A Habit of Love (Isaiah 58:1-12)
Reflections on Isaiah 58:1-2
Religion is intricately interwoven into our human experience. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, roughly 32% of Americans attend church or synagogue on a weekly basis. In that same survey, 50% of U.S. citizens stated that religion plays an important role in their lives. For many, religious observance is a cherished tradition. They attend a service, pray a prayer, and give an offering. Since it’s held in such high esteem, what is the purpose of the ritual?
Habits and Lifestyle
Religious practices are potent because they can transform the observer’s life. These rituals were designed to create awareness of the worshipper’s own lifestyle. Armed with this self-knowledge, they can strive to change themselves.
As these small bits and bobs of our hearts are altered, we begin to see the other parts of our lives that need transformation. In turn, this realization should drive us back to prayer, so we can seek God’s power to rework those untouched areas of our lives. When I’m holistically engaging my faith, I’m loving the Lord and loving my neighbor.
Many people, unfortunately, say their prayers or read their Bibles to check a box on a to-do list. God doesn’t need our prayers or observances, however; he gave us these practices because he knows we are forgetful. What we do on Sunday often fails to translate into transformation on Monday.
When our habit is disconnected from transformation, our lives spin into disorientation. The religious habits becomes ends in themselves, as if they could garner God’s love. When the Jews in Isaiah’s time diligently observed the assigned fasts and prayers, they were surprised God did not grant them favor. After all, did he not promise a wealth of blessings for faithful observance (Deuteronomy 28)? “Why have we fasted,” the Jews inquired of God, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (Isaiah 58:3). These observant men and women may have felt their attention to ritual was sufficient, but God laid a weighty indictment against them: “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers” (Isaiah 58:3). They observed the practice, but they, and we too, missed the heart: justice acted out in love.
The Law of Love
God formed his law so we could know how to love him and others. We are to love God with our whole being (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). The prayers and observances of our faith were meant to lead us to these twin affections.
Back to Calvary
While Lent is a religious observance, it is a practice designed to reconnect our practices with personal transformation. The divine law requiring wholehearted love works because God first loved us. His own affection would see him nailed to a cross on our behalf. The Lenten days of sacrifice lead us back to that cross where we remember the love that forms us. As that charity transforms us, we can in turn love our neighbor and lead them to God’s love.
Footsteps—putting feet on your faith
1. Why did God give us religious observances?
2. Why does he tell us to love him and our neighbor?
3. What’s the connection between observance and love?
4. How does God’s love help us get there?