The Worship God Desires.

feed the hungry

Yesterday I asked the question, “Will God Receive My Worship?“, and reflected on one of the greatest passages of instruction about worship from the Bible.  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah condemning the Hebrew people for hypocritical and insincere worship even though they were “seeking God day by day”, they “delighted to know [God’s] ways”, they as a nation “had done righteousness and have not forsaken the ordinances of God”.  This was a people who looked squeaky clean on the outside – even on the national level.  They were letting God be their religious and political leader, they were seeking Him and obeying the black and white of the Law, and they were singing, worshiping and fasting.  They were intentionally not eating so as to make themselves uncomfortable in order to pursue God.

But God was displeased with their fast and their worship because their hearts did not drive them purely.  They were fasting and afflicting themselves, but at the same time they were “finding their desire” in their fast – either through praise of others or in some other pleasure besides food.  They were driving hard their workers and not being good employers.  They were fasting in order to make a point and to put others down.  Their heart harbored sin.

Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?

– Is 58.1-5

But God responds beautifully to this terrible situation.  In essence He says, “I want nothing to do with that fast, but here is the kind of fast that I will honor”.  God will not honor or receive the kind of worship that is from a heart that embraces any sin.  The heart behind the actions must be pure.  Our weekly living must mirror our Sunday praises.  Because our weekly living sheds light on our Sunday praises, and reveals the heart.

Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

– Is 58.7-12

Verse seven strikes me profoundly.  Here we see God explaining the fast that He desires of His people and the worship that He will receive is the one who fasts – that is, the one who afflicts himself by not eating – and instead takes that food and gives it to the hungry.  To bring the homeless into your house.  To clothe the naked.  Go without in order to give to those who do not have.

Notice that God is giving conditions.  The moment we hear the word “conditions” or and “if/than” clause, our skin bristles.  Our backs get stiff.  Because we know that our salvation is of God and there is nothing that we can do to earn it.  It has been said, however, to imagine these conditions not as a form of legalism, but as a prescription by a doctor.  If God is the great physician and if He is the one who brings healing to our bodies and souls, then we must listen when He prescribes “therapy” to build strength.  If we want to be well, we will do these things.  God, the one who gives us salvation freely, says that we must do these things in response to having been saved.  If we do not do these things, if we resist His instruction, then He is not our doctor.  We have not been saved.

God then gives an extensive list of the things that will merit His blessing in our worship and service.  He focuses on the needs of the poor and the oppressed.  Remember that He is speaking to well-established people who have employees, and He instructs them to give their food to the hungry, bring the homeless into their homes and clothe the naked.  To break the yoke of the oppressed.  Then He gets a little more personal and He says, “remove…the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness”.  When was the last time you had a wicked or accusatory thought against a brother at Church?  Have you pointed your finger at someone, even just in your own heart?  Have you spoken unkindly, untruthfully or slanderously against a brother?  That must be completely removed before we can worship God.

If we do all of these things, then God promises glorious blessings.

Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

– Is 58.8-9

Is your church sick?  Are you dwindling?  Is your small group stagnant?  Is there a cloud over you?  Then do these things!  Change your heart.  Stop pointing fingers and speaking wickedly about one another and the world.  Rather, sacrifice your own comfort and use those blessings to meet the needs of the poor and afflicted.  Then your light will break forth and shine!  You will recover and you will have life.  And God will be right behind you.  He will “have your back”, if you will.  And most gloriously, when you cry out to God, He will answer and say, “I am here”.  If we continue in our selfish worship and if we continue to not meet the needs of the afflicted and at the same time speak evil of one another, if we make peace with any sin in our lives, when we cry out God will not respond.  He will not say “I am here”.  We will be alone.

Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

– Is 58.11-12

But if we make Him the Lord of our lives, if we submit to Him from our hearts, if we live peaceably with other Christians and if we band together to serve those in need, God will continually guide us and give strength to our bones.  We will be like a watered garden:  healthy, growing, producing fruit.  And not only a receiver of water, but like a spring of water!  This is what Jesus meant,

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

– John 7.38

The Holy Spirit will pour water and life into us, and our cups will fill up and then they will overflow such that this water flows out of us like a river.

And finally God concludes that when we do these things and worship Him in this way, we will raise up the age-old foundations and be called the repairer of the breach.  This promise was given specifically to Israel while they were in captivity and while they were living under the oppression of foreign kings, and God was promising to restore them to their land.  But we also know that He will honor true worship in the Church by under-girding her with His Truth.  The whims of liberalism and of wordliness will pass.  But the Truth and Word of God will remain forever, and He will uphold these foundations.  He will build His Church on it, and it will be praised.

So let us examine our hearts today.  God is not a God of confusion, and He makes perfectly clear His expectations and desires.  If we take the forms that He outlined without having been changed at the heart level, then our worship, fasting and praying will find it’s end at the roof over our heads.  We will cry out, and God will not respond.  If we want God to say, “I am here”, then we must put aside all sin from our hearts and we must afflict ourselves for the needs of others.  We must meet the needs around us, we must glorify God in the way that we speak about one another, and we must make much of Him by our caring for one another as more important than ourselves.  Are you dying to yourself today?

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