God Wants Realness Not Ritual in Prayer and Fasting (Part 2)

Praying Through the Bible #107

TEXT: Zechariah 7:8-14

On last week, we looked at the first seven verses of Zechariah 7 in which some of the children of Israel who had returned from exile in Babylon came to Jerusalem to inquire about whether or not they should continue to observe ritual fasts that they had begun observing during the 70-year exile. God, through His prophet Zechariah, lets them know that He has no interest in their man-made rituals, especially if they are not carried out with a spirit of realness, sincerity, and purity before Him. God states that He is more interested in their obedience to Him and not their rituals.

That message is continued in verse 8 of this passage. God goes back to the sins of the Israelites’ forefathers before the Exile and commands this new generation of Jews to simply do what their forefathers did not do. The disobedience of the Israelites is part of the reason why they began to feel the need to act in a ritualistic manner concerning prayer and fasting. Today, notice with me three things about the roots of ritualism in this passage.

1. Ritualism begins when pure religion ends. God commanded the Israelites to “Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassion every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”

These words, of course, are not the rigid rules of the Old Testament law, rather these words embody the spirit of the law that God had given to His people. We find similar words in the New Testament in James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” God is more interested in people’s hearts being right with Him and their fellow man than He is in people abiding by a set of rules and regulations.

Abiding by a set of rules, if your heart is not in it, is worthless to God. That is why the text says, “let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” God says don’t even think about doing evil against your fellow man. Scripture says, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” In God’s eyes, if you are seriously contemplating doing evil, it is almost just as bad as you doing it.

Imagine that scientists were to invent a “Real You Device.” This device — an RYD machine — can scan your brainwaves and determine your true thoughts and emotions about people and situations. This machine also has the ability to state your true feelings. Now, imagine walking around with this device attached to your person all day. When you see that person at work who you can’t stand to be around, and you give them a hug and tell them how much you appreciate them, the “RYD” (Real You Device) starts talking, and it states what your heart truly feels for that person, which is: “I can’t stand you. I hope you never cross my path again.” When you look across the dinner table and smile at your spouse, the Real You Device lights up and starts telling your true feelings, which are: “Why did I ever marry this person? So-and-so and I are way more compatible.” When the cashier at the grocery store gives you too much change and you tell them about it, the Real You Device lights up and says what you really think, which is: “I should have kept that change. She would have never known the difference.”

That kind of device does not exist (thankfully), but our true thoughts, feelings, and emotions are laid bare before the eyes of Almighty God — and before ourselves. You see, when we know that our hearts are no longer in tune with God’s law, we begin to see the law as a ritual that we have to abide by. Kind of like a person who goes to church every Sunday even though they don’t really want to go and their heart is not into the sermon or the worship. We do it just because we have to, or just because that is what we have always done. When pure religion — religion that is rooted in the heart and not in habit — comes to an end, that is where ritual begins. And God wants realness, not ritual, in our prayers, in our fasting, in our service, and in our worship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s