Isaiah 1:15 (CEB)
When you extend your hands, I’ll hide my eyes from you. Even when you pray for a long time, I won’t listen. Your hands are stained with blood.
Isaiah begins this passage with a plea to turn back to the law of the Lord (1:10). Like the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, we, too, get lost in the rituals of prayer and worship and miss the point of the law—relationship. God cares exclusively about what motivates our worship and our prayers, not about how elaborate we make them. Moreover, God rejects our offerings as hypocritical if we pray and worship as we should yet fail to treat our neighbors with the love and respect that God’s law demands.
It’s fair to say that God judges our hypocrisy by the way we treat our worst enemies. Jesus emphasized this point with his disciples when he said it’s easy to love those who love you, but what about loving your enemies? We show ourselves to be God’s true children when we pray for blessings on those who persecute us. This is the kind of prayer that God looks for, a sweet aroma that brings God such delight. The sacrifice that pleases God most is self-sacrifice, motivated by love and guided by Jesus’ example on the cross, when he called for the blessing of forgiveness on his worst enemies.
What would it cost you to be kind to someone who has hurt you? How would your relationship with God change if you prayed and fasted on behalf of an enemy who does not deserve your respect and consideration? How far are you willing to go to forgive another’s debt and absorb the cost yourself, be it your pride, your reputation, or your right to compensation? What are the shadows on your heart that make your worship hollow and your prayers ineffective? Ask God to help you identify and clear away those shadows so that you can lift up holy hands, fragrant and free from stain, to worship your God.
FATHER, the task you set before me is a hard one. My adversary does not deserve my forgiveness, but then, neither do I deserve yours. Make your law of love and self-sacrifice such a natural part of me that my first instinct will be to love and help the person who offends me rather than to hurt back as I am hurt. Thank you for Jesus, who gave your law a human shape and showed us how to live a life that pleases you.
Luke 6:32-36; Romans 12:14
What are the shadows on your heart that hinder your relationship with God?