This is the devotion I prepared for sharing at West Wimmera Health Service (WWHS) at Kaniva. The event is a Day Centre devotional/chapel time which is hosted once a week: I have the provilege of leading on the first Tuesday of every month. This was an extra service filling in for someone who was away.
Isaiah speaks on God’s behalf in issuing an invitation to the thirsty, an invitation extended to anyone who thirsts for what God can provide. There is no need for money; rich and poor alike are welcome so long as they come with openness and expression of their need for God and their needs from God.
I wonder, what do you need from God? When I said just now that rich and poor alike are welcome at God’s invitation you may have thought that I was just being poetic. Yes the poor are welcome, there is no need for money so it doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it, just come. But the rich? Why would the rich need an invitation? Surely they would have just come anyway, after all they can afford to purchase whatever is for sale, and if it’s free then all the better and what a lovely surprise once we’re here. But the rich would not have stayed away in shame or poverty, so why invite the rich when the rich were already coming?
Well maybe the rich weren’t coming, because the rich thought they didn’t need to come. Maybe the rich, because they are rich, have money, milk and wine enough. After all, you don’t need to go to the shops, even for free stuff, when your pantry is full. If you’re not thirsty then an invitation to the thirsty doesn’t interest you. Maybe you’ll hold back out of a sense of charity and let the poor go first, or maybe you’ll just ignore the invitation entirely. Either way, God’s invitation might go unmet by you and you just won’t come, and that’s sad. Where it says in Isaiah 55:1, without money and without cost perhaps the fact that you have money enough means that if you do come to God there will be a cost, a cost to your pride, and that’s too much cost to bear, especially if you are rich in money, milk and wine.
So I think even though Isaiah is just issuing God’s invitation, and without judgement or interpretation, he’s just an amplifier of the quiet voice in his heart which speaks God’s truth, he knows that the message will go unheard by some. Why spend money on what does not feed, he asks (or rather God asks through him in Isaiah 55:2), advising to feed on what is good so that your soul will delight. In other words, I don’t care how well stocked your cellars are, and how awesome is your dairy operation, feed from God’s provision and you will be blessed.
When I lived in England I had a strange encounter with God. I was shopping in the local Tesco with my housemate, and with our boss-slash-landlord, since it was a ministry organisation I was attached to. I felt in my chest and heard a voice in my head say that I was not to be shopping: that whatever I needed I was to allow my boss-slash-landlord to pay for. He found me in one of the aisles, crying, with my basket on the floor. He asked what the matter was and I said, “I’m not allowed to shop, I mustn’t actually pay for anything.” He said to me, “well okay, give me your basket and I’ll pay; if that’s what God has told you then that is what we need to do.” That situation lasted for five months, indeed the whole time I stayed at that house. Food was donated to the ministry, and money came in too, “to support Damien”, but I never bought any food or groceries in the time I was there. Even my housemate would come home from his own shopping and say “this is for you” and give me a packet of frozen fish fingers or something. That was an incredibly humbling experience for me: not embarrassing as I knew I was obeying God and the men around me knew it too, but it was kinda hard. Now I know that God has me in mind at all times, and that I am safe and provided for. Now I am confident to direct my labour only to what satisfies, as Isaiah 55:2 says, which is not to say that I rely on others to pick up the tab, or that I am happy to be a burden to others, but to say that if God wants to pay my way while I minister and serve the Kingdom then that is what God can do.
I am not too rich to have God care for me, and because of that I have never been too poor for God to find me and feed me. But that does not mean it isn’t hard.
Isaiah, and perhaps God in Isaiah’s mouth, counsels us to seek God while God may be found and to call upon God while God is near. This is another wonderful invitation, but it is another one with a hidden threat. Is there really a time and space limit? Will there be a time when God cannot be found, or God is not near and therefore cannot hear us if we call? I don’t want to get into the theology of the near-and-farness of God, so let’s just cut to the chase and say that if you hear God’s invitation then it’s best to respond straight away, and with complete trust that you will be welcomed and provided for. Sometimes what God asks us to do is baffling, God’s ways are not our ways as Isaiah 55:8 reminds us; but hey, if God is the one asking then who am I to say no? Trust and obey – there is no other way.