Isaiah 58 Challenge

As we have begun to navigate all the busyness and opportunities that the New Year brings, I have had the chance recently to reflect on a passage of scripture from Isaiah 58 and particularly on the challenge that God gave his people in terms of both who they were called to be and what they were called to do.

I am struck by how God reminded them of their identity and reiterated their call to them. God was speaking to the Israelites and essentially reminding them that they were Good News people. But as a people in exile they had shrunk back and distanced themselves from God, getting lost and distracted by the world and culture around them.

As I see it, the challenge God gives to Israel in Isaiah 58 is around 3 key areas of their lives:

  • Public replacing Personal
  • Ritual replacing Relationship
  • Superficial replacing Sacrificial
God speaks to them about their desire for their acts to be seen in public, doing the right thing in front of the right person at the right time. Their focus was purely on their actions or behaviour and what was seen by others, rather than their heart and what was seen by God. They substituted their connection with God for a set of practices, adopting a transactional mindset;  “if I do this, then God will do that”. How easy it is to slip in to this way of thinking sometimes.
In this way, the heart of relationship was being lost and replaced by ritual: The people of God doing things to God and in front of God, but not for God or with God.
The reality is that it wasn’t costing them anything. They would observe the Sabbath in theory, but compromise on the principles upon which it was founded. They would argue, quarrel and work their people too hard, rather than removing “the yoke of oppression” (v9) over others.
The fasting and prayer and other practices weren’t done as a sacrificial expression of relationship, rather as a superficial act of religion.
There was a major problem, but the good news was that God was offering them invitation back in to a restored relationship, identity and calling, promising the “glory of the Lord as a rear guard” (v8) as they turned back to him. 
As I reflect on my personal journey, the danger with a busy life is that you simply become reactive to what is in front of you, rather than making decisions that reflect your personal, sacrificial relationship with God. As this continues unchecked, your heart and mind can slowly  disappear on to autopilot and, sadly, it’s possible to just go through the day without really being present or engaging as disciples. In the information age that we live – we can find ourselves reading, watching, re-tweeting, reposting, sharing, speaking and even preaching, but not really living and believing the message. Isaiah 58 reminds us that we need to make sure we are not living a ritualistic existence, not just living to lead others or feeling the need to be “doing the right things”. We need to have our hearts touched again and given over to God – choosing the sacrifice of putting him fist, in right relationship, and making it personal.
So, amongst the busyness, noise and distractions, here are some questions I invite you to join me in asking:
  • What does it look like for you to press in and pursue your personal walk with God, not just the public gatherings?
  • Where have certain practices in your life become more of a ritual on autopilot than an expression of relationship?
  • Where is he calling you to live sacrificially, not just paying lip service, but life service to where he is leading you? Stepping out in faith, stopping something, or making a change?


Rich leads the 3DM Europe team with his wife, Anna. Rich and Anna are passionate about living as a family on mission and catalysing movements of missional leaders who are learning how to take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of them. Rich and Anna have three children – Josiah, Esther and Samuel.


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