God Wants Realness Not Ritual in Prayer and Fasting (Part 3)

[audio https://www.buzzsprout.com/3192/209013-god-wants-realness-not-ritual-in-prayer-and-fasting-part-3.mp3]

Praying Through the Bible #108

TEXT: Zechariah 7:8-14

Many of us have, at times, struggled with going through the motions in our spiritual lives. Perhaps we have struggled with feeling like we are just doing something because that is what we have always done or because it is what we think someone expects of us. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that our hearts are not really into what we are doing.

Over the past two weeks we have looked at the issue of ritualism in our prayer life. God addressed this issue with the Israelites who had taken it upon themselves to institute fasts which God had not ordained. From the words of the prophet Zechariah, we are given three key insights into the roots of ritualism.

Last week, we saw that the first insight is that 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 are all commands that we ought to obey. However, abiding by a set of rules, if your heart is not in it, is worthless to God. God wants our religious activity to be rooted in the heart and not in habit or obligation. God wants realness, not ritual, in our prayers, in our fasting, in our service, and in our worship.

Ritualism deepens when rebellion is embraced. Verses 11 and 12 read, “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law.”

God continues talking about the forefathers of Zechariah’s generation — the Israelites who lived before and at the beginning of the Exile. These Jews had refused to listen to God and His prophets. They had jerked their shoulders away like some of us do when we don’t want somebody to touch us. They had stopped their ears like a toddler covers her ears when she doesn’t want to hear what her parents are saying. Their hearts became as rocky or as hard as stone so that they would not hear or take heed to the Word of God. In other words, they had embraced rebellion.

You know that you have embraced rebellion when there is a part of your life that you know is wrong but that you are unwilling to let go of. For the Jews it was their idolatry. For some of us it is shacking up, having a bad attitude, lying, having sex outside of marriage, embezzling money, or a host of other things. If you refuse to give it up even though you know it is wrong and even though God has chastised you for it, you have embraced rebellion.

In many of the churches that I have preached in down through the years, I was witness to people who call themselves Christians, yet have no intention on doing what the Bible says. Their hearts are intent — set like a stone — on what they want to do. Yet, they continue to come to church, they continue to sing in the choir, and they continue to lead ministries in the church. On the outside, they might look like model Christians, but they have embraced rebellion, and their hearts remain far from God. They have abandoned pure religion and are engaged in ritualism. And God wants realness, not ritual, in our prayers, in our fasting, in our service, and in our worship.

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