July 19, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 1:15-17 (NIV)
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
We worship God, not only by what we do in so-called corporate worship services, but also by how we live each day. According to the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, God is honored when we do what is right, seek justice, and defend the oppressed.
In the time of Isaiah, the Jewish people continued to do the things they associated with worship: offering sacrifices, keeping the festivals, and lifting up their hands in prayer. But God’s people were not honoring God in how they lived their whole lives. They were seeking their own good rather than that of others. The strong took advantage of the weak. The rich abused the poor. The powerful ignored those who were powerless, like orphans and widows.
God’s response to Israel’s worship is startling, given that God had commanded his people to worship him through sacrifices, festivals, and prayer. Yet, when they engaged in divinely ordained acts of worship, God would turn aside, rejecting their offerings. Why? Though the Lord wanted to be worshiped through prayers and sacrifices, he desired something else even more. Real worship required a renunciation of sin. Real worship included living a life of faithfulness, justice, and compassion. Real worship meant learning to do good, seeking justice, and helping the oppressed.
We who belong to the Lord through the New Covenant do not make ourselves clean by repentance or good works. We receive such cleansing through the once-for-all work of Christ. Yet, having been saved by grace through faith, we are to walk in the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:8-10). For us, as for the Israelites, real worship includes more than prayer and praise. It’s more than what we do in our worship gatherings. As James writes in his letter, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Thus, Isaiah reminds us that we are to worship God, not only on Sundays or whenever we come together with the people of God. Rather, we are to worship God daily, in every action and every intention. God is honored as much by how we treat our employees at work as by how we praise him in church. God is worshiped when we, like the Israelites, learn to do right, seek justice, and defend the oppressed. We glorify the Lord when we take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.
Do you think of worship as something to be done all week? Why or why not?
How might you worship God in the context of your work?
How might you worship God in your volunteering? In your financial choices? In your political activity? In your relationship with your family?
Ask the Lord how you might very tangibly do something in response to this prophetic word: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Then do it!
Gracious God, what an honor it is to worship you. Thank you for making yourself known to us so that we might offer to you our lives in worship.
Help us, we pray, to learn to worship you, not just when we gather with others for praise and prayer, but also when we go shopping, supervise our staff, make plans for our startup, parent our children, or exercise our citizenship. May you look upon our lives and be glorified in all we do. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Worship and Work (Isaiah 1ff.)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.