I cannot separate my relationship with people from my relationship with God. Its not simply that He wont allow it, but its actually not possible because of who He is. He is love and wherever He is, love is present. Not gooey, ethereal love that just beams positive thoughts toward someone, but real, tangible kindness expressed through caring, serving, healing, preaching, visiting, feeding, praying or clothing people who are in need. He is always engaged in the process of rescuing and healing people, so if Im going to draw close to Him (or have Him draw close to me) I need to align my life with what Hes doing. If I dont, in time I dry up and God stops answering my prayers. Thats what God says in this great chapter of Isaiah, He tells His people that being religious but loveless is as hateful to Him as open idolatry. To make this point He focuses on the practice of fasting. He says their going without food and performing other religious rituals offends Him. He says until they change theres no way Hell answer their prayers because even though theyve become very religious they continue to abuse those under their authority and ignore those who are suffering. Then He says if theyll start treating people with real, practical love, Hell bless them with an abundance of His presence and then lists all the tangible benefits (shalom) that come with it. Today lets explore the connection between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with people, because God says we cant have one without the other.
Listen to Isaiah (Isaiah 58)
With a voice like a trumpet (shout) tell them why Im not answering their prayers.
They pray constantly and try to obey My laws.
Theyve turned away from idolatry and are truly seeking Me.
They want to be close to Me, but they cant find Me and I dont answer them.
Tell them its because theyve become religious but their heart hasnt changed. They still dont love those in need who are around them. And frankly, they dont really want to be with Me either (vs 13, 14), they just want Me to do things for them.
Vertical and horizontal (Mt 5:43-48)
Its important to understand why our vertical relationship with God is so spiritually connected to our horizontal relationship with people. Why must I engage in the care of people in order to be close to Him? Why would He withhold His presence until I love others? As you would expect, Jesus gives us the answer. He says that in order to come near God we must become like Him and align our lives with what Hes doing. And what Hes doing is reaching out in love to all kinds of people, both good and bad, and He invites me to join Him in His mission. He says, Sons and daughters, Im loving people, come and help Me. Let Me love them through you. In effect we align ourselves into that flow of love between His heart and those in need. Thats where the blessing is because this is who God is. Thats why where theres no love, Hes simply not present (1Jn 3:13-18).
Why do we love?
1) To be like our Heavenly Father (Lk 6:32-38).
2) To bring Him joy
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (also Jn 3:16)
3) Because He loves us
Matthew 10:8 As you go, preach
heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.
2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one dies for all, therefore all died, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (also vs 18-20).
4) To be like Jesus (Php 2:1-4)
Who do we love?
1) The one who needs us (Lk 10:25-37)
Those in genuine need
Those ignored by others
Those we encounter in the course of our daily life
Those who offend our prejudices
2) Those who cant repay us (Lk 14:12-14; Dt 15:4-11)
How do we love?
What does it mean to divide my bread with the hungry (Isa 58:7)? I think we find the answer when we ask ourselves this simple question: What do I mean when I ask God for my daily bread? (Mt 6:11). By asking for daily bread Im not just looking for carbohydrates. That word symbolizes to me a wide variety of needs. Yes, I need bread, but I also need provision, protection, guidance, strength, comfort, healing. And so do the hungry around me. So its the same bread were asking for that God wants us to divide with the hungry. And when I understand it that way, I need look no farther than my own daily life to come across those who need the same bread I do. For me to divide my bread with them means to share with them from what God has given me. This allows Gods love to flow to others in every conceivable area of human need. They need what I need, so I share what I have with them.
The heart of God
And in doing so, I align myself with the heart of God. And when He looks at me He sees one of His children sharing His love with others so He pours out more of His Spirit to refill me so I can give again. And thus the cycle begins: pouring out and filling up, giving and receiving, blessing and being blessed, loving and being loved.
Give and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measurepressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. (also 2Co 9:6)
Something mysterious takes place in this process. Something that only the eye of faith can see, but when it sees it, it turns this dividing of bread into worship in its deepest form. Jesus explains this when talking about the final judgment:
Proverbs 19:17 One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.
Apparently love cant be divided. My heart cant be compartmentalized so that I can love God but not people. The vertical and the horizontal are deeply connected. Loving Him means caring for those He loves. When I divide my bread with them, I love Him as well.
So where do I start?
1) Ill need to make the big decision: Am I willing to come out of my protective shell and divide my bread with others? Will I divide my money, energy, time, love, knowledge
2) Ill need to open my eyes to see the hungry that are already around me. Ive probably been walking by on the other side for a long time.
3) Ill need to give more of what Ive kept for myself and trust God to replenish my daily bread.
4) Ill need a consistent sabbath life so He can feed me with the heritage of Jacob (Isa 58:14).
One more time
Lets listen to Isaiah once more: Isaiah 58:5-12.
1) Has someone ever divided their bread with you? They took you under their wing and cared for you. Tell us what they did, but also tell us how it affected your walk with God.
2) When you think about loving more and giving more, what are the fears that arise?
3) Have you experienced the process of pouring out and then having God fill you back up? What did He teach you?