hydration. You can take that figuratively on two levels. First, a tree that never thirsts doesn’t have to struggle to grow or stay alive. Thus, a believer who is blessed because they follow hard after God thrives spiritually.

The second level is remembering that in the Bible, water often symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Someone who meditates on the good things of God and endeavors to walk the straight and narrow path is going to receive a constant refreshing from the presence of God’s Spirit, a stream of water bringing wisdom, peace, joy, and strength.

…that bears fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

A tree receiving plenty of water can bear plenty of ripe, juicy fruit at just the right time.

That’s key: just the right time. In its season. You can’t pick apples from an apple tree in April; the thing hasn’t gone past the blossoming stage yet! A lot of people get frustrated because they think they should be able to do this, that, or the other thing to help build the Kingdom, when in fact they’re still in their pre-fruit-bearing years. Or in the time of budding.

Remember that when you are faithful in a little, then you are made responsible for much. Be content to be blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit as you focus on the small things God has given you to do right now. Your time to bear fruit will come eventually.

In the meantime, your leaf will not wither. What do leaves do for a plant? They interact with the sun in order to produce chlorophyll, which in turn feeds the plant. So even if you’re not in a fruit-bearing season, if you are the kind of believer described in verses one and two of Psalm 1, you can count on a continual nourishment of both spirit and soul, nourishment that is essential to the production of fruit.

Whatever he does prospers.

Westerners get excited when they read this verse. “All I have to do is obey God, and I’ll be rich!” Therein lies the problem of much, perhaps most, preaching in the Western world today: preachers take Bible verses out of the context in which they were originally written, and paste them into modern societal values.

Yes, God does prosper financially. But it rains on the just and the unjust alike [Matthew 5:45].

Oops. Speaking of Scriptures that preachers interpret in the light of modern Western society. Rain is not a bad thing in this verse. It was written thousands of years ago in the Middle East. In that area of the world, farmers get excited about rain. Rain is a good thing. A very good thing. It represents – bum-bah-dah-dum! – prosperity!

In other words, non-believers can (and do!) prosper financially – and in many other ways – as much as believers can. Just take a look around you. There are plenty of non-believers who are much healthier for their age than believers, others who are much wealthier.

So we need to interpret “prosper” in this verse in a different light than what we’re used to: to bear fruit. If you need to lose fifty pounds, and you change your diet and begin an exercise routine, then eventually lose fifty pounds, you’ve prospered. Your self-discipline has born fruit. If you decide to learn to play the piano, then eventually use the skill to entertain others, the skill has born fruit. The fruit in both examples has nothing to do with earning money.

If we walk close to God, listening for and obeying His instructions to us, His desires become our desires. We won’t go around making plans and trying out different ventures that are contrary to His will for our lives, and therefore fall on our face. Instead, we’ll allow Him to lead us into His best plans for our lives. Thus will whatever we put our hands to prosper – bear fruit – because we’ll be putting our hands to the things that God also has His hands on!

Of course, there is also the spiritual kind of prosperity, bringing joy and peace and a sense of security. Whatever people who are running hard after God do, prospers them in spiritual blessings. Sure, they may develop wealth doing the thing God calls them to, but more importantly, they will find joy and fulfillment as they carry out that calling, that purpose.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the thing prospers by having a positive impact on others. In the life of a believer whose heart is ever toward the Lord, financial and material wealth should be considered a bonus, not the end goal.

Your next step

If you’ve been hitting brick wall after brick wall while attempting to carry out a particular task or reach a particular goal, it could be that you’ve made the mistake of making your plans and asking God to bless them, instead of seeking Him for the plans He has for you. God doesn’t desire for His children to walk in constant frustration. Frustration cannot abide in the same vessel as joy and peace, the major markers of prosperity.

Stop what you’re doing and spend time alone with the Lord. Repent for plowing forward without seeking His will, then ask for direction and guidance. Give it time; chances are high you won’t get an immediate answer or instant clarity. It may take several days or longer for you to figure out His path for you.

And as options come to you, see if meditating on them brings you joy and peace. Push aside the ideas that don’t; pray further about those that do.

Humble yourself before God, choose His ways, and whatever you end up doing will bring lasting joy, a sense of fulfillment, and bear much fruit for the world around you.

Click here for a study on Psalm 1:4.

 

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