Thursday, August 29, 2019
Devotional for Day 18
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
— Isaiah 58: 2-8 (ESV)
My daughter has a subscription to a S.T.E.M. box with everything needed to make a science project. The first one came, only to sit on the kitchen counter judging me for several days before I put it in a closet. The second one came. The third one came. Finally, the guilt was too much, so Eva and I pulled out all of the materials and opened the direction booklet to attempt a true engineering feat. I was feeling good after step three; there were pictures and clear instructions. Emboldened, I became less attentive. It was at a kindergarten level, after all. How hard could it be?
I will let you fill in the rest of the details, but eventually it did require full adherence to the instructions! Probably most of us have found ourselves in this situation. Whether it is a S.T.E.M box or Ikea furniture, yielding to instructions is part of life. If it is difficult to submit to instructions for an assembly project, how much harder is it to submit to instructions that make a demand on your money, your time, your energy and your freedom!
This is where the audience of Isaiah 58 find themselves. They were seeking God, asking for guidance, and eager for his presence. But when they did not receive what they wanted, they cried out “Why have we fasted and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” It seemed like they were doing exactly what God required of them; they were fasting, humbling themselves, and repenting.
God responded that he was not impressed with their outward piety because it had not produced the change of attitude and behavior that their practices were supposed to show. Their worship did not line up with their public action. Isaiah 58:1-5 explains that worship and justice are two sides of the same coin. Worship of God transforms your character, which in turn changes how you act towards others. Otherwise, it isn’t true worship, and it isn’t acceptable to God.
So what does God desire? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” This might seem like a daunting set of instructions. Like the S.T.E.M boxes I put in the closet, it might be easy to ignore this passage because it feels too overwhelming to obey. However, as we spend time fasting and praying, it is important to remember that practicing holiness and practicing justice are both essential to faithful obedience. But be encouraged by these words from Hebrews which say, “May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ.” We aren’t left on our own to follow these instructions, we are equipped by God!
Taking that first step is hard, so here are some suggestions that might be a place to start as we seek to follow God’s instructions in Isaiah 58. Be available to your own families: put your cell phone away at meal times and listen. Share your food with the hungry: if you live in a city keep granola bars in your car. Ready to do next steps? Invite the homeless poor into your homes: Provide short-term housing for a pregnant mom with Bethany Christian Services. Free the oppressed: Partner with a local non-profit that works with victims of sex trafficking (Justice at Last in San Francisco). Already walking? Get involved in systemic change in the community and institutions you are involved in to care for the poor, the exploited and the oppressed.
When we obey the result will be renewal, restoration and revival!
Dear Jesus, make our hearts ready to worship you by loving you and our neighbor. Help us to desire what you desire and to act how you act. As we pray for revival, start with our own hearts, attitude and actions by the power of your spirit we pray, Amen.
Ministry Fellow, Christian Union at Brown University