"Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Isaiah 58:14
I have pondered, particularly in recent years, how we church-going Christians seem to have even less knowledge of God and live less in the presence of God, then perhaps any other generation.
|Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash|
Not everyone is so. I know some wonderful ladies whom I cherish, whose relationship with God puts me to shame. And I know some men that walk close to their Savior. But in an era where a Bible or a devotional (or a blog) or a message is simply a click away; in a nation where there is a church within driving distance, and in most cities, within walking distance, why are we, as a nation, changing the laws and the culture to laws and lifestyles that God abhors? How can this possibly reflect a nation that perhaps has more freedom to worship God and more professing Christians, than any other nation?
This morning, I spent time studying and meditating on Isaiah 58. I've been here in the Bible before and have readily nodded in agreement that verses 1-5 is a picture of Christianity today, at least in most of North America, and proclaimed that this is why our culture has turned out so bad.
"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness,...they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takes no knowledge?..." Isaiah 58:2-3
Yesterday, I signed up to receive a number of devotionals in my email. Not likely that I'll read everyone of them, but I will read those that capture my interest...hmm, can I trust my interest to reflect the voice of God.
I went to church last night and beamed to see so many wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord after having been away due to surgery. I listened to the sermon and nodded in agreement. But did it change me?
How many times have I looked at my life and said, "Lord, I'm going to change that," then not even a day passes before I return to my old ways?
Every day, I read out loud a "personal affirmation". This morning's included Philippians 4:8:
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
And it hit me. This verse describes God. He is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, always of good report, of perfect virtue and praiseworthy. Oh Lord, help me to think on You.
Back to Isaiah. Often when preached or in articles on fasting, Isaiah 58 is referenced. I've sat through a few sermons and read some on this topic. But this morning, God made it new and fresh.
True fasting is about righteousness, about restoring the worship of and fellowship with God. Fasting requires forsaking your sin (like you physically forsake food) to do what is right and good and sacrificial.
Fasting means you turn your delight to the Lord and the things of the Lord (thinking on Him, as in the above verse). It isn't about finding your own pleasure. Lord forgive me. How many times have I fasted and when weak, turned to something comforting? How many times have I fasted to overcome some ailment that bothers me? And while there isn't anything wrong with that, I have found that I often do so over what God has declared 'a thorn in my side' so that I might be weak and He strong. In other words, something He has made clear was there for His good purpose.
How many times have I said, "Okay, well I need to get such and such done, but I need to fast, so instead of not eating, I will fast from...videos, or reading, or sugar, or some other thing I figure I could forsake to "show the seriousness of my prayers." Ack. Me thinks me heart be not right in these things.
Fasting is about God. The whole focus must be on God.
Sometimes my pride is revealed in my fasting. I am fasting because I have an issue with someone and that someone needs to be straightened out. Oh Lord, forgive me. I may not verbalize it in so many words, but one of the motivations is that...I'm very good at lying to myself.
Sometimes I desire to be viewed as spiritual and so I say to my friends, "Well, I fasted for this or that". Actually, I haven't done that for awhile, but there was a time... I excuse it by thinking it is a testimony, or it is living openly before others, or something sounding just as "super spiritual"...
"Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." Matthew 6:16
There is nothing wrong with 'afflicting your soul'. It's good for us to consider our lives and recognize the propensity we have to sin. It's good to humble ourselves before God. But I must sincerely ask myself, am I truly looking at that iniquity in my life with the intention of getting out from under its burden and freed from its yoke?
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" Isaiah 58:6
I don't know about you, but I am often confused by multiple motivations in my life when I come before the Lord. I tell you, its a struggle to come with a pure heart, unhindered by my hidden, self-seeking flesh.
I believe it was Matthew Henry (that great commentary) that said, "Fasting must be the business of our whole lives."
Lord, help me to fast with the intention of a good steward, letting You lead me to use my time, talent, energy, and money for Your purpose.
The bands of wickedness, the heavy burdens, the oppressed, the yoke--all of these imply sin in my life or in the life of the person I might be praying for.
Why then should we fast?
- freedom from the bondage of sin
- for a hunger for the knowledge of God and the Bread of Life
- for reconciliation
- for the covering of sin by love and by Christ's blood
- to remember our frailty and need for God's mercy and grace.
"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am...." Isaiah 58:8-9a
Hmm. Seems to me that all those things I was truly seeking for, are satisfied when my fasting is properly motivated, rightly focused, and done with the passion of a pure heart.
If my nation is going to change and truly know and follow God, then I must ensure that I am doing so. Perhaps, just perhaps God will hear my prayer and begin a work to turn the hearts of our people back to Him, and to turn our nation away from wickedness.
Oh Lord, help me to focus my thoughts on You and all of Your qualities, that when I come to You with my desires I bring You glory, and that if You so please, You might take pleasure in answering my prayer.
"Behold the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:" Isaiah 59:1