The answer to lukewarm Christianity
Can we please take a moment to appreciate how amazing our God is? He is quick to answer our questions and guide us on the desires of our heart, if we should humble ourselves and seek Him with all entire heart and soul. Yesterday, I wrote this post on my struggles with modern and lukewarm Christianity and I ended the post with ambiguity of not knowing what to do other than pray.
Only a few hours later, as I curled up with my copy of The Hole in our Gospel, I read the words Isaiah wrote in the seventh century BC to a nation in captivity - people who had been brutally conquered by Assyria as God's punishment for centuries of unfaithfulness and idolatry under a succession of corrupt kings. It was a desperate nation trying to win the Lord's favor, but God judged their attempts at holiness to be shallow and insincere. They were following rituals, praying and fasting - but it was just motions seeking to achieve some personal gain and blessings from God.
It does to me. There have been too many times that I've gone to church just to keep up appearances. Or prayed without actually putting thought into the empty words I was saying. I've tried to be on my best spiritual behavior when searching for answers or personal relief from pain in my life. Looking back, I am ashamed of that behavior.
Here is what Isaiah wrote of this hypocrisy in chapter 58:
Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.
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.
"Why have we fasted," they say, "and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?"
These people were trying to impress God and when He didn't answer their prayers, they began to get angry. But, God saw through their deception and admonished them accordingly.
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? It is only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isn't that interesting? We think that just one day of humility, prayer and fasting (or even a week or two) is enough to fix year's worth of spiritual messiness. We think that one prayer just makes everything okay, but according to this passage, God doesn't even want to hear these prayers hidden behind hypocrisy and insincere hearts.
And this is my favorite part - the answer my heart has been seeking.
Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Here God describes a community of people driven not by selfish ambitions, material wealth and "fun," but people characterized by justice, fairness and a love for the poor. Is that how we describe ourselves today? Our families? Youth ministries? Churches? Cities?
Or are our lives filled with petty disagreements, gossip and a pursuit for material possessions and external beauty? How many families live in strife and anger? How many relationships and marriages are broken because of pride and a desire for something more attractive, sexier, happier? How many of us live in relative comfort and even wealth? How many of us have achieved our personal dreams?
If only we could change our behavior, because here is God's promises to us:
Then your light will break forth like dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say, here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
These words give me shivers. I'm still prossessing how to apply these commandments to my life, but I had to share this chapter with you - it's just too good not to.
May this challenge you to color your days with grace, charity and a love for your family (even the estranged relatives), your spouses, friends, church and every person you meet - including the homeless standing on the street corners or the family in your church who lost everything in the last financial crisis and are still trying to pick up the pieces today.
Then you will have the counsel of the King of Kings - His strength, His listening ear and His protection. And your light will break forth like dawn - a sunrise that illuminates the lives of everyone around you.