When James turned his car onto the street where he lived, he saw an ambulance in his driveway. Once inside his home, he was shocked to find paramedics performing CPR on his wife, Sheila. His heart was in his mouth as he prayed in the ambulance as it sped toward the hospital.
In the emergency room, the doctor gathered James and his family together and said, “Sheila suffered a fatal aneurysm; I’m sorry, but she’s gone.”
After six years of marriage, Sheila was gone. James went into a downward spiral that plunged him into weeks of despair, followed by months of depression. He tried praying more and going to more Bible studies, but he struggled with his relationship with God he felt forsaken. A year after the tragedy, he met with his pastor. During the visit, James asked, “Why is it I no longer find any joy in my life? Why is God punishing me?” “During your prayer time, are you praising and thanking God for the good years that you and Sheila shared, or are you simply focusing on your loss?” asked the pastor. “What do you mean?” James asked.
“James, I realize that it is easy to lose heart when faced with the loss of a loved one; but true worship is when you focus on God and not yourself. You must begin to worship God for who He is despite of your circumstances. Begin to thank Him for the gift of life and stop praying prayers of despair.” At that moment, James realized that since his wife’s death his prayers were focused on his pain and despair at the loss of his wife. He had never truly entered into worship genuinely thanking God just because He is God. He realized that true worship should have a positive effect on his life.
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 1:16-20)
God is calling for true worship to replace false, hypocritical worship. God calls the people of Judah to “cease” (abandon) their old actions, which have made them guilty of blood; ” learn” (develop) new ways of thinking, which are really the old ways of honoring God; and “seek” (pursue) different priorities: justice and goodness instead of idolatry and violence. This repentance will produce concrete results: The oppressor will be rebuked (rather than encouraged) and the oppressed will find comfort and justice (rather than abandonment and anguish). Worship begins in our hearts and overflows into service to others and combating injustice.
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