Devotion and Discipleship

True Worship is Transformational

This is part of a series of posts reflecting on the book of Isaiah.  See below for the full list of the posts in the series.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and Christians all over the world will gather to pray, study, and worship.  We sing ancient and new songs of praise, sacrifice hard-earned money to further God’s work, and encourage one another in our life journeys.

For many of us, this is so much a part of our identity that we don’t even have to think about it – Sunday worship is what we do.

I think that’s wonderful, because building righteous habits is part of being a disciple.  However, we cannot simply assume it is a righteous habit.

Sometimes we need to stop and ask ourselves - Is our #worship true? Is it submitted to God's Holy Spirit? And above all, is it transformational? Click To Tweet

You see, the ancient nation of Judah thought herself righteous. Her people thought themselves to be God-seekers, because they called out to Him, asked about His laws, and fasted and prayed for His judgment and care.  (Isaiah 58)

But God declared otherwise.

In fact, His indictment In Isaiah 1:12-15 is so harsh I cringe to read it.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood (ESV).

Ouch.

And that’s not all.

He called them murderers and accused their leaders of being corrupt and taking bribes from the guilty instead of seeking justice for victims of crimes (1:21-23, 5:7, 5:8, 5:20-26).

He said they didn’t care for the widows, orphans, or poor. They greedily gobbled up land for themselves, leaving no room for others (1:21-23, 5:7, 5:8, 5:20-26).

He pointed out their vanity and arrogance, saying they were concerned with luxury, physical appearance, and pleasure-seeking rather than what God was doing in the world. (3:16, 5:11-12, 5:20-26)

They worshiped Him, but only with their lips – their hearts were unchanged (29:13)(58). They continued to be quarrelsome, to exploit their employees (58-3), to oppress and mock those less fortunate (58:9).

These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. (Isaiah 29:13) (NIV)

Isaiah’s outcry against arrogance, greed, and disregard for those less fortunate seem even stronger to me than his statements against idolatry.  Perhaps that is simply due to the reality that in my culture worshiping handmade statues seems ludicrous, while pleasure-seeking and wealth-seeking without concern for others are an integral part of our culture, and are often even praised.

Or perhaps it is because those indictments really were the strongest ones against Judah, which periodically did return to worship of God instead of idols but which never overcame the internal sin that expressed itself in outward corruption and hypocrisy.

Certainly Isaiah repeatedly expresses the need for worship in the heart – the innermost being of a person.  His prophecies express God’s yearning for worshipers whose lives are transformed by His Spirit.

His prophecies point directly to the need for a spiritual Savior. And the Gospel of John refers back to these concepts in Isaiah when John quotes Jesus as saying,

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) (NIV).

And that is the hope that we share in Christ!  This hope reminds us that with the obedience of the cross, the miracle of the resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have been given all that we need to be able to overcome that inclination of humanity to cruelty and selfishness.  We have been promised that we live in the era of true, transformational worship.

But what does true worship look like? Does this mean that because we believe in Jesus, we can assume ourselves to be true worshipers when we faithfully go to church and sing and pray and listen to a sermon?

In a word.  No.

God was explicit about what He wanted from His people.  And Isaiah says it far more eloquently than I could.

Is not this 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 them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Only then will the righteousness of God’s people be true – only then will they be a light to the world around them and receive the healing God has promised (Isaiah 58:8).

This passage is directly addressing the nation of Israel, calling them to repentance and asking for true worship.  But the principles are no less true for us today.  In fact, because we claim to be a people who worship in Spirit and in truth, as proclaimed in John, then how much MORE applicable is it, in truth?

None of us can single-handedly save the world from poverty and injustice.  But Isaiah tells us one way it will end, and that’s one reason why (besides the fact that he promised) we expect the physical return of Jesus when all all injustices will be brought to an end.

But in the meantime, we are called to right the wrongs that are in front of us.  And that makes it personal – I cannot tell you what injustice God is calling you to address.  But I can tell you that there is something.

For example, perhaps when we see our children making unkind choices, we should ask ourselves, where have we modeled unkindness for them to follow?  There may be a place in our lives that needs softening from God.

Perhaps, when we see friends or family members in need and have the capacity assist, we should do so.

Perhaps – when we see a family living out their van we should take the time to hear their story instead of pretending we don’t see them. Until we listen, we don’t know what steps God would have us take.

Perhaps when we look for a job we can choose an organization, whether profit, nonprofit, or government, which considers its impact on the lives of individual people to be a priority.

Perhaps before we cast our votes in an election we can research what practical steps our elected leaders have taken, personally and professionally, to assist those less fortunate.

Or perhaps through our church there is an opportunity to meet a practical need in the church body or in the community, for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do, without any expectation of thanks or a sudden rise attendance.

No matter the personal application, Isaiah’s message from God tells us plainly…  there is one.

True #worship changes us. Worship in the Spirit softens our hearts, teaches us compassion, and prompts us to action. So we must continually reflect: is my worship transformational? or only lip-deep? (#Isaiah 58, Gal 5:13-26) Click To Tweet

 

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