“... your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
— Isaiah 58:8c,d (NRSV)
The effect of obedience, true worship, is the blessing of God toward many actualities of deliverance and prosperity. But what is true worship? This topic, of all topics, has held the attention of Christian spirituals since time immemorial. It is clear, as we read the prophets, that there was a heinous dichotomy between the acts of the people of God and the acts of true worship. Isaiah 58 highlights this paradox between false and true worship.
The Warnings and Promises of Isaiah 58
The first four verses speak of how the house of Jacob practiced their legalistic fasting; how their humility was, at best, pretentious. Such a contrived humility is drawn from pride. Their worship was incorrectly motivated and was, therefore, a false worship. It looked good, but there was no good fruit borne; instead there was oppression of their workers and quarrelling as well as fistfights. There was also complaint—“why do we humble ourselves when God does not hear?”
Isaiah prophesies that God will hear and bless the worship befitting a genuine concern for justice and equity and righteousness—God’s righteousness.
When the captives are set free from bondage and the hungry are fed, and the homeless are housed, and the naked are clothed, and families are reconciled, then, and only then, will the Lord, the God of Jacob, bless Jacob. Then, and only then, will Jesus vindicate and the Father be the rearguard.
If the people of God can only obey the Spirit of the Lord, to advocate for others beyond their own selfishness, they will be blessed. If is the important word...
True worship, then, is found actualised in the mode of living to do what is pleasing to God. By venturing forward into faith, by discerning and doing the will of God, the house of Jacob would be repenting from their sins.
Worship in the Present Day
What is the application of this passage for today?
Worship is our most serious pursuit; it is eternal prayerfulness where we would consider every moment of our lives to be a pact for desiring guidance from, as well as a gift back to, God. Proof of this inner work is the effect of service, related to practical interventions of love. When we make differences in people’s lives, because we want to love, support, and encourage them, for their sake and not ours, we have God’s assurance: we have the heart for worship.
Having a heart for worship is the Spirit’s assurance that we are willingly obedient, not through our efforts, but by the gift of grace that has transformed our hearts. We are turned back to God as much as we turn back to God.
God’s convicting of our hearts meets with our hearts’ willingness to repent. Worship is a meeting of the hearts and minds—ours with God’s. Our reaching up for salvation meets with God’s stooping down to redeem us.
True worship is a fusion of love—God’s with ours—to the ends of heart-transforming obedience and faithfulness.
We ‘get’ worship when life becomes about how we can please God by serving those in need. When God works the miracle into our hearts, and we no longer want our self-serving agendas, true humility reveals true worship.
Then, we are blessed.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.