“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
– Proverbs 18:1
Dear family of God,
As the pandemic prolongs and continues to limit person-to-person interaction, one of the top things that I am concerned about is loneliness and isolation. In the early days, we hoped this would be for just a few weeks. With a mix of fear and concern for one another’s health, we gladly lowered down our barriers to using all kinds of technology, stocked up our pantries, set up our home workstations and hunkered down for a few weeks of hibernated existence with our families at home.
But weeks have become months and the end is not in sight yet. While the partial re-opening and summer weather has been a relief, levels of anxiety and fear concerning the future are on the rise—especially among students concerning the new school year, those embarking on new careers, and of course those who have experienced loss of income. There is also indication that conflict, dysfunction, addictions and other unhealthy habits are on the rise. This has only served to add fuel to the flame of social and political divisiveness and social unrest.
I have caught my own heart sinking into despair, unhealthy self-talk, taking comfort in food and waiting for all this to be over so that I can be on mission again. Though, last I checked, the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) has not changed, the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:37-40) has not changed. Most of all, our Great GOD has not changed, his steadfast love toward us and his purposes in this world have not changed. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today (during the pandemic) and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Within a couple of paragraphs, I have gone beyond the scope of what I intended to write to you.
The fact that the church is scattered, divided, sleepy and distracted, eased or forced into unhealthy rhythms, and off mission should concern all of us. I don’t claim to have the answers, but seek to wake us up to the present reality. Yet, what is more important is to realize that God is still here in our midst and he is working, no less than he was with Joseph in the Egyptian prison, with Israel in the wilderness, with Daniel in the lion’s den, and Ezekiel in Babylon. The entire books of Daniel and Ezekiel are set in exile—yet God is not among the corrupt Jewish leaders in the Jerusalem temple, but with his remnant people in the exile. Yahweh Shammah “the LORD who is there” is his name. That’s the last word in the book of Ezekiel.
Peter writes to the elect exiles of the dispersion (i.e. the scattered church): Therefore, prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded (i.e. giving up vain addictions) set your hope (not on politics or riches but) fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance (this is no time to go back to your pre-Christian life), but he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:13-15). The entire book of 1 Peter is worthy of our sustained reflection during our exile. God is up to something in us and in our world—though we may not know what, his call to us is the same: Follow me.
So dear church, wake up! “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:23-25). Some practical starting points:
- Stay in the word. Catch up on your Bible reading plans, meditate on verses that hit you.
- Stay in prayer. “If you are a praying Christian, your faith will carry you. If you are not a praying Christian, you will have to carry your faith and you will get exhausted” (Ravi Z.).
- Stay in worship. Private, family, and corporate worship is not a burden, but an irreplaceable blessing. Sign up and show up.
- Stay in fellowship. Are you lonely? Do you know or think someone is lonely? Don’t wait. Reach out. Find creative and safe ways of meeting and staying in touch.
- Stay watchful. Watch your heart, habits, behavior, diet, technology use. Reach out to a trusted friend or your shepherding group leader for help if you need. “Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (John Owen).
- Stay on mission. Who is God prompting you to witness to or serve? Is it your neighbor, coworker, a relative, a friend, even a stranger? They will all be more open than before. Tarry not.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,