Sunday 9th February
Our dog, Summer, has some simple pleasures in life:
eating, going for a walk in the evening, teasing the two dogs who live down the street when they race to the fence, barking, as she saunters by, and sleeping in the garden during the day.
We take great care in preparing her dinner so as to ensure that she has a balanced diet. She needs her walk each day to keep her fit and to exercise her arthritic hips. There’s not much I can do about the dogs barking because even if I walk on the other side of the road they will still race out to bark at Summer. And I don’t mind if Summer sleeps in the garden because it gets her out of the house and she stays cool by sleeping on the cool ground.
With the hot, dry weather that we have had, Summer has adopted a daily habit of making herself comfortable in a shady spot in the backyard and settling down for a nap. But why oh why does she insist on doing the same thing when it is raining? The other day I spied her lying in the garden during the heavy rain, and I had to call her inside, dry her, (which is no mean feat given her dense coat), and keep her mind off going back outside.
She is quite an intelligent dog; she knows that her meal is being prepared if we pick up her bowl, she knows that I am taking her for a walk if I pick up her lead, and she knows exactly where the two dogs live. But, quite clearly, she has not associated rain with the need to avoid getting wet and to stay dry under cover. All that she wanted to do was to go through the same routine. She was in the habit of going outside and that was foremost in her mind.
The prophet Isaiah records a complaint from God’s People that God did not appear to pay any attention to them when they were fasting, as part of their worship. “Why should we fast if the Lord never notices?”, they asked themselves. (Isaiah 58:3a) God, however, sternly replies, “You call that fasting? The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers.” (Isaiah 58: 3b) And He details for them “the kind of fasting” that serves as true worship. (Isaiah 58: 6 to 12)
They were not, in fact, offering worship when they fasted, but just going through a routine behaviour, a habit, a ritual. Neither their heart nor their mind was focussed on their worship of God.
When we attend worship on Sunday is it just done as a habit, a routine, or do we attend so as to offer God true worship? In our daily comings and goings during the week, do we consciously endeavour to relate to others as part of our worship of God, or do we only “pursue our own interests”? Read Isaiah 58: 6 to 12 for yourselves and be challenged as to what God considers “true fasting”. It is not a matter of “Is God paying attention to us?”, but, rather, “Are we paying attention to God?”