Self-isolation seems to be the new buzzword as we try to be socially responsible citizens and neighbours during the Covid-19 pandemic. My wife and I are in the midst of it right now, having just gotten over an upper-respiratory infection (without a fever), but wanting to respect the advice of health care providers, we are self-isolated until we get better. It’s a commonsense response to something that feels out of control. And it comes with a lot of emotion: some claiming that self-isolation is an over-reaction and others quite angry if they hear someone coughing in public!
Christians have their own mixed bag of reactions from opting to cancel worship services to calling such actions a lack of faith. Some have struggled to make any decision, overwhelmed by the information and the radical change that is being suggested.
It takes me back to a couple of years ago when I asked our congregation to join me in an experiment. I called it a “Church Sabbatical.” The idea was to cancel our formal ministries (other than Sunday morning worship, visitation and Food Cupboard) in order to free up time to engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, silence, service, celebration…. It was an invitation, not a demand, and I got a whole range of reactions. There were those who were perplexed that we would disrupt the church year in any way; those who were cynical that it would do us any good; some were grudging participants but later raved about how meaningful it was; some were eagerly on board from the beginning. BUT some were downright angry and saw it as uncaring, relationally void, legalistic nonsense. Yikes!
Well, we survived the experiment with some who had their minds changed in a positive way and others who were just glad to see it behind us. But, believe it or not, here we are again – ministries put on hold and gatherings cancelled. And this time the cancellations are more sweeping and the implications feel much more weighty. Plus, it’s not just an invitation anymore.
Or is it?
Even in hard times God invites his people to come away, spend time with him in new, fresh, personal ways. Down through the centuries Christians have called this “solitude.” It’s a positive term with a rich history.
Think of Moses: fully aware of the special heritage he had as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and when his life was threatened (due to his own impulsiveness) he flees to a remote place where God met him and spoke to him and sent him on a whole new life calling.
Think of Elijah: a prophet of God with a powerful ministry and when his life was threatened, he ran for a solitary place and God met him there, cared for him and spoke to him.
Think of Jesus, who went to a solitary place before his ministry began and spent FORTY days there. There he was tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels and was prepared for the ministry that lay ahead of him. Then he frequently returned to a solitary place with his disciples to maintain that ministry. And THEN he went to a solitary place with a few of his disciples to pray before the climax of his ministry at the cross.
We have a choice before us. We can consider times of self-isolation as a hardship OR we can view it as an opportunity to spend deeper time with God, in his Word, in prayer, in meditation, in silence and listening. A rich time of fellowship with God that our current culture and even our current church culture often does not make easy. Consider using passages like these to keep you focused in times of solitude:
Psalm 63, because it was written by David at a time when he was off in a deserted place
Isaiah 40, a message of hope from God through Isaiah at a time of distress
Lamentations 3:19-33 – part of Jeremiah’s lament after the destruction of Jerusalem
Jonah 2:2-9 Jonah’s prayer after his isolation in the belly of the fish
Luke 22:42 – an incredibly honest, simple and yielding prayer of Jesus in his most trying time.
Let self-isolation open the door for times of solitude with God to let him do a deep work in you.