I don’t know if I’ve ever been as overwhelmed by the combination of my morning readings as I am this morning.
Waves rolled over me as I read Isaiah 56 thru 58. The prophet trying to connect the hardship of their “season” with the “reason for their season.” A people that needed to hear the clarion call to keep justice and do righteousness in light of the LORD’s soon coming salvation (56:1). But a people who were “children of transgression” and “the offspring of deceit” (57:4), burning with lust and slaughtering their children (57:5), worshiping idols (57:7-8). Doubling down and pursuing their evil ways even more intensely (57:10) as God turned up the heat on the pressure cooker they lived in. God warning them that, though He offers a way of peace, there is no peace for the wicked and, apart from His way they can expect only a “tossing sea” which cannot be quieted (57:20-21).
But they continue to “do church.” To observe the Sabbath when convenient and to offer the sacrifices as long as they’re not too sacrificial. So, in response to the “hard season” they are in, they fast. But they are confused because God doesn’t respond to their fasting (58:3a).
God lets them know why. They fast, they turn to God and pray, because they want things to go back to normal. So they can return to seeking their own pleasure, oppressing their workers, and quarreling and fighting among themselves. “Fasting like yours this day,” says the LORD, “will not make your voice to be heard on high” (58:3b-4).
Instead, the fast God chooses is one in which repentance of wickedness is evidenced by the pursuit of righteousness. Where the bonds of wickedness are loosed and the yoke of sinfulness is undone. Where the oppressed are set free. Where bread is shared with the hungry among them. Where the homeless are brought into their homes. When they care for others above themselves, then will “light break forth like the dawn”, and their “healing shall spring up speedily.” Then, with righteousness going before them and with the glory of the LORD covering them from behind, will they call and the LORD will answer (58:6-9a).
“If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
(Isaiah 58:9b-11 ESV)
I want to be careful not to read more into pandemics, protests, putrid politics, hurricanes, and “scorched places” then is really there. At the same time, as I’m reading in Isaiah this morning I can’t help but think that reflecting, repenting, and returning would seem to appropriate behaviors to consider at this hour.
And then my reading in Luke . . . totally out of context, I know . . . totally overshadowing what’s often been one of my favorite Jesus stories. But this is what pops:
And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
(Luke 24:25 ESV)
And while I know Jesus is referring specifically to what the prophets have written about Him, if we’re ignoring the “bad news” of the prophets, we’re really not going to be all that interested in paying close attention to the good news.
Then, throw in 14 verses of Proverbs where people groan under a wicked ruler (29:14); where such a ruler corrupts even his officials around him (29:12); and, where fools are marked by giving full vent to their spirit (29:11), and, like I said, for this guy in this seat this morning it’s somewhat overwhelming. Rarely have I found myself praying so consistently while I’m reading.
But then . . . oh, how I love that word “but” . . . but then these words in my reading in Hebrews.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. . . . Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
(Hebrews 12:1-3, 12-13 ESV)
Look to Jesus. Consider Him. Bow at the foot of the cross. Gaze at the throne in heaven.
Run the race. It’s not a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. But how it feels like a spartan race — miles and miles of imposing obstacles, one after another.
And know that through it all God is training us as a Father lovingly trains His children. At times painful, wearying, and yes, even overwhelming. But in the end, yielding “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (12:11).
So, for now, “Keep on keepin’ on,” he says to himself.
“Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God,” quotes the inner voice (Micah 6:8).
Lift up the hands that want to droop by your side. Stand fast in the gospel, even if your knees are shaking. And know, that according to His promise and by His power, far from going out of joint, they will be healed as He makes straight paths for your feet.
By His grace. For His glory.