Navigating through the Detours

Have you ever taken a trip using the global positioning system (GPS) in your car or on your phone? If your trip requires you to be on one stretch of road for a long period of time, the voice on the GPS will be silent until you get to the next stage of the trip. That “radio silence” can be a time of great peace as we can enjoy the trip or we can allow doubt and distrust to come in and make us wonder if the GPS is working. If we decide to take a different route, the GPS will reconfigure our trip based on our current location. We will eventually arrive at our destination, but it may take longer than anticipated. What about the “trip” we are taking with God? Has God been silent for a long time? Have you encountered detours? Is your life “under construction”?

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and all of us have been hurt by someone’s words or actions. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to place our faith and trust in another person or even God. Have you ever been in a car with someone whose driving scared you a bit? Do you always insist on driving? It is human nature for us to feel like we are in control. While there are some things we can control- our actions, our diets, our attitudes, who we have in our lives, etc., there are large parts of our lives that are beyond our control. During these times, we must simply have faith that everything will work out for the best. Although the GPS or even a handheld map are far from infallible, we can take our trip knowing that someone went before us and mapped out the trip.

The Bible teaches that God sees the end from the beginning and that He has a plan for our lives before we are even born. We serve a God who cared so much about our “final destination” that He came to earth, lived as a man, paid the price for our sins, died, and rose from the grave. We serve a God who can relate to our suffering and the painful directions our lives can take.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NKJV).

We may not understand the trip we are on, but we must keep faith in God that He is guiding and directing us.

“The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Psalm 25:9-10, NKJV).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye.” (Psalm 32:8, KNJV).

“They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them. I will make each of My mountains a road, and My highways shall be elevated.” (Isaiah 49:10-11, NKJV).

As for New Testament believers, we have a much better covenant because we have accepted the finished work of Christ on the cross and we have not only the Word, but the Holy Spirit as well.

[Speaking of Christ] “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79, KJV).

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13, NKJV).

Over the course of this last year, my journey has taken me to places I never thought I would be in life. It seems like more than once God’s GPS has reconfigured my trip. I have at times found the trip to be difficult, but I know I am not alone. I have resolved to try and enjoy the ride because these matters are out of my control. I serve a God who loved me and cared for me to take care of eternity, how can I not trust Him to guide me through a brief detour?

Seeking God in the Psalms

For generations of believers, the Psalms have been a great source of comfort and refuge in times of need. No doubt the most famous of the Psalms is Psalm 23, which is recited at funerals. I believe the Psalms can teach us about life and often parallel our lives, as King David and the other writers wrote about the joy of salvation, the agony of despair, our struggles with sin and trusting God in the midst of personal and national crisis. The Psalms have also inspired countless hymns and worship songs, where we can draw ourselves closer to the heart of God. The Psalms can also serve as an example of how to seek after God. The Bible is full of examples of how people sought after God- whether it be mountain top experiences, prayer, fasting, or simply that the Lord appeared at the exact moment of someone’s need. However, the Psalms can give us some basic principles about seeking God.

In order to seek God, we must turn away from wickedness

“How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2, NIV).

“In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” (Psalm 10:4, NIV).

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.” (Psalm 34:14-15, KJV).

When we seek God, He will not reject us

“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy Name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” (Psalm 9:9-10, KJV).

“Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:9-10, KJV).

*In this context, the word fear means to “honor,” or “reverence.”

We must seek God wholeheartedly and above all else

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-5, KJV).

“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is…My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.” (Psalm 63:1, 8, KJV).

“Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart.” (Psalm 119:2, KJV).

The more we seek God, the more we will be blessed spiritually

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or, who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalm 24:3-5, KJV).

“The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek Him; your heart shall live forever.” (Psalm 22:26, KJV).

“I will praise the Name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs. The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart that shall live that seek God.” (Psalm 69:30-32, KJV).

We must seek God joyfully

“Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified.” (Psalm 40:16, KJV).

“O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His Name: make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wonderous works. Glory ye in His holy Name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord, and His strength: seek His face evermore. Remember His marvelous works that He hath done; His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.” (Psalm 105:1-5, KJV).

As we live out our lives for Christ, let us continue to seek God. We must remember to seek God and rejoice at what He has done for us. For no matter the obstacle we face, we can trust that God will be in our midst when we call upon Him. We must remember that seeking God is a continuous action and not a sole instance. As we seek God, let us remember the words of the Psalms and of the Lord Jesus, who said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33, KJV).

The Lord also said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, KJV).

Grace and peace to all of you.

Healing in the Old Testament

The subject of healing is a controversial topic. Some churches teach that healing and the other spiritual gifts are for today, while others teach that the gifts ended with the death of the Apostles. To those outside of the Church, the word healing may bring to mind images disgraced televangelists with their theatrics and “miracle” products such as oils and cloths. I believe that God in His sovereignty can heal someone supernaturally or through modern medicine- instantly or over time. It may also be God’s will for someone not to be healed, which could result in death or lifelong illness. We as mere people cannot begin to understand the ways and thoughts of God because His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). The purpose of this post is to simply show what the Bible teaches on the subject of healing. More specifically, this post will examine healing in the Old Testament. 

Our Relationship with God and His Word

Before we go any further, let me state that not all physical sickness is a direct result of sin. Though sickness came into the world because of sin, not everybody is sick because they sinned. As we know from modern science and medicine that sicknesses are caused by germs, bacteria, and viruses. There are also genetic and environmental factors that can play a role in sickness. People may also be afflicted with sickness so they glory of God can be revealed (John 9:1-3).  However, all of us are sick with the sickness of sin. God has sent us the cure for our sin sickness when His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. Once we accept Christ as Savior, we come into relationship with God. The best way to get to know God is through His Word. Though we may not be able to avoid all germs, bacteria, and viruses, we can avoid major problems if we study the Word of God. For example, if we study what the Word says about sex outside of marriage, gluttony, drunkenness, etc., we can avoid health problems that are associated with such sins. What does the Bible say about God’s Word and our spiritual and physical health?

“Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5, NKJV).

“He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” (Psalm 107:20, NKJV).

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:6-8, NKJV).

“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.” (Proverbs 4:20-22, NKJV).

The Hebrew word used the most to describe healing is the word Raphah (Strong’s #7495), which means to heal or restore to normal. Of course there are examples in the Old Testament of people who were healed and even raised from the dead, but we will focus on the relationship between Israel and God.

Sickness and the Spiritual Condition of Israel

Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Prophets, Israel’s constant backsliding and rebellion towards God is compared with an incurable sickness.

“Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Indeed we do come to You, for You are the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:22, NKJV).

“For thus says the Lord: ‘Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe. There is no one to plead your cause that you may be bound up; you have no healing medicines. All your lovers have forgotten you; they do not seek you; for I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of your iniquities, because your sins have increased.’” (Jeremiah 30:13-14, NKJV).

“Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually? (Nahum 3:19, NKJV).

God’s Desire to Restore Israel

Through sending His word to the prophets, God desired for Israel to repent of their sins, just as He desires for us to repent of our sins and accept Christ.

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV).

“’Therefore all those who devour you shall be devoured; and all your adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall become plunder, and all who prey upon you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds, says the Lord, ‘Because they called you an outcast saying: ‘this is Zion; no one seeks her.’” (Jeremiah 30:16-17, NKJV).

The Messiah

God’s ultimate healing for the sickness of sin for Israel and all of the world was to send His Only begotten Son, the Messiah Jesus Christ into the world. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day of Christ because of the healing and restoration.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5, NKJV).

“Come, and let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:1-2, NKJV).

“But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings…” (Malachi 4:2a, NKJV).

Though we will battle physical bouts of physical sickness while we are in these bodies and in this sin-stricken world, we must make sure that are spiritual health is in order by allowing the sacrifice and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to heal us of our sins. Grace and peace to you all.

The Christian’s Place in this World

People throughout history have often asked themselves the question, “What is my place in this world?” Since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden, humanity has been separated from God. However, in every person there is an inner longing to be part of something greater than ourselves, a higher purpose. People may pursue this purpose by doing charitable works, education, reading self-help books or taking up a social cause. While these pursuits are not inherently bad in themselves, apart from a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, they will not draw us closer to God. It is in a relationship with Christ and the study of the Bible where we begin to find our true identity and purpose. For the Christian, our place in the current world is to live our lives for Christ, proclaim His truth, and help bring others into His kingdom.

Before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus prayed this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:

 “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of this world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14-18, KJV).

Romans 12:2 reminds us that we need to renew our minds with God’s Word that we may know God’s will for us. It is also through the Word that we come to know that this world is only temporary and we should be looking for our heavenly home, as did the fathers of our faith.

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth…But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13, 16, KJV).

As Christians, our focus should not be on pursuing worldly goals, but pursuing God and His kingdom as Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:33). We should not walk with one foot in the world and one foot with God. We are to be all in for God. If we are not careful, we can allow ourselves to be overtaken by the things of this present world and become “worldly Christians,” whereby we proclaim the Name of Christ, but live as the secular world lives.

Chasing after the world can put us at odds with God

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, KJV).

 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4, KJV).

The pursuit of worldly things causes us to be unfruitful in our Christian walk

 “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word: and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word and he becometh unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22, KJV).

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, KJV).

We must not allow ourselves to be polluted by this present world

“According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:3-4, KJV).

“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15, KJV).

We must live our lives for Christ and His blessed hope

 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, KJV).

 “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:11-14, KJV).

The world is discouraging and growing more embittered with each passing day until the return of our Savior Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, we must continue to pursue God and walk in His ways despite of the increasing wickedness of this present world. Do not let your love grow cold. Do not allow the world to beat you down. May the God of grace and peace be with you all.

Wisdom- The Key to Treasure

No one is immune from making an unwise decision. No matter how educated, respected, or deliberate a person is, at some point he or she will make a bad choice. Our daily lives are filled with choices to make. Though some choices are more life-altering than others, the risk to make a bad choice exist nonetheless. In a perfect world, no one would make a decision unless he or she had all of the information needed about making said decision. However, as we live in this fallen world and face the constant struggles from our sinful natures, or flesh if you will, the temptation to take sole control of our lives will be there. Unfortunately, when we make bad choices, these can result in the loss of respect among peers, broken family relationships, the loss of a job, or even the loss of personal freedom. If you are in a season of dealing with the consequences of a bad choice, there is not guilt, shame, judgment, or condemnation here. I would encourage you to seek the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Repent and be restored.

We are bombarded daily by temptation. The Bible tells us that these temptations come from within ourselves (see James 4:1-6) and the world around us (see 1 John 2:15-17). How can we as Christians stand strong against temptation in an ever increasing morally relaxed world? Wisdom. Wisdom shows us the path we must walk in order to avoid the landmines of temptation and bad decisions. What is wisdom? The dictionary defines wisdom as “The quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true and right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.”[i] For the purposes of this article, I would define biblical wisdom as the application of God’s Word to a particular situation. In order to apply God’s Word, we must study it diligently. Of course, there is nothing wrong with seeking the wise counsel of a pastor, spouse, or close friend, but we should seek God first in all things pertaining to our lives. In order to understand and apply biblical wisdom, there are things we must know about wisdom.

Wisdom Comes from God and is Part of God’s Character

            “To God belongs wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His.” (Job 12:13, NIV).

“By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding He set the heavens in place; By His knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.” (Proverbs 3:19-20, NIV).

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ…” (Ephesians 1:7-9, NIV, emphasis mine).

God’s Wisdom is Available to everyone who seeks after it

            Biblical wisdom is not something hidden, revealed to only pastors or a select group of people. No, God has made His wisdom known to everyone.

“Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech: How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.” (Proverbs 1:20-23, NIV).

“I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.” (Proverbs 4:11-12, NIV).

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Listen! The Lord is calling the city- and to fear your name is wisdom-‘Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.” (Micah 6:8-9, NIV).

When We Acknowledge God, He Will Give Us Wisdom

            Just as the above verse from Micah states, God makes it known what is expected of us, and when we honor and reverence Him and His Word, He will give us wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” (Isaiah 33:6, NIV).

God Expects Us to be Wise

            “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, KJV).

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16, NIV).

“Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:5-6, NIV).

Benefits of Heeding Wisdom

            Just as there are consequences for doing the wrong things, there are benefits when we do the right things. For example, if we exercise and take care of our bodies, we can live longer, healthier lives. If we manage our money well, we will have adequate savings and won’t be strapped down by excessive debts. The Bible is very clear about sin and its consequences. However, the Bible also teaches us about the benefits of obedience and heeding God’s wisdom. Though time and space do not permit me to list each Scripture reference, I would encourage you to seek the Lord in the book of Proverbs. Though not a comprehensive list, Proverbs does list the benefits of heeding wisdom:

*We will avoid trouble.

*We can live a blessed life.

*We can live a life free from fear.

*We can find the favor of God.

*We will have understanding.

*We will walk with integrity.

*We will develop patience.

            My prayer for all who read this is that you will seek the Lord’s direction for your life- whatever that may be. Do not reject the free gifts of God- His love, salvation, mercy, or wisdom. Grace and peace unto you.

[1] www.dictionary.reference.com/browse/wisdom%20?s=t/ Accessed 17 January 2015.

What’s Your Motivation?

“What’s my motivation?” is a question asked by actors of both the stage and screen. In asking about their motivation, the actor is attempting to get at the heart or reasons for his or her character’s actions. In the busyness that is everyday life in trying to balance family, career, church and our relationship with God, all the while dealing with equal parts problems and pains, triumph and tragedy, we must step aside and ask ourselves “What’s my motivation?” What is the driving force in your everyday decision making? Of course, there are as many different types of motivations as there are people. Some people are motivated by their love for God or their love for their family; others may be motivated by pride, greed, revenge or a fear of failure to name a few motivations. We must take the time to sincerely examine and test what is in our hearts, especially when it comes to our relationship with God.

In the Old Testament Book of Zechariah, the Israelites are returning home after seventy years of exile in Babylon. The Israelites are also in the process of rebuilding the second Temple. The people of the town of Bethel sent a group of people, including Sharezer and Regem-Melek to pose a question to the priest and prophets of Israel.

“Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” (Zechariah 7:3, NIV).

The words Zechariah received from the Lord cut right to the heart of the Israelites motivations for their appointed time of fasting and mourning.

“Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: ‘Ask all the people of the land and the priest, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seven months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?” (Zechariah 7:4-7, NIV).

From those verses, it shows that ritualistic fasting and mourning was a problem God had stressed to Israel before the Babylonian Exile by other prophets “when Jerusalem was at rest.” The Lord through Zechariah goes even further to explain that during times of fasting and other times set aside for the Lord were meant to be a time of reflection, a time to reflect on sins, a time to confess sins, and do the work of God by sharing his love with those around us in our lives.

“And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:8-10, NIV).

The pre-Exile prophet Isaiah expressed the same sentiment as Zechariah concerning empty fasting.

“’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 people to humble themselves” Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 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?” (Isaiah 58:3-6, NIV).

It is often said of Christianity that it is not a religion, but a relationship. We have an active relationship with the only true and living God. Because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can come boldly to the throne of grace as we are- we do not need to follow a prescribed set of religious rituals. Ephesians tells us that we are accepted in the beloved, thus God has accepted us through our faith in the finished work of Christ.

The danger of following prescribed religious rituals is that over time the meaning and true motivation is lost. It is possible to become hard of hearing or even deaf toward the things of God. It is possible for us to become blind to our sin and our rituals will be for nothing, as was the case for the Israelites. In fact, it was the constant idolatry and refusal to listen to God and his prophets that led to the Exile.

“’But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen, ’says the Lord Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” (Zechariah 8:11-14, NIV).

In the New Testament, Jesus warned to people not to follow the example of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day because many of the things they did were to be seen by the people and their heart was not right toward God. In Philippians, Paul discussed how his imprisonment for preaching the Gospel inspired others to preach the Gospel, some out of a genuine love for God, and some others just to stir up more trouble for Paul.

The New Testament Book of James describes the internal battle we face concerning our motives, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:1-3, 7-10, NIV).

Though we live under the free grace of God, we must understand that grace is not cheap. God sacrificed His only Son that we may be freed from our sins and come into a relationship with Him. Everything we do in life should be done for the glory of God. Let us not waste our time and lives caught up in the petty bickering and picking from trees that have no fruit. Instead, let us call upon our gracious God and listen to the still, small voice. No matter what we do whether it be fasting, prayer, work, or leisure, let us take the time to ask ourselves the question, “What’s my motivation?”