I had thought that this new series would be all about coming close to God in prayer - a comforting, soft sort of series. In a way it still is, but due to events completely ouside my control the world has become a different place since I first wrote it.
With Corona virus, the impending worldwide recession, an overtly racist murder by the police, extreme bush fires and climate change it seems that the world is a darker place to live in.
When I looked at the biblical context for verses such as Wait on the Lord, Be still and know that I am God, and Is this the kind of fast I have chosen?, I realised that they weren't written in times of plenty or peace. The context was war, injustice and national repentance.
And so the emphasis of this series of blogs has changed to be about coming closer to God in difficult circumstances - about being involved in changing society where there is injustice, whilst having our eyes fixed on Jesus, our Saviour, who is the one in whom we can trust.
This series is A Call to Prayer.
Isaiah proclaims to the people of Israel,
Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?’
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarrelling 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.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isaiah 58 v 1 - 5
Fasting and abstinence sound like personal, religious duties, removed from the real world. This is not how God sees it, or how the eastern church views it.
The Lord does expects fasting to be genuine and not skin-deep. He hates all forms of hypocrisy. Through the prophet Amos, and quoted by the modern prophet, Martin Luther King
I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me… Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, Righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos 5 v 21, 23 - 24
At the same time as making a show of fasting, the people were quarrelling, fighting, pointing fingers and spreading malicious gossip, exploiting their workers, ignoring the hungry and the wanderer and even turning away from their own flesh and blood.
The Lord says, Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Empty, external religion has no power to change our lifestyles.
James calls this type of faith dead.
When Jesus saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he called them - you brood of vipers! He was not interested in their religious practice without repentance from their hypocrisy.
The Lord explains
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 to break every yoke?
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,
and not to turn away from your flesh and blood?
verses 6 - 7
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 or the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.
verses 8 - 9a
Surely this is what we are longing for.
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like noonday.
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.
verses 9b – 11
whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
John 4 v 14
(If you want to know more about living water listen to Jeremy Simpkin's talk )
I wrote this a year ago. You have no way of checking that, but it's true. I had no idea how pertinent this article would become, or how poignant today's song choice would be.
This is a call for justice
This is a call to end exploitation
This is a call to spend yourself on behalf of the hungry
This is a call to help the homeless
This is call against violence
This is a call to fast
A change is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke
Written by Sam Cooke in 1964, during the American civil rights campaign, he bravely recorded it, despite a friend saying, ‘It sounds like death.’ Just before its release as a single, Sam was shot dead in a motel in Los Angeles. Performed by the talented father and son duo, Brian and Thomas Owens, this poignant song still resonates today.
I was so saddened by the lack of change in the States, but then I heard the Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton, and the former president Barak Obama, both say that they can see there is a change from the protests in the 1960's, because so many young whites are also marching and kneeling. This gives me hope that a change will come some day soon.