I want to start today's post with just rereading a portion of scripture from todays text. It is found in Isaiah 58:1-12 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “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? 7 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? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
WOW What a great chapter of scripture. I underlined almost the whole thing in my bible this week. This chapter succinctly details the ups and downs, and the truth and lies, as well as rewards about fasting. But on a much bigger note this is a chapter that looks at the truth of what it means to follow God, worship God, love God, praise God, and more than anything completely trust God.
At this point in time Israel has been putting on a good show. They are doing the right things, saying the right things, acting the right way for others to see them "live out their faith". The words "They seem eager" are gut wrenching. Notice that it doesn't say that they ARE eager. They simply have learned how to look the part while still being disconnected.
Isaiah points out that on the day of their fasting they simply do as they please, and continue to get in arguments with others, even to the point of blows. Fasting and worshiping God is more than something that you just put on the calendar. It is far more than simply "putting on a good show" of things.
It is in verse 6 that Isaiah transitions and begins to detail what true fasting looks like, and the fact that the fasting that they have doing is nothing like it. Go back and re-read this passage again. I will wait.........
In a nutshell we could simply say one thing. This is, in its simplest form, the greatest commandment followed by the second greatest commandment.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And Love your neighbor as your self."
When we fast or spend time in very focused/dedicated worship times what we are doing is simply this: taking the focus off of ourselves and placing it where God has asked us to place it. We are to focus on God and others. Look at what Isaiah says, when you see the naked, clothe them. When you see someone who is hungry, feed them. If someone is in need of shelter provide some if you can.
He says the fasting that God has chosen is that which looses the chains of injustice, sets the oppressed free and breaks every yoke. That is the power of our God at work and us trusting in him, not ourselves, for it.
When we begin to get our focus where God has asked us to place it, it is then that we the Lord begins to answer prayer and hear our petitions. When we come to God as though he were a genie who grants our wishes simply because we want something he seems to be so quiet, doesn't he? But when we pursue him and begin to align our hearts with his and begin to die to ourselves and seek HIS kingdom first we see heaven opened before us.
The other byproduct of seeking and trusting in God is that our light will shine in the darkness. (58:10) Just as Christ likened our following him as being a city on a hill, we will become the light for a dark world when we begin to, in increasing measure, look past ourselves and instead to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because when we do this we begin to "be" who God called us to be instead of merely putting on a show "doing" what seems to be fit the moment.
(Pastor Ted's sermon last Sunday is in many ways exactly what this is all about.)