How Not to Waste Our Isolation
We aren’t designed for isolation. God created his image–bearers as social creatures. God created us for fellowship, or you might say “communion.” When you go searching for the bedrock reality of the universe what you indeed find is a Fellowship. A triune God. One God who is a communion of three Divine Persons––Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And the beauty of the Bible story is that God brings us, humans, into that fellowship. When Adam and Eve rebel against God, they’re thrust out of the space where they have communion with God. And, of course, outside of the garden, they have serious trouble communing with each other also (just ask their sons). In redemption, God is bringing us back into fellowship with Him and our fellow man (Ephesians 2). Isolation isn’t ideal. It’s a strange intrusion into life, especially the life of the church. But in God’s mysterious providence, we must keep our distance. And even in these less than ideal circumstances, God has opportunities for us to grow and for Christ’s kingdom to extend. So, I’m eager for us not to waste our isolation. What follows are several ways we can best use this strange providence for our good and God’s glory.
Renewed time in God’s Word & Prayer
For many of us, whether we’re not working or we’re working from home, we’ve recently come into unexpected “free time.” If you’re anything like me, unexpected “free time” is not a commodity you get very often. But when I do get It, I’m often shocked at how easily I fritter it away. So how are you going to use your extra 30 minutes on the front end or back end of your day?
Among all the grave concerns of our current moment, one hidden blessing is that we’ve been given an opportunity to do some soul work. Consider the resource you have at your disposal even in the midst of isolation: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrateseven to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). In these topsy-turvy circumstances we’re experiencing, your soul needs the deep truth of God’s Word more than the ever-changing flow of news and social media. Picking up the remote or swiping on your mobile device is far easier, but those won’t refresh your soul and they won’t penetrate your heart. The reality is that our addiction with constantly following the latest reports and breaking news won’t change anything. Yet, we have daily access to the Creator’s throne. We can appeal directly to the Ruler of the Universe about our global and personal concerns. And God hears us. He God acts on behalf of his people.
Determine to Form/Keep Good Habits
We (humans) are both habit–forming and habit–formed creatures. That means much of our lives are on autopilot (that’s good and necessary); but here’s the thing, our default modes of existence (habits) actually shape our beliefs, character, mental–health, and relationships. Consider your default modes of existence: Is your first act or last act of the day to reach for your phone? Is your nightly routine to watch the news for several hours? Do you always reach for a drink or a cigarette or a candy bar when you’re stressed? The collection of your habits forms your character. And the Bible has a lot to say about your “character,” or as the book of Proverbs would put it, “your heart.”
Now, many of our habits have been disrupted in isolation. This is a season where good habits can be undone, but it’s also a season where new habits can be formed. So, here are a few to consider: (1) Create or continue the habit of daily Bible Reading and Prayer before you pick-up your phone or any other device. (2) Create or continue the habit of daily exercise. I especially urge you to get outside. We can learn from the God’s written Word but also “the Word” of his creation. (3) Create or continue the habit of connection. In all times, but especially now, share meals together as a family. If you’re alone, Facetime/Zoom someone during your meal. I’ll take you up on it! We need fellowship and where physical fellowship isn’t possible, virtual fellowship is better than none at all. Here’s a great article to help you think about “forming habits” during this unusual time.
Start or Re-start the Habit of Family Worship
This really belongs in the previous paragraph, but it’s so important (and sadly ignored) that I decided to make it its own category. In western, and in particular, affluent cultures, our family lives have become increasingly busy. At the moment, we’re more or less forced to stay home. And now is a great time to start the long-practiced habit of “family worship.” By the way, it only takes a family of two to do this.
God has given parents the responsibility to evangelize and disciple their children (Deut 6:6-7). This responsibility hasn’t been given to the children’s ministry deacon or the youth pastor. Family worship orients, or I should say, re-orients the culture of the home around Christ. And the good news is that it’s fairly easy. In our home, before we leave the dinner table on most nights, we open the Bible and read a short portion of Scripture and talk about how it applies to us. At various times, we’ve taught and memorized the “New City Catechism” as a family. Then, we pray and sing a song together. You may want to invest in a hymnal, but if your unaccompanied voice is just too awkward to handle, pull up an arrangement you like on “YouTube” and sing along. It will probably feel a bit awkward at first, but most new habits don’t feel normal until you’ve practiced them for some time.
Find Out the Needs of Your Neighbors (And Meet Them Wherever Possible)
Our temporary isolation isn’t a convenient excuse to be absent or disinterested with the needs of others. The definitive Christian ethic––love your neighbor as yourself––isn’t “on hold” right now. In fact, it should define us now more than ever. Of course, “loving your neighbor” will likely mean keeping your distance, but find creative and thoughtful ways to publicly model your Christianity in your neighborhood and community networks. Elderly people may need shopping or medicine or errands to be run. Parents with little children may need a meal. International students may need a home. Someone may need their grass cut in a few weeks. Some just need a conversation or at least some kind of human interaction.
Build Up the Church
Once again, “social distancing” hasn’t cancelled our fundamental task to disciple and build up the body of Christ. In isolation, spiritual battles are often waged with greater intensity (Eph 5:14), but God has given the whole body––not just the pastors but the individual members––to help fight these battles as we “speak the truth in love” (Eph 5:11-15). If our view of the “church” is limited to showing up for a 75-minute gathering once-a-week, these unexpected circumstances will prove to be our demise. (Mind you, a “church” is more than its weekly gathering on the Lord’s day, but it’s not less than that).
Take advantage, then, of the incredible access to technology (texting, calling, Facetime, Zoom) and continue doing the work of a disciple from your living room. Consider checking-in on each member of your home group. Pray through your church’s membership directory. Set-up a weekly prayer meeting or Bible study with another church member. Virtually gather with another member to hold each other accountable in the faith.
Be Ready to Speak of Jesus
I saw a photo yesterday of a cleared-out aisle in Wal-Mart. I assumed, as most would, it was the toilet paper aisle. It wasn’t. It was the aisle normally stocked with Bibles and religious books. Of course, that’s merely a singular anecdote from one store, but I think the trend rings true more broadly. In crisis, people look for deeper answers. Why are we here? Why is this happening? What really matters in life? Did someone really die for us and rise again from the dead? In just two weeks since this crisis really came to dominate our cultural moment, I’ve already talked with four people about Jesus who under other circumstances wouldn’t have given Jesus a second thought.
“Be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you” (1 Pet 3:16). And don’t just be ready. Be on the look-out. Be strategic. Be creative. The world is getting a first-hand glimpse on the brevity of life. Our notions of social “progress” are being challenged. And we can offer them hope of redemption, not only of our souls, but of the entire creation.
In times of financial uncertainty, it’s easy to excuse a heart of stinginess. Being generous feels a lot easier when we’re confident that our generosity won’t cost us. Of course, the Bible describes generosity in stark contrast. Consider Paul’s commendation of the poverty-stricken Macedonian church as they gave sacrificially to the persecuted church in Jerusalem: “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (1 Cor 8:1-5).
Resist the urge to be stingy with your resources. I admit, from a purely material perspective, this doesn’t make sense. But as Christians, our motivation for generosity is rooted in sacrificial love for the good of others and a deep trust that the very God who provides for the needs of sparrows will also provide for all our needs. So, we can give generously, sacrificially, and with absolute confidence that God will take care of us.
Read Soul-Enriching Books
I felt I must add this. I don’t have a chapter and verse. But I know that God has worked mightily in my life and in the lives of many others through great books. You might not think of yourself as a reader. Well, this is as good a time as ever to challenge that assumption. If you’re looking for a place to start, especially in light of our current circumstances, consider reading an inspiring missionary biography. My recommendation is Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ, a series of three short missionary biographies by John Piper.
My prayer for myself and our church is that we wouldn’t waste our isolation. Isolation is not ideal. We we’re created to commune with God and with one another. We long to return to our embodied gatherings. But in God’s providence, He’s determined that we should grow now, for a period of time, in relative isolation. And in God’s goodness and by His grace, there are unique opportunities for growth and blessing in these unusual set of circumstances.