When is the last time you checked out Isaiah 58, or anything in the book of Isaiah for that matter? It’s not like the Psalms. It doesn’t have the warm, fuzzy feeling like the words “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want” have. It doesn’t tell a story like Exodus, Joshua, or Ruth. Often it is put in the dusty box labeled “Prophets” and tucked away for a winter Bible study. Let me blow the dust off of it for a moment and remind you at least one of the reasons God included this awesome book in our cannon.
The book of Isaiah speaks very frankly to the situation of American believers today. His words are a strong cup of hot coffee for those of us searching for meaning in a dry, sometimes very confusing land.
God used this book to call me to preach with the words of chapter 49. When I read “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” I knew God was shaping in this shepherd a heart for the world. God used this book to shape my ever-focusing views on caring for the “least” in our society. Chapter 61 says this “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring the Good News to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” and my love for the brokenhearted was born! Some time back God spoke 50:4 to my heart as a way of encouraging an empty preacher: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” I am so thankful for this book! Pick it up! I’m sure you will be thankful, too.
Not too long ago I watched a video made by Compassion International. It’s called “58”. (You can watch the film too at: www.live58.org/watch-the-film.) It brought my attention to yet another great passage in Isaiah, chapter 58. The goal of the film is to communicate the harsh realities of a topic that is near to my heart and my life. Compassion spotlights several different families in one of the poorest regions of the world, the 10-40 Window, for the purpose of educating those of us who think dirty, nasty poverty and slavery don’t exist anymore. They do a fantastic job.
Isaiah 58 pitches the prospect of caring for a hurting world to a nation that could care less. At first glance this nation appears to have it all together. They are crying over their sin. They are seeking the Lord daily. They seem to want to draw near to God. They want to know why the Lord remains far off; why He refuses to answer their prayers. Then God reveals His reasons: You fast (or pray or worship…) and then spend your days doing whatever you want. He gives a list of those things too: you seek your own pleasure, oppress your workers, you quarrel and fight and hit [whomever you choose]…and then the big one, you ignore the poor.
God pours out His heart for the hurting when He says this to the stiff-necked nation in question: “Is not this the fast (or worship) that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him…then shall light break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up…then you shall call, and the Lord will answer…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness!”
Did you read the same words I just read? Our ignorance of and refusal to care for the hurting among us is deafening God’s ear to our cry for help, attention, provision…whatever personal need we are lifting up to be heard. If that was a “WOW” moment for you I don’t need an “Amen!” I need you to do something with your wonder. Put some feet to your awe of God’s ability to expose the dry places in our hearts and do something.
It’s easy to respond to this. It’s not hard to sit and listen to a brokenhearted individual. They are everywhere. You have probably been in their number at one point or another. It’s not hard to feed a meal to someone who is hungry or clothe someone whose bones are chilled. But God’s command goes deeper. His invitation is to do life with them; to undo the straps of the yoke. The yoke of oppression and poverty is deeply bound to many in our world. We are not being invited to simply provide a meal. Anyone can do that. Wells still run dry. Bread still molds. Our invitation is to provide Living Water and the Bread of Life. Only the church holds the key to that storehouse. Will you unlock the door?
Watch the movie. Crack open Isaiah. Then move with the Spirit of Jesus into the lives of the hurting. I promise you will not be sorry.