I’ve been in swimming through Isaiah for a couple of weeks now and there’s one specific verse that seems to be reverberating off the inside walls of my skull. It says “this people draw near with their words and honor Me with lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13).
The reason I can’t shake it is because it’s speaking directly to me.
So often we read verses like this and assume that God is speaking to someone else, like the Pharisees for example, this verse DEFINITELY applies to them (and not me). Hmmm. But lets read through it slowly, digesting each part as we go. “this people DRAW NEAR with their words”. This is not just talking about God, it’s talking to Him and not in a distancing sort-of way, but in a way that draws near Him. They “honor me with lip service”. They are actually honoring God with their mouth, now. This is beginning to sound more and more like us, isn’t it? These aren’t people that are keeping themselves aloof. They are drawing near and honoring. They speak about Him AND TO Him in such a way that brings nearness and honor.
Yet, “they remove their hearts far from me”. Something tells me that this is not intentional. Even the Pharisees (the “bad guys” of the New Testament) really tried to honor God, even as they were killing Christ and His Christians, they were trying to honor God.
And we, as we go to Church and do all the Christian things, we hope to honor God. But our hearts… we can so easily remove them from Him. Something also tells me that this is the natural tendency of man, that we don’t have to try to remove our hearts, but that it’s a change that takes place naturally if we don’t fight against it, if we don’t perpetually, intentionally thrust our wayward hearts into the hand of God Almighty and beg Him to keep it soft and near.
The last part of this passage is what drew me in “their reverence for Me consists of traditions learned by rote”. Rote means habit. And this is speaking of a type of reverence.
Generally speaking, the Church today seems to think that the Christian walk consists of traditions like gathering on Sundays, reading the Bible, prayer, trying not to sin too much, listening to sermons and Christian radio stations. And this is our “reverence”. We make a habit out of it. But something deep in me tells me that this is not it. If we have settled for this, we have hit a low ceiling in a small room, when we could be flying in endless, open skies.
I am definitely not saying anything bad about reading the Bible, prayer or going to church. All of these things are things that I love. Anyone who knows me well, knows that one of my all-time favorite things to do is to read the Bible (and more unknown to others would be my affection for talking to God through prayer). But, I don’t think the Bible or prayer was ever meant to be a dry habit. I think it was meant to lead us deep into the Throne Room, where we could be thrown to the ground in reverence in the Presence of the Almighty. It is meant to give us glimpses of the heavenlies, where hope and adoration rush over us like the fierce waves of the Ocean.
If we settle for forming Christian habits, we will never hunger as a deer panting for water, we will never fight our way through a crowd to touch the hem of His robe. And something tells me that we were made to long for the moment when we can experience Him in such a way that our face glows from the encounter, as Moses when he saw God’s backside.
When Moses climbed that mountain to encounter God, he pleaded “if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, that I may find favor in Your sight” (Exodus 33:13). And God showed up beyond Moses’ wildest imaginings! Moses got to see the back of God! This is far surpassed his request to “know Your ways that I may know You”. Our time in the Word should not merely consist of words on paper, or we have missed the opportunity to see God. May we cry out with the Psalmist “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” (119:18) Then watch the way God unfolds Himself on pieces of paper, and explodes our minds in wonder, and causes our hearts to draw near.
Thank you. You encourage me. I hope my life never gets so busy that I can’t stop by and read your words!
Enjoyed your post! A good reminder for the zeal we should have.
Being Orthodox, we have well, more traditions than Protestants, maybe a lot more…but we feel the same way about tradition for the most part, its not a end in of itself…that can be harmful and lead to someone acting like a pharisee or just going through the motions, or worse. (We even have Holy Tradition which is tradition we literally believe to be passed down directly to us from the Holy Spirit/early Christian church http://orthodoxwiki.org/Holy_Tradition).
One reason Orthodox value tradition is because of our natural tendency to drift away from God like your mentioned. Habits such as committing to daily prayer or Bible reading, church attendance, Lenten fasting, etc. can prevent the downfall, …I had some difficult months and if I hadn’t felt committed to the “habits” of prayer and Bible reading (we also have confession!)…I probably wouldn’t have done it through that time, and would’ve missed out. Even being Orthodox, I still think of this song to help me stick to certain habits/traditions when its hard:
“I’ll obey and serve You
I’ll obey to show I love You
I’ll obey, my life is in your hands
For it’s the way to prove my love
When feelings go away
If it costs me everything, I’ll obey”
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thess 2:5)
“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:12)
I just wanted to share a bit about the positive side of habits/tradition in the Orthodox faith…another way to think about it, is not that were are settling for habits as much as realizing how much we need them to keep on, AND to be obedient to the command to hold onto to tradition as passed down.
“And something tells me that we were made to long for the moment when we can experience Him in such a way that our face glows from the encounter, as Moses when he saw His backside.” – In the Orthodox Faith, we call this the Uncreated Light/Divine Light..even though many will not get to really experience this in our early life, it is part of our goal as well…In Heaven, everyone will see the Uncreated Light. I love the part of Revelation whether is says there is no night in heaven.
Such insight. There is no method or mediation. We must be like children…