Relationship over Rituals

Stop bringing Me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts Me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. Isaiah‬ ‭1:13‬‬‬
My daughter came to me the other day, and said, “Dad, you know I love you.” You would think that after 13 years, she would know that I’m keenly aware something else comes after that. However, with each passing year she gets a little more adept at saying it. It’s gotten to the point that to the outsider, they would say, “Awe! That is so adorable! You have an amazing daughter!” To be honest, she is just that; an amazing and growing young lady. I’m still trying to figure out how I ended up with all the strong-willed black women in my life (mom, wife, both daughters). But of course, as the verse that prefaces this devotion would suggest it is not the point of this story. She really loves me, and I know this. However, the pressing need for this one is to try to get her friend to spend the night. “I don’t know, Mya,” I reply. Immediately, she subtly says, “Ok,” as she senses weakness for a flat out ‘No’ means she has to plea much harder. This time, I let her have her way because despite the fighting and various tête-à-tête’s we have had, she has learned to reign in her emotions a bit more. It’s the obedience to authority as much as her love that I want her to have, and while ever slowly, she is surely starting to get the hang of it.
God places a high value on obedience to Him. In the book of Isaiah, there was lots of prophesying of Christ to come and save us. However outside of that, it was a pretty bleak and dark time as God was using Isaiah to speak of His utter disappointment with the people of Israel. He was so disappointed that He compared them to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Isaiah 1:10). In case you are not as familiar with those places, they were the places God burned to ashes because of their disobedience. Not the two places you want to be parallel to, right? In the verse today, God was seemingly throwing His hands in the air saying the Israelites’ offerings were not good enough. But again, the replay referee comes, and says, “After further review,” it’s not the gifts, celebrations, or days of fasting that bothered Him. It is the actions done without true love and devotion toward Him! It is exactly like my daughter saying, ‘I love you’ only when she wants something. God shouldn’t be ‘God’ when we are desperate for His help or desire something. It is not that we should not pray for those things. What the verse today says is that we are to love and be obedient to Him regardless of His provisions. It is then that He is responsive. He is then not only gracious but also abundant in His blessings.
Loving God and His authority must come first and foremost, for that is key to the kingdom. With love of Him comes following His word, allowing Him to use us for His purpose, and a higher love for others than we could find on our own. These are easy things to know, but without guidance and consistent practices to stay faithfully obedient, we could easily end up as the Israelites when Isaiah spoke to them. Let us make a commitment to focus on having an authentic, loving, and selfless relationship with the one true living God. Where are you falling lax in your spiritual growth? What disciplines can you put in place to avoid going through the motions in your walk of faith? My prayer is that we focus on the relationship over rituals. Amen.


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