READING: Isaiah 1-2, Galatians 5
“Even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen.”
As a pastor, I always evaluated the worship service after it was over (in fact, I actually evaluated it as it was going on). Were the announcements clear? Was the music good? How was my preaching? Did everything flow together well? Were people seemingly paying attention? Did anyone respond affirmatively to the gospel? Did we start and finish on time? Would I do anything differently if I were doing it again? Did we pray enough? How was the attendance? For those of us in leadership roles, it’s difficult not to ask these questions. And, it’s right to evaluate if we want to make certain we’re giving our best for God’s glory.
At the same time, though, there were other questions I should have been asking, like: Are my congregation members just going through the motions of worship? Are they giving offerings of their dollars but not offering their hearts? Are the actions of their religion only hypocrisy—doing what they know they’re supposed to do as acts of worship, but having souls not genuinely bowed to God? I pastored two great churches with strong believers, but frankly, I’m sure we had members whose lives divorced obedience from their worship. They sang the songs of God on Sunday and bellowed the songs of the world on Monday.
The people of Isaiah’s day were much worse, seemingly bringing pagan rituals in their worship. Hypocrisy reigned among them. Consequently, God had “had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle” (Isa. 1:11), and He was “tired of putting up with” their rituals (Isa. 1:14). More specifically, God would not hear their prayers: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen” (Isa. 1:15). False living always blocks the prayer channel.
I read the words of Isaiah 1:15, and I wonder how often I’ve called people to prayer without also calling them to obedience . . . how often I’ve taught on prayer but did not sufficiently teach on holiness . . . how often I’ve prayed without first repenting. I fear our failure to call for uncompromised commitment to God has contributed to the powerlessness of the North American church. Our sins may have been different from the people of Isaiah’s day, but our prayers may be no less ineffective.
- Honestly evaluate how much of your worship is really only ritual.
- Realizing that disobedience results in weak worship and powerless praying, repent.
PRAYER: “Father, wash me. Cleanse me. Make me white a snow. Hear me when I pray.”
TOMORROW’S READING: Isaiah 3-4, Galatians 6