I was recently reading this neat chapter of Isaiah. It’s written to Israel, but meaningful to all of us - Isaiah 58. I think it is lovely and want to share it with you. I recommend reading the whole chapter, but here are some excerpts and my notes as I read this section during Lent. Isaiah calls Israel to repentance and offers comfort.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’….
“Why have we fasted?” I think we could also ask, “Why do I give something up for Lent?” It can be a modern-day fasting. For some it is intended as a way to focus on repentance, for others it’s more of a tradition or spring resolution. Certainly, it's not something we have to do. We don't all do it.
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 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.
Do we give something up for Lent, or maybe make an effort to get to every mid-week worship service, but then argue with each other as soon as we get home? We struggle through bedtime with overtired kids. Does the stress of a busy season put strain on our relationships with each other? Yes, I think that happens, especially when we are working hard and tired out. But why would we expect our voices to be heard on high with a perfect God if that’s what we are up to - making the motions of Christian living, but forgetting love?
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Good point. Our Lenten repentance might run a bit shallow or be short-lived. Maybe we hope we can earn extra points with God or each other by going through the motions?
6 “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?
7 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….
What a neat alternative to giving something up for Lent – serving those in need. This picture of “fasting” looks more like an all-year Christian life. It is even MORE work than a token sacrifice in Lent, it involves our hearts always.
But now, I start to see Jesus in this section. This is the dedicated life he lived. He lived the perfect example of freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry. We see him doing this as we follow his life leading up to Holy Week. He is about to go to the cross, die for our weary sinful selves – and credit US with that true fasting, perfect life. He makes all the difference for us. Watch. God’s about to make promises and offer comfort despite our failings. We aren’t faithful, but God always is.
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
The light breaking forth at dawn reminds me of Easter morning and Jesus’ resurrection! We are redeemed and healed, righteous because of him. I love how it says YOUR light – he’s mine. YOUR healing – mine. YOUR righteousness – mine. As a result the “glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” To me that sounds quite a bit like, “God’s got your back.”
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I....
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
That's my favorite part! Read it again, it's good. God’s offering a lot here and the pictures are lovely: guidance, needs filled, strength for my body to get up each day. What’s more – never ending living water. The perfect sprinkler system for our souls. I like gardening, I love that illustration.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
So, God gives us impressive strength, strength like Nehemiah was given for rebuilding city walls. What about for building up his church - living stones? He gives us the persistence needed to keep going, strengthened to live the Christian life of true fasting for Lent and always.
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord.