Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Devotional: Isa. 58:13-14

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
If you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
Then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

We love to ride on the heights.

Oh, we know there are times of trials and struggles in the valley. But let's be honest ... it's a lot more fun to reflect back on the valley from the mountaintop than it is to struggle through the reality of life. No wonder Peter wanted to build tents on the mount of transfiguration.

The beauty of Scripture is that it's okay to want the heights. Joy is a great pursuit, and feasting is encouraged! Yet as so often happens, Scripture turns upside down the ways we are to get those things. It's not by financial success, fame, or power. It's not by the number of people in our church or the sales of our Christian self-help books. We don't get to the heights by being invited to speak at more churches than the next gal.

Instead, this Scripture tells us that the way to find joy, ride on the heights, and feast on all God has intended us to inherit, is through ... the Sabbath.

The Sabbath? Wow, that's not what I would have expected. At the end of this oracle about helping others, God suddenly pulls out the 4th Commandment...and takes it much further. He tells us we are to delight in it, find it honorable, and significantly - not do our own thing. Ah, there's the rub - and the link to the rest of the chapter.

Basically, Isa. 58 says to get over the idea that your religious observances are about you. They're not. They are about truly drawing near to God and seeking Him, as evidenced in our relationships with other human beings ... other people made in His image ... others with whom we are in community. And always, always, it's about Him. Does He know our deepest needs? ABSOLUTELY! No one knows them better. Yet He also knows they will never be met until we look up and look out. Up at Him, out at others.

Now, as New Testament believers it is legitimate to ask what we do with these verses about the Sabbath. Are they mere window dressing while we focus on the remaining 12 verses? Do we take them literally? It is only Sunday (or Saturday, if you prefer) that we should honor?

There is room for differences on this point (see Rom. 14:5), but my perspective based on Heb. 4:9-10 is that in Christ we enter a "sabbath rest" and we live "in the Sabbath". Paul repeatedly tells us that we should glorify God in all things at all times ... so we don't get a "day off" from a day that should be holy to God. Think about it in context of verse 13: For a Christian is there ever a day that we should say "OK today, I'm going to do as I please, go my own way, and speak idle words." I can't say that there is.

Now, I don't hesitate to say that I see the wisdom in a day set aside for worship, prayer, and rest. God knows we can't go 24/7 ... He made the "sabbath" for us, because we are human and frail. All I'm saying is that in the context of this passage, I see it most accurately applied to life. If I say, "OK, I want to have joy, ride on the heights, and feast on all God has for me to inherit, what do I do" the answer will come back "quit doing what you please; treat the days God gives you as honorable and delight in doing what He wants instead of going your own way." (And frankly, I'll hear "watch those idle words" more than once.)

The reality is, joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so the real path to experience the fullness of Isa. 58:13-14 is not to try harder to enjoy serving God, it's to be filled with more of His Spirit. Ezekiel 36:26-27 tells us that when God puts His Spirit within us, we want to walk in His ways. More than that, He gives us the love for God that we need. Scripture says we love because He first loved us. So as His Spirit fills us, we love Him more and find ourselves pursuing Him harder with each passing year. "Doing as we please" becomes less appealing.

So from the perspective the full counsel of God's Word, I think I can safely say that if you struggle with "your part" of this passage - the part that delights in God's holy day, the part that rejects selfish ways - then the answer is more of His Spirit. Because as Galatians 5 teaches, the Spirit and the flesh are set against each other. They can't occupy the same space! Something has to give. In submission to Him, we can experience the reality the His Spirit is greater than our flesh.

And that puts me on the heights, indeed!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Superb! When are you going to publish these vignettes? Thanks for your thoughts.