I still remember my grandmother talking about how religious one of my uncles had become after he left home. She described the time when he came home for thanksgiving dinner and said the blessing for the good. It lasted over fifteen minutes! "Boy he sure was religious back then," she would say.
I used to think that is what being religious was all about. If I could ever master the art of saying really pious sounding prayers, if I could memorize scripture verses, if I could master some Christian practices, boy I would sure be religious.
There were those who attempted to be religious in the days of Israel. They engaged in various religious practices diligently in the hopes of inducing God to listen to them, to grant their requests. Yet they were sorely disappointed. They didn't get what true and undefiled religion is. Read the passage carefully:
"Yet they seek me day by day and delight to know my ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask me for just decisions; they delight in the nearness of God. Why have we fasted and you do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and you do not notice? Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing ones head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry, and He will say, here I am. If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail" (Isa 58:2-11).
The true fasting, the true religion that God would be pleased with is about caring ministries. It involves social ministries that reflect the very heart of God who has a holistic interest in the world.