When Does Worship Become Insincere Ritual? (Zechariah 7:5–6)
Traditions have great value because they preserve the values and teachings of the past. They remind us of things we might otherwise forget. While living in a foreign land, surrounded by a foreign culture and language, the Jews could have easily forgotten the important events of their history. Future generations could have missed out on how significantly God had dealt with their ancestors. But the Jews used rituals and traditions to avoid historical ignorance. They commemorated the past so they would not forget the lessons learned.
Unfortunately, the rituals “fossilized” over time. People drifted into celebrating the form but forgetting the reality behind it. Their fasting appeared meaningful but had no inner substance. When this or something similar happens, a worship activity becomes an empty ritual or, even worse, a ritual with the wrong meaning attached to it. Often this can occur as a slow erosion of values—a process that eventually destroys the good others intended.
Taken from NIV Essentials Study Bible
The Payout for Patience
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is a great lesson in why we should have faith in the sovereign future grace of God.
Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, which must have tested his patience tremendously. But he is given a good job in Potiphar’s household. Then, when he is acting uprightly in the unplanned place of obedience, Potiphar’s wife lies about his integrity and has him thrown into prison — another great trial to his patience.
But again things turn for the better, and the prison-keeper gives him responsibility and respect. But just when he thinks he is about to get a reprieve from the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, whose dream he interpreted, the cupbearer forgets him for two more years.
Finally, the meaning of all these detours and delays becomes clear. Joseph says to his long-estranged brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. . . . As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 45:7; 50:20).
What would have been the key to patience for Joseph during all those long years of exile and abuse? The answer is: faith in future grace — the sovereign grace of God to turn the unplanned place and the unplanned pace into the happiest ending imaginable.
After listening to Eliphaz and responding to him, Job cries out to God.
“I cannot keep from speaking. I must express my anguish. My bitter soul must complain. Am I a sea monster or a dragon that you must place me under guard? I think, ‘My bed will comfort me, and sleep will ease my misery,’ but then you shatter me with dreams and terrify me with visions. I would rather be strangled—rather die than suffer like this. I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.
“What are people, that you should make so much of us, that you should think of us so often? For you examine us every morning and test us every moment. Why won’t you leave me alone, at least long enough for me to swallow! If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone.”
Job stopped talking to Eliphaz and spoke directly to God. He had lived a blameless life, but now he was beginning to doubt the value of living in such a way. By doing this, he was coming dangerously close to suggesting that God didn’t care about him and was not being fair. Later God reproved Job for this attitude (Job 38:2).
Job referred to God as a watcher or observer of humanity. He was expressing his feeling that God seemed like an enemy to him—someone who mercilessly watched him squirm in his misery. We know that God does watch over everything that happens to us. But we must remember that he sees us with compassion. He looks on us with eyes of love.
Job felt deep anguish and bitterness, and he spoke honestly to God about his frustrations. If we express our feelings to God, we can deal with them without exploding in harmful words and actions. Satan always exploits these thoughts to get us to forsake God. Our suffering, like Job’s, may not be the result of our sin, but we must be careful not to sin as a result of our suffering.
The next time strong emotions threaten to overwhelm you, express them openly to God in prayer. This will help you gain an eternal perspective on the situation and give you greater ability to deal with it constructively.
Streams in the Desert – May 29
I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father. (John 15:15)
Years ago there was an old German professor whose beautiful life was a marvel to his students. Some of them resolved to know the secret of it; so one of their number hid in the study where the old professor spent his evenings.
It was late when the teacher came in. He was very tired, but he sat down and spent an hour with his Bible. Then he bowed his head in secret prayer; and finally closing the Book of books, he said,
“Well, Lord Jesus, we’re on the same old terms.”
To know Him is life’s highest attainment; and at all costs, every Christian should strive to be “on the same old terms with Him.”
The reality of Jesus comes as a result of secret prayer, and a personal study of the Bible that is devotional and sympathetic. Christ becomes more real to the one who persists in the cultivation of His presence.
Speak thou to Him for He hears,
And spirit with spirit will meet!
Nearer is He than breathing,
Nearer than hands and feet.
—Maltbie D. Babcock