Use one or both of these questions to introduce the lesson.
1. Have you ever thought you were doing an important project according to a particular format, only to find out you were doing it completely wrong? How did it make you feel?
2. Think of a time when someone seemed eager to hear your counsel. Maybe there was a sin issue and they completely agreed with everything you offered, only to go through the motions of your suggestions yet still fail. (Has this ever been you?) In what ways does it frustrate you when people do this?
Read Isaiah 58:1-3a
1. Through the warning words of Isaiah, God made known to everyone in Judah that they were rebelling against him. List clues from this passage that indicate the ways the people had failed to do what was right.
2. Based on this section of the lesson text, what should have been the purpose of their fasting?
3. The phrase seem eager appears twice in verse 2. In other translations, the word delight is used. What did the people of Judah seem eager or delight to get from God? In context of the Scriptures, discuss if they seemed willing to do what God asked of them. Were they only going through the motions to get them?
Read Isaiah 58:3b-5
4. Here Isaiah is calling out the poor behavior of Judah and Jerusalem during their days of required fasting. Clearly, God is not interested in the rote ritual of wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes; nor is it just about abstaining from food. List the negative effects their fasts had on one another and discuss why God wasn’t honored by them.
5. Fasting is prevalent throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. Prophets, judges, kings, and the people fasted for many reasons. Jesus went without food for 40 days before he entered public ministry. Read Matthew 6:16-18. Talk about the appropriate demeanor for times of fasting.
Read Isaiah 58:6-10
6. After reading the Isaiah passage, also read James 1:27. On one side of a sheet of paper, list the components of God’s chosen fast. On the other side, list local, state, or international agencies that advocate for each. Talk about which one stirs your heart and where you might be prompted to selflessly serve.
7. Is your religion merely a ritual or is it an expression of a real relationship with God? Discuss how we can miss out on intimacy with the Lord and true heart change when we are simply “play-acting” in church.
8. Now list the ways God’s Word tells us we will prosper when we serve others in the “true fast.” Which of these would be the greatest benefit to you?
Conclude your group time with prayer, using the following as a guide.
Lord, show us what a life of selfless service should truly look like. Please help us to discern when we are just playing at church or truly and honestly being the church. Amen.