Is my work is vain?
The ancient Israelites wondered why their religion wasn’t working for them. The prophet Isaiah records their words to God when they feel like He is not answering their prayers appropriately:
Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?
Sometimes I feel similarly about my work. If Christians are called to work to the glory of God, then why does so much of my effort go unnoticed? Why have I gone without (which is the essence of fasting) yet still not seen God’s fruit?
I take some comfort from the realization that I am not the only one who--more often than I’d like to admit--feels this way about his work.
Isaiah delivers God’s message back to the Israelites and it is startling:
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
He calls them out on a false humility. That’s how one finds their own pleasure in fasting. False humility or “humblebragging” as it is labeled more often nowadays causes our prayers to hit the ceiling and bounce back down.
He calls them out for picking a fight using religion as a pretense. Have you ever known someone to use religion as a chip on their shoulder to start an argument with someone else? Has it ever been a chip on your shoulder?
I first saw Cloninger, a Christian actor, perform at a youth worker convention 25 years ago. He does a series of monologues depicting people who have died and gone either to heaven or hell. The destiny of each person he portrays is not obvious from the outset of the monologue. One character is called The Theologian. The setting is a classroom where the Theologian is called to read his greatest work before Jesus.
When I’m tempted like the Israelites, to false humility or a religion of pretense, Cloninger points me back to the One who made his voice not heard, who allowed himself to be hit with a wicked fist so that I could have God’s pleasure rest on me.