When the Israelites returned from captivity in Babylon (modern day Iraq), they were beyond grateful to be back in their homeland. They immediately began reinstating the traditions that had made life meaningful to them and their ancestors. This included a calendar of feast days and fast days to reflect their devotion to God and his commandments.
It should be no surprise that this reinstatement was focused more on feelings and appearances of devotion to God rather than the real thing. Not because they were so different than we are, but because we are the same. People are people wherever they are, and they need insightful spiritual leaders to help guide them out of their illusions about themselves and into authentic God-like compassion for others. Isaiah was such a spiritual leader, and that’s why a passage he wrote will serve as our guide for the last seven days of our 21 Days of Prayer.
to assert or pronounce something in a solemn and emphatic manner
1 Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Shout,” “Raise your voice,” “Declare” are strong words sure to get the Israelites’ attention. God was telling Isaiah to let God’s people know that they were rebelling. Rebellion isn’t always the big sweeping moments; we can also rebel quietly in our hearts. Rebellion can be subtle, growing among the soon-forgotten, daily choices we make. We can cease from seeking and relying on God through prayer, stop opening our hearts to him. We can willfully refuse to forgive or to be patient with those closest to us. Rebellion separates us from God and from others.
The Israelites were participating in fasting, which was a form of worship. But they were doing it for all the wrong reasons, and they were not living out their faith in real life. They had deceived themselves into thinking that going through the motions of worshipping God on a ceremonial sort of level was all that he wanted from them. Before we get too judgmental of them, let’s think about the condition of our own souls. Have you gone through the motions, done the “right” things yet failed to experience God’s transforming power in your heart? It’s all about our heart, and God knows the condition of our heart. We can’t fool him.
Spend a few minutes thinking about the condition of your heart. Are you going through the motions, or are you engaging with God? If you recognize that you are going through the motions, pray and ask God to reveal what is going on. Confess where you are at, and ask him to soften your heart.
Is there a current struggle or challenge in your life where you need greater understanding? Is it separating you from others? Ask God to guide you and give you wisdom.
Spend time today praying for more compassion and understanding. Ask God to show you places or people you are quick to judge and write off. Pray that he would soften your heart and provide opportunities to spend time with people that are desperate for him.