walk in the word
2“Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. 3‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” —Isaiah 58:2-4
Why does God sometimes ignore our worship? That’s what the people in Isaiah’s day wanted to know. They asked, “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” Here’s how God essentially answers: He ignores our worship at times because we’re self-centered. Notice the text says, “Behold, in the day of your fast…” The word behold means just listen up. Why does God not show up? He gives us two clues that reveal our self-centeredness at the end of verse 3.
The first clue is the phrase, “you seek your own pleasure.” It means that even spiritual actions can be practiced with purely selfish motives. We may think, I’ll try fasting or looking humble, because it will make me feel or look good. But in that approach, God is an optional add-on—or worse, treated as if He can be fooled by appearances. We’re just like the Israelites who asked, Why don’t You see us fasting? Aren’t You impressed by our humility?
God refuses that treatment. He sees right past the pretense. That’s why authentic fasting is prescribed in Scripture. It elevates our hunger and passion for God. We cannot pursue everything our heart desires and God! If we don’t “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), whatever else we’re seeking first will be idolatry.
This explains why there is so much spiritual apathy in the western world. We tend to think our material possessions are a sign of God’s blessing upon us—but His provision may be more of a judgment than a blessing. Instead of bringing about our humble attention, having so many needs met often results in a greater indifference toward God, and interest solely in our own pleasure. When our worship is focused on selfishly expecting something to inspire us or turn our crank spiritually, God doesn’t participate.
The second clue about our self-centeredness is the phrase, “oppress all your workers.” Today this applies in subtle ways. While you may appear to stop for worship, your little investment machine keeps going. You may not be an employer who insists on a 24/7 schedule for your workers, but your cell phone, tablet or laptop is always on, and your system of generating income never stops working. Would you ever think of shutting that down to give your full and focused attention to God alone? Self-employment can easily become worker oppression, too—God won’t accept you oppressing your workers, even if the only worker is you.
Worship is not for you. Worship is for God. As long as you come to receive and don’t come to serve and worship Him, you will walk out empty and disappointed—even when those around you are meeting with God in powerful, life-changing ways.
Ask yourself honestly, Am I selfish? Have I been consumed with myself? Am I here to worship God, or am I expecting Him to be here for me? Your answer matters. Because in one scenario God shows up powerfully—in another, He doesn’t hear you at all.
Father, it is tragic when I go through the motions of worship and don’t sense Your presence. Keep me from the folly of assuming You will show up, just because I’m at church! Help me to humbly and longingly prepare for worship by seeking Your pleasure instead of mine. May I lay aside the desires that do not align with Your holy purposes and embrace the ways that honor You and exalt Your Son. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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