Because of an interview this past weekend, I was reflecting on my personal discovery of Isaiah, back in the spring of 2010. I remember with fondness a short season I had with all the kids in school (before the new ones came), chores caught up at home, and available time to spend hours in the Word. It was a season where I eagerly and purposefully pleaded, “Lord, please reveal to me your heart, so I can be more like you.” I will honestly admit that this is often not how I come to Scripture, but it truly was during that season.
My journey began with Isaiah 1, where I was blown away. I had never seen language like this to describe God.
God is ANGRY with his people! He calls them “a brood of evildoers.” They have rebelled against him so much that their whole bodies are beat up, from the bottoms of their feet to the tops of their heads. They are covered in welts and nasty unbandaged open sores because foreigners have come and desolated their people and their land. If God had not saved a remnant, they would have been totally demolished like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Even more than their land and their bodies, their hearts are as far away from God as they could possibly be. So much so that God says, “What are your sacrifices to me?” When they come to their place of worship, he tells them to “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” They are “trampling his courts.” He “cannot bear their worthless assemblies.” Their prescribed festivals “I hate with all my being!” God is so tired and “weary of bearing them.” When they lift up their hands in prayer, he “hides his eyes” from them. He says, “I am not listening”–those hands are “full of blood!” Their incense is “detestable” to Him! He even goes on to say that the “faithful city has become a prostitute!”
My heart is racing even now as I read those words in Isaiah. Have you ever heard words like these from God??
Now, before you want to jump to conclusions like: “Well, that was the Old Testament God… He was authoritarian and domineering and far away from His creation… That was before Jesus”– look back at the beginning of the chapter.
Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
This Old Testament God calls his people his “children” and he raised them and cared for their needs as any loving father would. But he is so sad that they have rebelled against him anyway. He says that even the donkey and ox know their master and their home, but his own children are far from him. They do not know or understand him at all.
This makes me want to cry. I think any mom or dad would want to cry after their beloved children have turned their backs on the ones who love them the most.
So here is the clincher in verses 16-17. The part that stopped me in my tracks. God tells them to clean themselves up. “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.” This is the part where I expected to read about how God wants us to worship the right way. Change our hearts when we go to the house of worship. Pray more. Do our sacrifices better. Don’t do things for show. But this is where I was blown away.
Here is the equation. How do we “learn to do right”?
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
What?!? This doesn’t sound like worship? What about church? What about Bible studies? What about my quiet time??
What God wants from us in worship is much more practical and doesn’t just happen on Sunday morning: Take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Look after the most vulnerable, the ones who are taken advantage of by others, the ones most avoided and forgotten by the rest of the world. THIS is what “religion” is supposed to be. This is true “worship!”
Sound familiar? We have read it so many times in the New Testament it has become old news. But read the equation again:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1: 27)
Our New Testament God and our Old Testament God are one and the same. His love for us is the same, and the worship he expects back from us is the same. He is the same loving and intimate Father.
Similarly, in Hosea 11 (another prophet like Isaiah who is called to preach repentance to a rebellious people), God talks about his love for his children, how he “taught them to walk.”
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
Does that sound like a harsh, overbearing, distant father? No, this is a beautiful picture of a Daddy bending down to scoop up his beloved child and swing her around like a princess!
Many times in the Old Testament, God is shown to have an intimate relationship with his children. And he yearns for relationship with them.
I long to redeem them (Hos 7:13)
So here is the answer to my question when I asked God to show me his heart: Take care of the vulnerable, those without someone to provide for and protect them. Period.
We all can relate because that is what we all were before He adopted us into his family. We were fatherless, far from our Heavenly Father. Since we understand what it means to be redeemed, to be a part of a family, shouldn’t we do everything we can to help others have that kind of relationship, to not be alone and destitute? God even calls himself the “Father to the fatherless” in Psalms 68:5. Should we not do the same, in whatever way He has called us?
Or is God angry with us? Are we doing all the “church things,” and avoiding the mess and inconvenience of taking care of others? I want to ask myself this question every day. Is my worship selfish, for me to feel good? Or does it honor God, and in doing so sometimes not “feel good” at all? Is my life a sweet incense to the Creator, or do I just stink?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Rom 12:1)