My last post about love that is not self-seeking touched on the problem we all face in putting others before ourselves. Not only are we called to love selflessly in the family, but with others in our sphere as well. For the past several months Isaiah 58:6-12 has been a passage of scripture that the Lord keeps bringing to my mind with regards to helping others. These verses are the Lord speaking through the prophet Isaiah explaining the type of fasting that He has chosen for his people. You may be thinking, “What does fasting have to do with love that is not self-seeking?” I’m glad you asked. Take a minute and read the passage below.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be you rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen our frame.” Isaiah 58:6-12 (NIV)
Did you notice the things that define a fast are putting others’ needs above our own? This is love that is not self-seeking. Read the passage again and notice that there is a pattern of what to do, then what will happen for us. The small word “then” leads to the added bonus of God’s grace to us when we love others His way.
First, we are to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke. During Isaiah’s time the rich and powerful of Israel exploited the poor to make themselves richer and more powerful. (Sound familiar?) Isaiah writes about their evil deeds in Chapter 59. To make things worse, they went off to their synagogues to worship God as if they had no sins in their lives. They were hypocritical worshipers. So, what exactly does this mean on a practical level in our day?
When I think of injustice today I think of the innocent being convicted and the guilty set free. I think of the rich getting richer off the backs of the poor. I think of those in real bondage being used for ones’ sadistic pleasure and wealth, sold in the human trafficking world. I think of children being left alone to fend for themselves or in orphanages because their parents think of them as a nuisance to their lifestyle; in spite of the fact there are childless couples that desire to care for these young ones. I think of the starving people in war and famine ravaged countries dying while those of us in prosperous nations waste food on a daily basis.
Just typing these words trouble my soul. I feel helpless most of the time, but then I am reminded that God is in control and He has a plan in place. This plan was foretold by Isaiah the prophet and then fulfilled in God’s very own son, Jesus Christ. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read these words in the synagogue of Nazareth his hometown.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2-NIV)
If you are like me, you may be thinking, “Yeah, but that was Jesus! I’m just one person!” God knows that we can do nothing on our own. That is precisely why he sent his Holy Spirit to live inside of every believer. Jesus even told his disciples that if he didn’t go away the “Helper” would not come to them, and with this Helper comes the very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead! (John 16:7-NASB, Ephesians 1:19-20 -NIV)
God doesn’t even expect one believing person to do it all, so why do we use this as an excuse? He knows what we are made of. After all He is our Creator. He gives every person a gift that will further His plan and kingdom. According to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7(NIV),
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
Did you notice the last two words? The “common good.” God has placed his Spirit in us who will help us use the gifts He gives us to help the common good. So, no more excuses! Ask the Lord to show you where He wants you to use your gifts. If you have no idea what your gift is, ask him to reveal it to you, then use it.
The words of Isaiah are a good place to start.
Share your food with the hungry.
There are numerous places to donate money, food and time to feed the hungry. Google soup kitchens in your area and sign up to volunteer. On a personal level, do your best not to waste food.
Provide the poor wanderer with shelter.
Donate time and/or money for a safe, warm place for the homeless. The “Good Samaritan” gave of his own money to make sure the victim of robbery had a safe place to stay (Luke 10:30-35).
Clothe the naked.
This one is so easy! Drop off clothes to a ministry that helps the needy or even buy clothes for someone in your sphere who has a need. For every new piece of clothing that your purchase for yourself, give one away to someone who needs it.
Do not turn away from your own flesh and blood.
At first glance, this seems like a no brainer, but we all have a family member who has needs. Sometimes, this is the hardest one to act on, especially if by helping them we might actually be enabling a family member to continue in their sinful ways. Therefore, we must seek God’s specific will on this matter. When Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 5:8 that a person that does not provide for our own household has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever, he had been teaching on providing for widows and the elderly in our families. So, honor your parents!
God is so good! He doesn’t just give us these commands and leave it at that. He gives awesome benefits when we follow his ways! Well, get ready for a shower of blessings! The Message Bible puts it in a language we can all understand.
“Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage Then when you pray God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the empties of places- firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.” (Isaiah 58:8-12)
WOW! Who doesn’t want all that?! Did you notice that God is ready to give us the full life, the abundant life as a consequence of helping others rather than ourselves? So, join me in changing my life song to “They Are Always on my Mind!”