21 days of prayer and fasting - Isa 57
Isaiah paints a graphic picture of two sorts of people. Those who worship idols and those who worship God.
At first sight we might ask how anyone could worship a lifeless idol carved in stone or made of wood, that cannot speak, when the Lord who cannot be seen by human eyes does speak and act! But there were several reasons the Old Testament people of God fell into worshipping idols.
First, they adopted the same practices as the people they were supposed to displace, to fit in. The Israelites should have destroyed the people in the land and their religious practices and idols. That looks uncomfortably like ethnic cleansing, of course. With a New Testament perspective, reading the Old Testament in the light of Jesus’ life and teaching, we can see the battles as symbolic of spiritual warfare and not a model to follow. We can also understand that it speaks of God’s purity and the seriousness of us serving Him in righteousness.
But back to the main point - they did the same as those around them. We, of course, couldn’t possibly be guilty of anything like that, could we?! Except that we can get hooked on trying to get the best job, best car, best house, best position in the eyes of those around us etc etc. These are potentially all idols.
Second their worldview suggested that in each different territory there were distinctive ways of behaving and of worshipping that must be followed. They saw the spiritual dimension very closely related to the physical dimension and drew the conclusion that there are good religious reasons for doing what the people before them did.
We, of course, couldn’t possibly be guilty of anything like that, could we?! Except that we are often good at justifying ourselves and finding a reason that sounds spiritual for living the same way as those around us.
Third, they were genuinely trying to reach God and thought that doing all kinds of religious things would help them. This is the most dangerous reason because religious people are often very committed to their various religious practices but cannot see God. They can be very sincere. They can seem to be more spiritual than us.
They are really trying to get right with God. And that is the problem! They are trying by their own strength.
Even taking part in this 21 day Daniel fast can be mere religion to one person (e.g. trying to twist God’s arm to get something) or life-giving to another (e.g. a way of making our hearts available to God to speak and transform us).
How can we be free from religion and the effects of religion?
By humbling ourselves before God (see verse 15) and drawing close to Him - James 4:8 promises that when we draw near to Him He will draw near to us! Being contrite and humble gets us into His presence through Jesus and 2 Cor 3:17 teaches that in His presence (where the Spirit is) there is freedom.