Summary: In times like these, when folks are searching for answers to their frustrations and for a way out of the wilderness of despair, God's way is sure for making things better both now and forever.
IN TIMES LIKE THESE: FOR MAKING THINGS BETTER, NOW AND FOREVER, GOD’S WAY IS SURE
After their fall from a state of perfection, with all the good things that go with living in paradise, God pronounced judgment on mankind --- Adam and Eve: “In sorrow thou shalt”. God did not, however, leave us without a way to be restored to favor with our Maker.
Even though pain, hardship and distress (denoted in Genesis by “sorrow” and “sweat”) became inevitable, God provided for our redemption from the consequences of rebellion against God, thus giving His people hope to carry on.
Simply put: Defiance of Divine Directive was offset by Divine Determination to restore Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained!
Throughout the Bible, from Genesis 11 through Revelation 20, we see God’s Story of Redemption acted out in and through countless numbers of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament . . . then in the New Testament, we see the story actualized in and through God’s Son Jesus Christ and those who identified with Him who was the One in whom the Drama of Redemption would be fulfilled in time, and, for eternity.
Until the Messiah came to bring light out of darkness and to usher in God’s Way for regaining Paradise, the people who walked in darkness relied on prophets and priests for “words from the Lord” . . . to receive God’s directives.
Only if God’s people listened to the prophets and obeyed the Word of the Lord could they experience peace and happiness. So hard to do!
During one of those periods in biblical history, when speaking to His people through Isaiah, God directed them to adopt a better way to honor Him by becoming instruments of good will on behalf of folks whose pitiful plights had rendered them helpless and hopeless.
God’s people, says Isaiah, had been spending way too much time and energy on their personal piety - seeking to impress God with rituals that, unfortunately, were being practiced insincerely and therefore had become bothersome if not burdensome.
Actually, those to whom Isaiah declared God’s directive had been complaining (58:3-5) that their “suffering for the Lord” was going unnoticed by the Lord.
They resented not being recognized for all their pain associated with denial of self . . . pangs of hunger which they were forced to endure . . . inconvenience of putting on that stupid “sackcloth” and spreading out those darn “ashes” - not to mention having to bow their heads so often that they might miss out on something. Wow!
Very quickly the Lord let them know that their self-directed ritual of fasting had indeed been observed by Him and that, contrary to the intended purpose for “fasting and praying”, He had noticed no attitude adjustments and no lifestyle changes. Rather:
The Lord told them He had noticed how grudgingly they went about their daily routines as if no changes in behavior were called for, no bad situations needed to be remedied.
For making things better, now and forever, God directed all people called by His Name to humble themselves and pray, to become instruments of peace by seeking to right wrongs . . . to relieve suffering --- Isaiah 58:6-7 . . .
The LORD God challenges us to turn: negatives to positives - first in our own lives, then in the lives of others . . . sorrow to joy . . . night to day . . . poverty to plenty . . . motivated by love for God plus love for others – not only as a privilege but also as a priority!
The heart of Old Testament law was: (1) a right relationship with God plus (2) a right relationship with others - which God demanded of Israel when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments (four directed to God, six directed to others) . . .
Through Isaiah -- The LORD told His people that their most effective worship would be service to people around them – especially anyone being mistreated . . . abused . . . in need of food, clothing, shelter --- most certainly family members.
Focus your attention . . . pray . . . give . . . lend a helping hand . . . devote energy to relieving the plight of the poor in particular and the blight of the human condition in general - by alleviating suffering . . . combating human trafficking . . . preventing injustice to the helpless (unborn, little children, oppressed, heavy laden, the elderly). Such are by far better ways than rituals to honor your Maker, Father and Redeemer.
So said Isaiah . . . Jesus . . . President Lincoln . . . Dietrich Bonhoeffer . . . Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . President Eisenhower . . . Mother Teresa . . . Billy Graham . . . So say we all!