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Read Isaiah 58

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.

    You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.

    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.

The kind of fasting you do

    won’t get your prayers off the ground.

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:

    a day to show off humility?

To put on a pious long face

    and parade around solemnly in black?

Do you call that fasting,

    a fast day that I, God, would like?”

I love church-y things.

I love the potlucks and the prayer meetings. I love Bible studies and small groups, book clubs and spiritual conversations over coffee. I love to teach and read from and speak about the Bible. I love to sing in church and I love to sit under the teaching of the pastor, nodding in agreement and shouting out an occasional “Amen!” I love debating and discussing, devoting time to my own spiritual health and dissecting the correctness of other people’s beliefs.

The Lord calls to Isaiah, “Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying 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. But they also complain, ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’” (Isaiah 58:1-3 MSG)

I pray for revival. I pray for an awakening. I pray, Lord, there are so many anxious, so many lonesome, so many addicted, so many broken, so many poor, so many hungry. I pray, God, why won’t you just do something? I pray, God, we feel your Spirit moving; what are you doing? Lord, why aren’t you answering?

“Well, here’s why,” God says (Isaiah 58:3 MSG). Your spiritual awakening isn’t shaking the foundations of your daily walk. You love to feel spiritually mature, but it comes with a side of smugness. Thank God you aren’t like those other Christians.

In the meantime, people aren’t making a livable wage. You argue over methods of baptism (is it one dunk or two, sprinkle or immersion, infant or adult) and correct ways to take communion while people go without real bread and clean water. 

Look how spiritual you are! Congratulations!

Image:Terren Hurst

Oh, how convicting this passage of Scripture is during Lent, when I have promised to give up things that are inherently bad for me anyway. I’ve turned a spiritual journey intended to draw me closer to the posture of Christ into yet another self-help exercise: no alcohol, no meat, no sugar, no screen time.

“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,” God tells his followers. “Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once” (Isaiah 58:6-9 MSG).

It feels so good to gather and pray with other believers, doesn’t it? Couldn’t you feel the Spirit moving? 

Oh, daughter of Christ, the Spirit isn’t moving for the sake of your feelings. Rise up, child, get up off your knees and take your worship into the world. “Get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.” Do these things, and “you’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again” (Isaiah 58:9-12 MSG).

Amen, may it be so, amen.

Points of Reflection

  1. How are your beliefs about God evident in your day-to-day life?
  2. Is it wrong to love church-y things? Read the remainder of Isaiah 58, verses 13-14, and consider the role of Sabbath in your spiritual life.

For the Kids

  1. What do you find to be unfair in school, at home, or in the world?
  2. According to the verses we read today, how are we supposed to respond to unfairness?

Action

There’s still a month of Lent left. What is one thing you can do this month that aligns with the kind of “fast day” God requires in Isaiah 58? Take an inventory of your work-week. Which activities are filling you up? Which activities are draining you out? How are you pouring out the love you’ve received from God into others?

ReadingsThe tradition of the prophets of old still stands today. In Can I Get a Witness?: Thirteen Peacemakers, Community-Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice, the stories of pioneers of social justice who engaged in peaceful protest and gave voice to the marginalized are shared. These 13 individuals worked courageously out of their religious convictions to transform American culture. Their work and their voices still inspire gospel-driven action today. If you need hope and inspiration to actively embrace the call of God from Isaiah 58, this book is a great place to start.