Whoa. Whoa. I got to chapter 58 and was just knocked out of my chair. Well, I wasn't actually in a chair. Really, "riveted" is the better description here. I was riveted. Probably my mouth hung open the whole time, but I can't be sure, b/c I was so wrapped up in the words that were pouring out to me in this chapter.
In fact, I think I'm just going to type the first eleven verses. After all, maybe you missed them. Probably not--I don't see how that would be possible--but it can't hurt to read them again.
Prepare to be wowed, humbled, and inspired:
"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 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?'
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?
Is it 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?
Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose 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?
Then your light will break forth like the 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 the 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" (58:1-11).
Again, wow. As I read verses 2-3, my thoughts were, "Can that scenario really exist? Can a person or church be seeking God, wanting to know Him, asking Him for just decisions, desirous of seeking His face, and participating in spiritual disciplines without being right with Him???" That question made me take a long, hard look in the mirror. I mean, (full disclosure), it's been months since I fasted, but I have been studying my Bible and writing about it, in an effort to better understand God's word. I view that as a discipline, like fasting. And I have done many other "acts of service" for the church, which I view as disciplines. And I want to know God, and I think I'm seeking God's face, and I have been asking Him for just decisions. So...am I right with God?
Now, I do know that God pours His grace on us and covers our imperfections...but I can also remember days where I was typing about the Bible while my kids were begging for my attention, and I was annoyed at them because for goodness sake, could I just type this last paragraph and be done with it?? (Heavens, that is ugly. Not fun to confess at all.) And I can remember days where I was "doing" a lot for God, but I was not filled with the fruit of His Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23. And I would say that it is fair to compare my actions and my heart in those times to the people who quarrel and fight during their fasts. I mean, what's the point???
And also, Isaiah hits helping the poor pretty hard here, doesn't he? And the thing is, God help me if I'm wrong, but I just don't believe that I am exploiting anyone like verse 3 mentions. And I do try to help the poor. I don't want to seem like I'm tooting my own horn, but there are plenty of things I do to help the poor and hungry. But reading this, I have to ask myself, "Are those just token efforts? Am I truly spending myself in behalf of the hungry, like verse 10 says? What does that look like exactly?" I truly want to be with God. I want to commune with Him, to know His ways and seek His face. So...I want to do what it takes to get there. And I guess the question I have to ask myself after reading this is, "What is the next step?" If loving and serving others, especially the "least of these," is the path to God, then what is the next step down that path?
That's a question to pray about, for sure.
NT: Philippians 1:1-26
Well, I said that I liked Ephesians the best, but it might be Philippians. Hard to say. There is definitely a lot to love here.
For one, I love verse 6. I don't love that it starts in the middle of a sentence, but it is that part of the sentence that stands out to me. It says, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Now, when I was in high school, I loved this verse, but I massively misinterpreted it. I thought that the "he" was an individual, like it could be replaced with the word, "whoever." And so I thought that Paul was expressing his confidence in the people of the church at Philippi to finish what they started. I am a big believer in finishing what I start, so I was all about that verse. It was very inspiring to me. However, it seems obvious now that the "he" is God, not a person. And what Paul is saying is that he knows that God will finish the good work that He started in the church. I have to say, when that first clicked with me, I was pretty disappointed. I was quite attached to my first interpretation, you see. But now, I've come to understand that the verse is so much more inspiring and comforting when you realize that it is God working through us, not us working by our own efforts. It kind of reminds me of the feeling I get from Ephesians 2:10, which says that God prepared in advance the works for us to do. I can do nothing without God's help, and it is only through His power that the good works He starts in our church will be completed.
And of course, I am always drawn to Paul's prayers, and in Philippians, he prays another beautiful one, asking for love, knowledge, insight, and discernment for the Philippians:
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God" (9-11).
One thing I love about this prayer is the way that knowledge, depth of insight, and discernment are linked with love and righteousness. In fact, Paul does not talk about those three on their own; he speaks of them as characteristics accompanying a deep, Spirit-filled love, a love that bears "the fruit of righteousness." It kind of goes back to the Isaiah passage. The study, the discipline, the pursuit of the knowledge of God are useless without love and righteous actions.
The way I read the rest of the chapter is that Paul just builds and builds up this passion that crescendos in verse 21. Seriously, read it out loud. I think you will see the build-up to the summit, which is Paul's passionate declaration, "to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." I sooo hope that those will be my last words.
In that verse and the following ones, I see a man who has his priorities straight. If life is what the Bible says it is, if it is a vapor and a mist before the light of eternal Day, then why should we cling to it? The only value to be found is the good that we do to others, the love that we show them, the way that we point them to God. For Christians, living just for the sake of living just shouldn't hold that much appeal, according to the message of the Bible (well, particularly the NT. David, Hezekiah, and others in the OT very much appreciated being alive just for the sake of it).
Psalm 71: 1-24
In asking for God's protection, David emphasizes his total reliance on Him.
Verse 10 is interesting:
"If you falter in times of trouble,
how small is your strength."
That is kind of harsh, but true. Anyone can be "strong" in the good times...
And it's not the same message, but this verse always reminds me of the second part of Isaiah 7:9, which says, "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all."