21 days of prayer and fasting - Isa 58
The image of a watered garden (verse 11) and of being an unfailing spring of water is really attractive. It speaks of fruitfulness - who would not want that? The promise that He will guide us continually is precious.
How can we enjoy these blessings? Again we see in the Old Testament the message that Paul makes clear in Galatians and Romans. If we rely on ourselves and our religious activities, we will fail. If we follow the Spirit and allow God to produce in us the same character that He has, then we will be blessed.
The people have been fasting - from the outside they look as though they are doing everything right. They were thinking surely God must bless them!
No, because while they are being religious they are ignoring what God requires. They are doing things they should not - oppressing the poor and quarrelling or fighting. They are not doing what they should do (even under the Law) - breaking bondages and sharing their possessions with the poor and oppressed.
God calls us to pour ourselves out for the poor - those who are literally poor and the spiritually - we must not miss either. That does not mean we should not enjoy the good things God gives us and it does not mean we have to solve everyone’s problems. But it really does pouring out ourselves for others.
We oppress when we buy cheap stuff made by slave labour in other countries. We oppress when we turn a blind eye to injustice around us. We oppress when we are unfair to employees or contractors.
Freedom matters to God so He will not bless us with freedom if we do not play our part in setting others free.
However we look at it, it requires some sacrifice to love and live generously. But we can rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us and to energise us in living this way.
Again the prophet reminds the people of the importance of Sabbath in verses 13 and 14. But why is it such a big deal?
It is not because God is harsh and expects the Law to be fulfilled - there is a far deeper significance and both for the Old Testament context and in our lives today. God loves us and is looking for a people who will live in community with Him and with one another so that He can share His love. That is why humankind was created.
Sabbath is about enjoying relationship with God. It is time to ‘pray and play’. It is setting aside some time without the usual pressures and demands so we can enjoy being with Him. We can meet him in scripture and prayer. We can meet Him in whatever we do for recreation and fun.
That time when we can take delight in the Lord (verse 14) is what enables us to pour ourselves out for the hungry and afflicted.