For those who might be unaware, today is Ash Wednesday, also known as the beginning of Lent. For the next forty days, millions of people around the world will be giving up something – a fasting from whatever they choose. Many will choose to abstain from things like chocolate, coffee, or alcohol. Others will attempt to give up more substantial things. Most will return to the item fasted from after 40 days.
Last night, I did an in-depth study through Isaiah 58 with the incredible women in my Bible study at church. The heading above Isaiah 58 in my Bible reads, “True and False Fasting.” Naturally, this peaked my interest even further due to the fact that yesterday was “Fat Tuesday” and today is “Ash Wednesday”, and what I’ve learned from this text is nothing short of fascinating.
Within the first five verses, God (through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah), calls out some very specific sins in the nation of Israel, and I can’t walk away from exposure to these few verses without conviction. Verse 2 speaks to the inconsistency of one whose words speak of God, but their heart is far from Him. It’s the idea of talking the talk but not walking the walk. Anybody can do that. God calls us to something more, something greater. Verse 3 addresses the increasing illness within the church of going through the motions – doing the right things with the wrong heart. God sees right through it, friends. Verse 4 raises the issue of quarreling and strife, which is the unfortunate result of our attempts at righteousness done in our own strength and with the wrong motive. Finally, verse 5 addresses the sin of pious religion as opposed to humble relationship.
And what does all of this mean? It means that God sees through our every motive and thought. He looks past the surface of our good deeds to the heart. He knows full well whose glory we are after, whether it be our own or His. The first five verses of Isaiah 58 address Israel’s veiled pursuit of their own glory, masked by their good works and deeds. Again, friends, God sees straight through it to the heart.
I found myself all too guilty of much of this – trying to impress others by my “righteousnesses”, doing the right things in order to receive a divine pat on the back from God and applause from others…which is nothing short of hypocrisy and a divided heart. God is after all of my heart, not just the part I’m willing to showcase on Sunday mornings. And so, what do I want to give up for lent, or rather give up forever?
The never-ending list of duties, dos and don’ts, regulations, and obligations.
I’m after relationship. A genuine, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ is something that doesn’t require my good deeds or my checklists. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the final good work that set me free to a right, whole, and restored relationship with God. That is what I’m after.