God is calling for a humble and contrite heart in those who worship Him. NOT religious practices, no matter how engrained or formal they are.
This message reminds me of the time of King Hezekiah. He brought the people back to serving the Lord. But how many of them only went through the motions because that’s what their king required? How many of them kept their hands and hearts from chasing after idols too?
It does not matter how many rituals you go through or how many times you perform them. If your heart is not focused on God, then they are worthless! God says they are just as bad as offering your praises to idols. HE calls this practice sin.
God is interested in our hearts FIRST. He will get to our hands and feet in due time; WHEN He has our hearts. He doesn’t want empty worship. That’s like opening a gift to find there is nothing in it. An empty box wrapped in pretty paper. NO ONE would consider giving someone this kind of gift. Why do we think God would want one such as this?
I will admit, that over the years, there have been times I come to write with ‘an empty box’. Where I come just because it’s what is expected. But I don’t stay empty for long. For me, the act of writing brings me closer every time. I begin to feel His presence and hear His leading as I go along. I will also admit that there are times when I’m more ‘moved’ than other times. Times when what He shows me brings me to my knees! But, when I purpose in my heart to listen, He NEVER fails to meet me here.
I believe the people God is talking about here are the ones who come to preform the rituals to ‘make God act on their behalf, their way’ and those who are acting so that man will see them. God IS NOT a ‘vending machine’ where you put in your prayers, make a selection, and expect Him to give you just what you chose. If this is your idea of how prayer works, then you will be sorely disappointed.
God wants us to bring our needs to Him. To lay out our petitions before Him. Not as a demand for specific responses, but as a sincere heart’s request for help. And HE KNOWS what we need, even before we voice it. He also knows what is best for us and what will bring us closer to Him. These are the prayers He LOVES to answer.
I had a saying I used to use quite a bit. It was one of frustration. “I love my life.” It sounds good until it is said with gritted teeth. One day, I said this in front of my therapist. (Yes, I’ve had therapy to help me deal with many of my issues in life.) She told me, “Say that again and again until you actually believe it.” I thought about her words and realized the truth in them. My words were a beautiful statement but my heart was not reflected in them. I started looking for the things in my life that I did love and found that there was a LOT to be grateful for. Now, I can say those words and actually mean them.
That’s how it starts sometimes with making a commitment to do something for God. Committing to reading your bible or setting aside a certain amount of time for prayer. When the initial commitment is made, it is usually made for one of two reasons; guilt or desire. Guilt, because you realize there are things that you are told you should be doing and haven’t. Desire, when you recognize the benefits you have been missing. Both commitments usually start out with a struggle. Times get forgotten or they seem to drag on forever. But both commitments, when given over to God, can bring you closer to Him. Coming out of ‘requirement’ that changes to relationship is NOT sin. It is a place to start. It is only sin if you never give Him your heart in those places. If you ‘do your time’ and then go on about your day, that is sin AND a GREAT loss. I know, because I’ve been there before.
I still come out of commitment, but it is a commitment to myself as well. A promise that I WILL make time to sit and enjoy the company of my Lord. I come because I truly enjoy spending time in His word and wondering what He would want me to learn from it that day. And how He would have me apply it to my life. I used to feel guilty when my day literally was so full I couldn’t carve out alone time; which still happens occasionally. Now I feel ‘robbed’ instead. Not gun point robbed but saddened by the missed blessing I know was waiting for me. It’s worse for days that are filled with chaos and disorder. I REALLY needed that benefit on those days. On the days when activities with my family take up all my time, I thank Him for the blessings that came in other forms.
Bottom line, routine and ritual are not wrong unless God is not in them. Whatever you do, do it out of love for Him. And your relationship WILL grow.
Thank You Father God for the day You first put this time with You into my heart. Thank You for the relationship and desire that has grown since that first day. Thank You that the guilt of ‘not doing it right’ or the ‘not lived up to my promise’ are gone. This is truly OUR time together. Thank You also for letting me share our time with others who love You and want to spend time with You too. Bless them Father by building their relationship with You too! Thank You for ALWAYS meeting me here when my heart and mind are focused on You. THANK YOU TOO for giving me time I CAN focus on our time together. It’s not always easy but it IS worth it!!!