The phrase "it's the thought that counts" is used to indicate that it is the kindness behind a gift that matters, however imperfect or insignificant the gift may be. This is especially true of gifts that children give to adults. But sometimes people will say it when the gift is inappropriate such as when a person gives tickets to a sporting event as a gift but the recipient doesn't really like sports. The gift is in actuality more for the giver than the receiver. This kind of giving shows that actually NOT a lot of thought has gone into the gift recipient.
Today's passage looks at what the people of Israel thought they were doing for God and how God actually perceived it. Because with God, it really is "the thought that counts."
Zechariah 7 is set in the 4th year of King Dairus. The temple rebuilding has been progressing for 2 years and will be completed in another two years. So the people ask in Zechariah 7:3 "Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month as I have done for so many years?"
As God so often does (and Jesus as well), God answered a question with a question. Zechariah 7:5 "Ask all the people of the land and the priests. 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?'"
The law of Moses required the Jews to observe only one national fast, on the Day of Atonement. However, to commemorate events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, four new fasts had been added to the Jewish calendar as a reminder of the tragedy and that Israel was still waiting rescue from exile. And now, God was calling them out. Were they really fasting for God or just for themselves?
Was it about ritual or relationship? What was their thought behind what they were doing?
How did God know that the people were doing it for themselves and not for Him? In Zechariah 7:9-10 "This is what the Lord Almighty said: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'"
God knew their heart because even though they were doing the correct ritual, it wasn't resulting in a loving, transformed life.
The Israelites who had returned from the exile were acting dangerously close to how their ancestors acted according to Zechariah 7:7,11. God was angry at them then and now. And what was God's response? Zechariah 7:13-14 "'When I called they did not listen, so when they called I would not listen', says the Lord Almighty...'This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.'"
Here was a people doing the right rituals but completely missing God's heart. Their empty practices and stubbornness closed God's ears to their cries and made their land desolate. When your spiritual life consists of the empty rituals of mere church attendance, dry devotions and superficial prayers you are closing your ears to what God really wants. What is your stubbornness costing you? Empty ritual = empty spiritual life.
It doesn't have to be this way! The fresh wind of the Spirit comes with repentance. Zechariah 1:3 "Return to me and I will return to you." It comes with cleansing (Zechariah 3). It comes with encouragement Zechariah 4:6 "Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty."
This Easter season, will you drop the ritual and instead build a life changing relationship with God instead?