“Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.” – Isaiah 58:1-2 NLT
“They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people – law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ and love having me on their side” (Isaiah 58:1-2 MSG). These words could very well be describing the state of the church today. We’ve turned busyness for God into an art form. We wear ourselves out doing things for God. We attend weekly worship services, take part in a small group, go to Bible studies, listen to messages on CDs and podcasts, serve, give, read our Bibles on occasion, and when necessary, pray. Then we turn to God and ask, “Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice!” (Isaiah 58:3 NLT). We wonder why all our actions and activities for God don’t seem to be scoring us any points with Him. But God makes it clear. He points out the problem – pointedly and painfully. We are inherently selfish and self-centered. All our pious-looking activities are marred by wrong motives and hidden agendas.
God told the Israelites that their fasting was useless if it was accompanied by fighting and quarreling. Their religious rituals were worthless if they were not coming from right hearts. Their fasting had all the outward indications of humility and sorrow for sin. They put on sackcloth and sad faces, but all the while they were abusing their employees and acting unrighteously. “You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?” (Isaiah 58:5 NLT). Isn’t that what we do? We go to church, we serve, we pray, we sing, we worship, we give, we put on all the outward trappings of religious zeal and spiritual fervor, but all the while we wrestle with secret sins, selfish hearts, hidden agendas, and wrong motives. God isn’t impressed and He certainly isn’t fooled by our charade. He knows our hearts. He calls us to true fasting. He doesn’t want pretense and show. He wants true heart change that shows up in acts of righteousness that impact our everyday lives. “This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families” (Isaiah 58:6-7 MSG). God wants to see our faith impact our lives. He wants to see our religion make a real difference in the way we relate to the world around us. Bible study that doesn’t result in a heart for the lost and a desire to make a difference in our world is ultimately useless. But if in our study of God’s Word we are getting to know Him, we will develop a heart like His. We will want to reach out to the hurting, help the hopeless, share the Good News with the lost, and bless others because we have been blessed by Him.
God calls us to “get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins” and to be “generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out” (Isaiah 58:9-10 MSG). The Gospel is life-changing. It is transformative. It should change the way we think, act, live, and relate to others. It is powerful and real, impacting our lives in such a way that we become salt and light, agents of influence and change to the world around us. He wants us to shine brightly in the darkness. He wants to bless us so that we can be a blessing. We are His hands and feet. We are His ambassadors. We are to be rebuilders of walls and restorers of homes (Isaiah 58:12). Let’s get busy doing what He has called us to do.
Father, forgive me for my false piety and religious showmanship. Give me a heart for the things that burden Your heart. Open my eyes so that I might see the world the way You do. I want to be a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes, making a difference in the lives of those around me. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men