"Baruch At Hashem, Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu La'asok B'divrei Torah."
"Blessed are you, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to actively Study Torah."
The above is a blessing of the Torah that Jews pray every morning. I have been learning about Jewish prayers through Rabbi Gidon Ariel of Root Source. This morning the Rabbi said something in his lesson that really struck a chord with me. He explained that one of the reasons the Jewish people pray this prayer is because they have a holy commandment (a task) to actively study the Torah. As a nation, the Jewish people should therefore, actively be studying the Torah. The Rabbi then asked, "So, what happens if you don't actually learn anything? If it goes in one ear and out the other?" It then becomes, according to the Rabbi, a blessing that shouldn't have been said. For example, the blessing above is a commandment from God to the Jew to actively study the Torah. If the blessing is simply repeated without putting it into action, than you have said the whole blessing in vain.
Did you catch that? If the blessing is not put into action you are saying it in vain, and by doing so taking God's name in vain. The Hebrew translation of the word "actively" is La'asok and it literally means to "occupy yourself with". Jews are commanded to "occupy" themselves with the words of Torah. I loved the Rabbi's explanation of this. He said, "Even when a doctor is not healing, he is "occupying" himself with his medical profession. So as a professional occupies themselves with their profession, the Jewish people occupy themselves with their profession. And their profession is the Torah."
How then does this apply to the Christian when studying God's Word? God wants everyone in the world to know Him. We can each have a unique relationship with God. But the Jewish people are different. Yes, they can have a personal relationship with God, but they are unique in that they have a national relationship with God. They have been called as a nation to actively study the Torah. It is their responsibility as a nation therefore to have a relationship with God. How do they get this relationship with God? Through the study of the Torah. This is why the Jewish people are so unique. No other nation on the face of the earth, since time began, has ever been called to do this. For the Christian then, the key to having a relationship with God, to truly know Him, is also to study the Torah (God's Word). If you go to church every Sunday and never pick up your Bible the other days of the week, you are not actively seeking a relationship with God. It is going in one ear and out the other! Like the Jews, we need to "occupy" ourselves with the Word of God.
To truly know God and to grow in your relationship with Christ, there is no other way but to study His Word. The Jews were commanded to obey all of God's laws and ordinances. To learn them they had to study the Torah. Deuteronomy 11:19 says, "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." It is the same for anyone who wants to pursue a relationship with God. Read His Word, study it, teach it to your children. Deuteronomy 11:19 says, "when you lie down and when you get up." In other words, occupy yourself with the Word of God all the time. Memorize it and keep it in your heart. Knowing God's Word keeps you from sin and in a right relationship with our Lord.
The Jewish people have been commissioned as a nation to study the Torah. Christians have also been commissioned. We are to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). So while the Jewish nation has a unique calling to occupy themselves with the Torah, so too do those who profess Jesus as their Messiah. If you are not studying the Word of God, how can you fulfill the Great Commission set before you? If you have ever struggled with your identity in Christ and what He expects from you - that is it in a nutshell. Study His Word, learn from it, put it into practice and then share it with others. Don't keep it to yourself or the blessing that comes from reading it will be in vain.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19-7-11, ESV).
After reading Jeremiah 2 today, I was struck with grief over the heartbreak in God's voice as He asked the Israelites, "Why? Why have you forsaken me?" This entire chapter moved me, starting with what God remembered about His people. As we often look back on the "good ole' days" God too looked with fondness at how things used to be. Just listen to Him reminisce:
“I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first of His harvest. All who ate of it became guilty. Evil came upon them,” declares the Lord.
Israel was holy to the Lord, the first of His harvest. This was supposed to be the people in whom God would entrust the privilege of telling the world all about Him. They were to be an example to the nations on how to live holy lives dedicated to the Lord and in turn share with the world all they knew about the God of creation. But that didn't happen. Instead, they made the inheritance God gave them an abomination and they defiled the land (Jeremiah 2:7). The priests of Israel who were supposed to know the Law, didn't even know God. The rulers transgressed against God and Israel's "prophets" prophesied for false gods instead (Jeremiah 2:8). They exchanged the glory God gave them for idol worship. They forsook God and worshipped only what they created with their hands.They were the only nation at that time to throw away one god for another (Jeremiah 2:11). How horribly sad! How could they do that to God? How could they forsake the One who loved them so much He gave them everything?
Before we hasten to judge these people to whom God gave every good thing, let's look at where the church is at today. I fear we aren't much better. As Israel was enticed towards foreign gods and the pleasures they offered, they lost their reverence or fear of God. As the church seeks to make itself more compatible with the world by becoming seeker-friendly, we too are in danger of losing our fear of the Lord.
For example, many well-known Christians and churches have relaxed or changed their stance on gay-marriage. Rather than believing that God's Word never changes and that God also never changes, they have opted to ignore Scripture that condemns homosexuality in favour of man's approval. Their fear of God punishing them for their disobedience is superseded by their fear of man's disapproval. Other preachers have also exchanged God for a god that is more palatable. He is the prosperity god. This god cares so much for his children that he would never let them get sick or be poor. Everything is positive and good with this god and nothing negative ever happens to them. If it does, then these preachers blame the believer, claiming it is probably a hidden sin somewhere in the life of that individual. Prosperity preachers don't believe God uses sickness or calamity to teach valuable lessons. They don't believe being poor is a place God would have them, they simply won't accept that God might work that way. If they did, then their whole belief system would be pointless. Their faith is not in the God of the Bible, but in the god of this world.
Then there is the belief in some churches today that people have to feel comfortable in order to even step through the doors. Seeker friendly churches have removed the pews and replaced them with theatre seating. The pulpit has been replaced by a stage with proper lighting and sound. The foyer might even have a cafe that is welcoming and which provides a less-threatening atmosphere for first timers. I see nothing wrong with doing these things. But this casual approach to making people feel welcome, also brings with it a casual approach to God. You will not find fear of God in modern churches today. The word fear in Hebrew is yirah and has a wide range of meanings, one of which is reverence and awe. Yes, we are to fear God in the sense that if we do wrong it will not go unpunished, but we are also to be filled with reverence and awe. Hebrew4Christians.com says, "Yirah includes the idea of wonder, amazement, mystery, astonishment, gratitude, admiration and even worship (like the feeling you get when gazing from the edge of the Grand Canyon). The "fear of the Lord" therefore includes an overwhelming sense of the glory, worth, and beauty of the one true God."
Is this what we find on Sunday mornings? I have been to churches where the seats have drink holders, because often the congregation will bring back a coffee to sip on while "worshipping" God or listening to the sermon. Is this how we should approach a holy God? Some churches I've visited have limited the worship to two songs only, followed by a skit and the sermon. Why? One minister explained it to me like this, "We are trying to attract new people to the church. So we want them to have a good time so they will come back. But if we bog them down with songs they don't know or have lengthy prayers or sermons, we may never see them again." Once again the focus is not on reverencing God or worshipping Him, but on what "feels good".
We have done the same thing with our worship songs on Sunday morning. Worship teams have replaced the choir. The sound is turned up to excruciating levels, so that the elderly are forced to plug their ears or wait outside until the "worshipping" is done. Choruses have replaced hymns and now the congregation sings feel good tunes that have no depth and are repeated over and over again to create a sense of euphoria in our worship times. It's the same technique rock stars use to get their audiences worked up and involved with their music. Is this how Christians should worship God?
It is because we have relaxed our stance where music is concerned that we end up with blasphemous acts on Sunday morning like the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey from Rick Joyner's Morningstar Ministries. This is not reverencing God, but ridiculing His Holy Spirit.
By trying to appeal to the world around us, Christians are unfortunately becoming more like the world by chasing after false gods or concepts that have crept into the pulpit and pushed God aside. I fear, like the Israelites in Jeremiah, the Lord will say to us, "Why do you go around so much changing your way" (Jeremiah 2:36)?
EDIT: God is never changing and stays the same. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. But the world is changing and I understand why the church wants to adapt to the changing times and attitudes of the day. Music is a great way to reach a lost soul. But when we take on a more "worldly" approach to come before God (i.e. Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey) we lose the reverence and fear of God that is needed in the church today. We need to remember that the building we go to each Sunday is where we go to corporately worship a Holy God. A church that is trying to adapt to the changes in the world and its value system, is a church that is trying to change God and is in danger of apostasy.
I've recently begun to dig into the book of Jeremiah and realized once again how God really does have things in control. For example, in my last post we discovered that God had a plan for Jeremiah's life before Jeremiah had even been conceived. Does this mean He also has our lives planned out in advance? If so, how much free will do we really have?
It is clear when you read the complete first chapter of Jeremiah that we have quite a bit of free will. True, Jeremiah was born into a family of priests, so his future was somewhat marked out for him. He also would have been trained on how to approach God as well as the laws of the Torah and the respect that comes with that. So, his upbringing likely prepared him for the role God had in store for him. But was he ever in the position to say no?
Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.”
Clearly, Jeremiah felt comfortable voicing his concerns to God that he had the wrong man for the job. However, God convinced him that everything would be fine, because He would be with him (Jeremiah 1:7-8; 1:18:19). So we can see from Scripture that it is okay to relate our fears to God about what He wants us to do. But can we say no?
"Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them."
The word "dismayed" in Hebrew is chathath and means to be shattered, dismayed, broken, abolished or to be afraid. God basically tells Jeremiah that if you are too afraid to do my will, I will keep you in that state. In other words, Jeremiah's actions would either be a victory for God or a harsh lesson for Jeremiah to learn to trust in God more. One leads to victory, the other would lead to a spirit of fear. God doesn't force us to do things we don't want to. He does however give us the power to do them and prepares our path to do them well. It comes down to your faith. How willing are you to trust God? It also means you must be absolutely sure God has called you to do His work. Not everyone receives visions and dreams like Jeremiah. So how can we know for sure what God's will is in any given situation?
For Christians we have the assurance of Ephesians 1:3-6. In particular, we have received the Holy Spirit as a pledge from God as to our inheritance in Him.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
This promise of the Holy Spirit is crucial for Christians when trying to understand what it is God has called us to do in relation to our service to Him. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. In my own life, I always equated "good works" (caring for the sick, feeding the poor, helping your neighbour, etc. ) with helping others, but I have come to realize it is more than that. Because of my illness I cannot get out and "help" anyone. In fact, it is quite the reverse. I need help on a daily basis. However, my "service" to God my "good works" if you will, is sharing with you from His Word. Oh, yes I can give money to help a needy cause, but my mission, my calling from God is to discern His Word and share it. He prepared this in advance for me to do, by giving me a spirit that hungered after His Word. Yes, I questioned God on my ability to teach, but He confirmed His choice for me through people, circumstances and His Word.
For example, a good friend of mine (without telling me) paid for a course for me to take on teaching Scripture. Why? God told her do it. She put her faith into action at a conference we were both attending and paid for me to attend a training course. The result was that at the end of the conference I was feeling convicted to take a training course on teaching Scripture. The same course she had already signed me up for. When you step out in faith amazing things can happen!
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
It all comes down to how much you trust God. Scripture tells us that we did not choose God, but He chose us! Isn't that amazing? He does have a plan for your life and He will reveal it to you in time. Right now, you may not know what God wants you to do with your life, but know this - where you are right now will prepare you for what He wants you to do. And you have a choice. To say no to the God of heaven and forever be unsatisfied and unfulfilled with your life, (because you aren't fulfilling your God-ordained purpose) or live a life in accordance with God's will and reap the benefits.
So yes, we do have free-will and we can say no, but why would you want to?
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations."
Have you ever wondered if God has a plan or purpose for your life? Lately, I have been asking myself that same question. You see, for years I thought His plan was made perfectly clear to me when, at the age of 17, He revealed that I would sing for Him. I was in church on New Year's Eve. During prayer I heard the Lord say to me, "This year you will begin to serve me with your voice." I thought, "Cool! I love to sing and I would be willing to do that." But my immediate thought after that was, "How?" Well, God had it all figured out beforehand and I never had to worry about the "how". The day after New Year's Day I received a phone call from a Christian organization asking me to come sing for a weekend at their camp. I said I would but that I had never done anything like that before. They said, "Then come practice on us." They would provide meals, a room to sleep and a way to get there. Well you didn't have to tell me twice that God was up to something. Especially, when to this day, I still don't know how these people heard of me or got my number! I suspect one of my friends wanted to jump-start my ministry and recommended me but no one owned up to it, which has always made me feel God's hand was at work. So I accepted, despite my inexperience at performing. You see up until then I had been vocally trained and knew how to play a guitar. I had even written twenty or more songs. But I had never performed them in front of anybody. I was nervous, but God had a plan.
For thirty years I stepped out and sang for God until it all came to a crashing halt, after an emergency surgery resulted in doctors ruining my vocal chords. The devastation I felt is hard to express. It wouldn't be wrong to say that my meaning in life (my purpose) vanished and I would wander aimlessly for many months. But God had a plan.
God had a plan for the prophet Jeremiah as well. He had that plan before Jeremiah was even formed in his mother's womb. Think about that. Before Jeremiah was born God knew him. Before he was born, God sanctified him to do a specific work - to be a prophet to the nations. Did Jeremiah question God on His designs for his life? You bet! Jeremiah's number one concern was that he was too young for such a mission.
Then said I:“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
In other words, Jeremiah was worried that no one would listen to him because he was too young. This verse doesn't mean he couldn't speak eloquently or that he wasn't intelligent enough to tackle matters pertaining to God. It means he was too young to speak on matters concerning God to his elders. You see Jeremiah came from a family of priests (Jeremiah 1:1) and being a teenager, he would never presume to speak for God to them. He was worried God had got the wrong guy.
When I discovered that I would never get my singing voice back, I struggled with my identity. I still do sometimes, because in my mind I was created to sing for God. I do not feel qualified to teach His Word, I only know that I'm supposed to. How? It was the way He prepared me. Long before the surgery I had taken an interest in writing as a hobby. So much so I took a writing course. In addition, I had discovered a whole new world of Bible Study through Precept Ministries and I was "digging deeper" with each study. I also took training on how to teach these studies. God used all those experiences to fulfill the next stage in His plan for me - to write and teach Bible studies (and occasionally pen a novel or two). When I finally said yes to God I will never forget the moment. I was at my computer and said, "Okay Lord, not my will but yours be done. Use my hands the same way you used my voice." The next thing I knew, a novel was pouring out through my fingertips about the life of Christ through the eyes of his mother. That book, Come to Me, would go on to win a Reader's Favorite Award and be the jumping start for future Bible Studies I would write. By writing the book I had to dig into history, research the culture and dig deeper into Scripture. The more I did that, the more I realized how much I loved digging into God's Word and sharing it with others.
So, do I still wonder what my purpose is? Sometimes. You see I now have another battle to deal with. I have been told I will be in a wheelchair before I'm sixty because of the disease I'm battling. Currently, I'm fifty-seven and can no longer walk without assistance or stand for long periods (I have to use a scooter outside and a walker inside my house). I also need help getting my socks and shoes on and off. So trying to stay positive while my future looks bleak has been a challenge. But, this one thing I know and cling to - God has a plan.
God has a plan for your life too and like Jeremiah, He knew you before you were born. He has created you for a specific purpose. To have fellowship with you. And He gave you talents and passions (maybe even a disability or a hardship) that He wants you to use to bring others to Him. You may think God cannot use you in your current state. You would be wrong. He wants fellowship with everyone He has created. He does not wish for anyone to die in their sins. To that end, He had a plan. His name was Jesus. His purpose was to bring sinners into fellowship with God, through his atoning sacrifice on the cross. His plan is that no one should perish in their sins (John 3:16). His life was freely given to save yours. If you know him as your Saviour then you already know God's plan for your life. You have been commissioned by Him to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:16-20). So go! Be a Jeremiah and trust that God's plan for you will be fulfilled.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.