Summary: Faith is more than going through the motions and appearing holy. True faith seeks God's will and faithfully obeys it.
Isaiah 58:1-12 “Hollow Religion”
One of the most difficult challenges in any relationship is keeping it fresh and growing. We are tempted to take our relationships for granted, to be distracted by other demands in our lives, and to ignore or neglect these precious gifts from God.
The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to take time to ponder and to examine our relationship with God. We can take our spiritual temperature during Lent and determine whether we are hot, cold, or lukewarm—is our passion to accomplish the will of God, or do we still try to use God as a first aid kit—coming to him only when we are cut or bruised.
OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL
The Lord commands the prophet Isaiah to lift up his voice like a trumpet and announce God’s judgment on the people of Israel.
The people are religious. They seek the Lord in worship and prayer. They appeal to the Lord for help. They fast in a vain attempt to sway God to answer their prayers.
Israel is also a rebellious people. They do not keep the ordinances, or laws, of the Lord. They look religious, but in truth their religion hasn’t penetrated to their heart. It is a show instead of a life changing relationship. They see religion as a way to persuade God to do their will rather than to conform their will to God’s.
Specifically, their relationships with others are broken. They treat each other unjustly. They oppress their workers. They bicker and fight, and they refuse to change.
It the truth is told, they remind us a lot of ourselves. There’s that temptation to increase our prayer lives when our lives are falling apart or threatening to do so. We have that human tendency of sharing but wanting the biggest piece, at the same time, even though we do not deserve it any more than anyone else. And there are times when we are not very loving nor forgiving in our relationships with others.
CHALLENGED TO CHANGE
I find it interesting that the Lord does not criticize the religious practices and spiritual disciplines of Israel. He doesn’t tell them to stop worshipping, praying, or fasting. Neither does the Lord tell them to fast, pray, and worship more.
The change that the Lord desires in his people is the way they live their lives with others.
• God’s people are to loosen the bonds of in justice, and break the yoke of the oppressed.
• They are to tend to the needs of the hungry and homeless, and the poor.
The change that God desires in his people is in the way they express their faith in their daily lives. From the time that God called Abraham out from his family, in order to be the father of God’s people, God has declared that he has blessed Israel so that they could be a blessing to others. God is reminding his people of what they are to do.
The effects of obedience will be readily apparent—their light shall break forth like the dawn. Their relationship with God shall be refreshed and renewed.
These words of the Lord are very powerful in their condemnation, their challenge, and their promise. As we journey through this Lenten season, may they help us reflect on our relationships with God and others. May the days of Lent be opportunities to rekindle the fires of our faith and our passion to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.