Your Spiritual Life
(10) Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
(11) "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
(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.
I wonder about a lot of things. I wonder if vegetarians eat animal crackers. Some people talk about inside jokes. I wonder what is an outside joke. I wonder why it is such a compliment to tell a woman she looks like a breath of spring, but not to tell her she looks like the end of a hard winter. Isn’t it the same thing? I wonder why it pleases her to say time stands still when I look into her face, but it does not please her to say her face would stop a clock. I wonder why people who punish a child for lying will tell the same child to say to an undesired phone caller, "Just say I’m not home." I wonder why, when the preacher says, "In conclusion..." he doesn’t. I wonder why a speaker who "needs no introduction" gets one anyway.
Many things make me wonder, but I wonder most of all why people when presented with the prospect of an abundant life in God are just not interested. They could have had it all, but somehow everything has gone wrong. That was the situation that so frustrated Isaiah.
Isaiah was a prophet in Jerusalem in the 8th century BC. From Isaiah's point of view, Jerusalem, in that time and place, was the central focus of the presence of God. Solomon had built the temple a couple of centuries earlier. The worship of God had been established according to Mosaic law. They had elaborate rituals, they had daily sacrifices, there was constant burning of incense, they had all of this religious stuff going on that should have made them God's special people, but in fact Isaiah realized it was all a sham. God was not really being worshipped; God was not there at all.
In v11, God says, "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” The major function of the temple priest was the sacrifice of animals. God says stop doing that. I do not want that. That is not all. In V12, God asks, "Who has required of you this trampling of my courts?” Apparently it was a big deal in Jerusalem for the people to spend time in the temple. It was a social function--to see and be seen by other people. God said that does not have anything to do with me. Trampling around in my temple making social contacts--there is nothing spiritual in that. They made a big deal out of their offerings. V13 calls them “vain offerings.” God says I am not going to bless your offerings and your incense is an abomination, and your holidays are a pretence. V14: “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” Finally, v15 is the most scary verse. God says. I cannot stand you. I am not going to listen to your prayers.
Now from these verses we learn some things that do not matter when it comes to our spiritual life. If we are thinking about our life in God, some things do not make any difference.
1. External Forms do not matter.
The temple priests had the form of worship down pat. They knew it inside and out. They could worship in their sleep. That did not make them spiritual people.
2. Order of Service does not matter.
Some folks think that there is a certain way to do things in church and if you do not do it that way, you are not worshipping God. Nonsense. The order in which we do things is merely an external form.
3. Style of Music does not matter.
God doesn’t care what kind of songs we sing. Music styles are always changing.
4. Amount of Offering does not matter. I know that you are going to say, well we must pay our bills. We must to pay the preacher. As you might guess, I agree with that. But we are talking about spiritual things. We are talking about our relationship with God. Whatever our offering is: the question is: Does God accept it? If it is given with the wrong attitude, then clearly God does not accept it.
5. Church Attendance does not matter.
God asks in verse 12: Where do you get your ideas about what is proper behavior in the house of God? Why are you acting the way you act in my temple? Running here and there, doing this and that—what is all this commotion in the place provided for worship? Furthermore, going to church is not a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. Now I realize that Monopoly is not as popular as it was when I was a kid, but you might remember that in that board game you can receive a “Get Out Of Jail Free” Card so that if you get in trouble, you can use it. Church attendance is not that way. Perfect Attendance in church is not rewarded. When I was in high school, there was one year that I had perfect attendance, mainly because I could not figure out anything else I wanted to do, but let that go. Do you know what I got for perfect attendance? Nothing. Nothing at all. By the same token, being physically present in church week in and week out is not the point. The people in Jerusalem were physically present in the temple, for all the wrong reasons. The point is, why are you in church?
Most astonishing of all, your prayers do not matter. The priests of the temple were proficient in prayer. They could make all the right motions. They could raise their hands up to God. They could say all the right words. They had the ornate phrasings, the magnificent sentences. They knew all about prayer, and it was all a waste, because effective prayers require a vibrant spiritual life.
Prayer does not work without combustion. What happens when there is no gas in a car and you try to start it? Nothing happens, because there is no fuel. Fire cannot burn without fuel. Prayers also require fuel. Prayers that are lip service or routine have no fuel. The only prayers that work come from a real connection with the divine.
To put it another way. The heart of prayer is our heart. We can do all the right things, but that does not matter if our heart is not right with God. The Jerusalemites were doing the right things—going to the temple, following the mosaic instructions that had been laid out for worship, but their heart was not in it. They did not really care; hence they were spiritually dead.
That was the problem in Jerusalem but the problem is not unique to Jerusalem. It is a human problem. We mistake outward appearance for inner truth. There was nothing wrong with anything the people were doing. There was nothing wrong with the temple. In fact, in chapter 6, Isaiah describes how he received his call to be a prophet in the temple. So God is still there in the temple in Jerusalem. The problem is most people do not know that. Religion has become routine. The priest says the same old words. Nobody much cares what he says, and nothing much is going on in any spiritual sense.
Unfortunately, we can say pretty much the same about church. The preacher says the same old words, but it does not matter because nobody much is listening anyway. But a part of our being, the best part of our being, is not satisfied with that. There is a longing for something more. We just do not know where to find the something more. So we wind up living in ways that we are not happy with. It is almost like we got caught in the wrong place in life and we cannot figure out how to go on.
Part of this is because we listen to the wrong people. We get caught or stuck because we are trying to live according to someone else’s beliefs, opinions, or viewpoints. We do what “so and so” said. We act and live in ways that other people promote, rather than following the prompting of our inner spirit.
What Isaiah is trying to tell us is that we do have a spiritual life. We have a soul within us, and this soul has possibilities that most people never imagine. We were meant to live as Friends of God. That is what Jesus said, In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
The TV news program" 20/20" once had a segment on baby chicks that were packaged and marketed. These tiny chicks traveled on conveyor belts past workers who selected them to fit into a box to be shipped out and sold. The chicks were chosen by sex, size, general appearance, but some were not chosen. The cameras followed those baby chicks as they slipped by the workers and fell off the end of the conveyor belt and died. That’s the way of this world. If you don’t fit into the box, you are rejected and left to die.
But that is not God's way. That is not the way God deals with us. God does not choose us because we fit into a box. He chooses us because He loves us. That is what the cross is about. The Cross is the ultimate symbol of friendship and love..
God is our friend. That is the central thing we need to know about all religion. If we do not have that as our focus then we have lost our sense of direction, and we wind up worshipping the wrong thing. We worship the temple or the church, or the Bible, and then we go the wrong way and thus we are in the same situation as the people Isaiah was denouncing in chapter 1.
Speaking of directions, I should tell you about a pet peeve I had when I first moved to York in 1980. this is a small town and it should not be difficult to find your way around, but some good folks give directions in what is almost a foreign language. They would say, “Go up to the old Smith house and take the next right then you go down past Mrs. Findley's house and it is on the left.” I had no idea what they were talking about. In fact, it seemed to me like the people who had lived in York the longest gave the least coherent directions.
Sometimes we need directions in life, and no one seems to be giving much in the way of coherent directions, so many people are sort of stumbling around in the dark, looking for an authentic way to live. A symptom of this search for the right way to live is the rise of a new profession called the life coach. Rhonda Britten is the founder of Fearless Living Institute. She says, "If you are frustrated with an aspect of your life, not sure how to stop making the same choices you keep making or just want to have more happiness, peace of mind and passion -- life coaching can do that for you." Life coaches promise to motivate, to offer support when clients need a boost in confidence and to help them decide which direction to take. Elizabeth Scott, life coach and a stress management expert for About.com, says she can help people get unstuck. Life coaches are part of a growing profession. The International Coach Federation (ICF) says it has more than 12,000 members worldwide.
The Life Coaching profession points out one fact. Millions are unhappy with their empty lives and looking for something better. It is kind of like this. Most people live on the surface. Something happens to them. They respond to that. There are things they must do everyday. They do those things. But they are always aware that life is more than that. Somehow they know that there are unsuspected deeps and great spiritual forces out there. And in their best moments they know they ought to be part of that.
What I am saying is that we have a spiritual nature that can contact the Holy Spirit, but we do not use what we have. Scripture promises an abundant life, but we do not claim that life
Evelyn Underhill says that we mostly spend our lives “conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual—even on the religious—plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in the fundamental verb, to Be.” (The Spiritual Life, p.24.). In other words, she asks, What are you? Economists seem to think that you are a consumer. Your government seems to think that you are a statistic in a poll. People seem to think that you are an object to be manipulated. No. You are not a craving, clutching, fussing machine. You are more than that. You are a friend of God. You can live in the way of God. In your spirit you can walk with the divine spirit. This is what you were created for. This is your purpose in life. This is your destiny.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last Modified: 05/02/13