Thursday July 2, 2015

To The Isolated Christian

Joe Connolly

It is a sad fact that in our present day, there are very many Christians who are isolated and alone in their faith, knowing no other Christians locally.  I can attest to this, because for several years I was one of them.  I also know of Christians – either directly through email contact, or indirectly through others – who are alone, or very nearly alone in their local area.

The circumstances of the isolated Christian vary widely: You may be a new Christian, in whom a change has suddenly been wrought, resulting in you being made “different” to your peers. Alternatively, you may be a long established Christian who has perhaps left (or been driven out of) a false church.  Whatever the case, the isolated Christian is left with two options: either to subdue your new faith and conform yourself to the world – a foolish exercise that God will neither bless nor commend – or separate yourself from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17), and face isolation.

As one who spent several years alone in the faith, I have a few thoughts to share on the matter.  It is my hope that they might be of some help to others who may be in a similar situation.

The first thing to recognise in the midst of our earthly problems (and this goes for all problems) is this: God knows your plight.  Does the lonely Christian, who is grappling with feelings of intense loneliness and possibly rejection, find this fact to be of much comfort?  The answer is that they should, but at times our human frames have a habit of failing to properly acknowledge such truths, therefore denying the hope that is found therein.  Such is the nature of the natural, carnal being!  I know, because at times I also have found this knowledge – though readily accepted and believed by myself – to provide little tangible comfort.

Indeed, at other rare times, I have even felt that God Himself had abandoned me.  That is a blunt statement, and it may shock some, but I am certain that many Christians have secretly felt likewise.  I take no pride in admitting to having felt this way at times (indeed, it shames me), but it is my hope that other Christians who are struggling may see that they are not alone in their trials, and that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.  (1 Peter 5:9)


“Few There Be”

One of the points that we should keep foremost in mind is that there are very few genuine Christians in the world.  “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  (Matthew 7:14)  Thus, I believe that the genuine Christian can cast aside any notion of being surrounded by scores of friends, unless he wishes to compromise in his faith, and join one of the many thriving “nominal” churches, wherein is found a works-based, feel-good, pseudo-Christianity; without the divine mark of God’s authorship, nor any preaching of His sovereign grace.

“Ah”, you say, “but I do not wish for ‘scores’ of friends!  Indeed, I only ask that I should not be so totally isolated – surely God could send me even just one other genuine believer!?”

As Christians we must understand that far more than simply being aware of our plight or circumstance, God has, for whatever reason, decreed that we be in the state that we now find ourselves in.  Again, does this seem to be of little comfort?  For the Christian who understands that our God is a Sovereign Lord, in Whom resides all power, and Who promises to work all things together for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28), it should be an encouragement!  As Peter continues in the fifth chapter of his first epistle: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

God is Sovereign

I feel at this point it may be helpful to briefly consider what it means for God to be a Sovereign God, the Lord of all creation (I say “briefly” because one could write – and indeed many have written – entire books on the subject!  A particularly helpful one is A. W. Pink’s “The Sovereignty of God”[1]).  There are very many who have considered the matter more perfectly than myself, but I shall try to share some thoughts on the subject which I feel are applicable to the topic at hand.

Who exactly is the God with whom the Christian has to do?  Firstly, He is the God “that made the world and all things therein” (Acts 17:24).  Re-read that verse, and take in the majesty of it.  The God of the Bible, Whom the fools of the world so scorn (Psalm 14:1), made everything visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16).  Everything created is subject to He Who is Uncreated, Who declares Himself as the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).  Not a single subatomic particle is outside of His reach, nor has any thing escaped being subject and subservient to Him.

So God created everything, but why?  The simple answer is: For Himself, and for His glory.  Proverbs 16:4 tells us that “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

The “Sovereignty” of God in its broadest sense may perhaps be succinctly defined as God’s supreme and ultimate power over all things everywhere: From creation itself, to His ordering and sustaining of created things, to the redemption of souls in Christ Jesus – those who are elected by God as a people for Himself.

It is rather an overwhelming thing to meditate on, and the temptation may be there to think that God is only over and beyond everything – completely removed.  God is indeed over and beyond everything, and cannot be contained in temples, nor even in “the heaven and heaven of heavens” (1 Kings 8:27), and neither is He “worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing” (Acts 17:25); but scripture speaks of a God Who knows His creatures on the most intimate of levels.

Job makes a beautiful statement in the 31st chapter, verse 4“Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?”  The Lord has numbered the steps of all of His children: From the very first unbalanced yet determined stumble as a small child, to the last footfall before death.  The Psalmist declares that God “…compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”  (Psalm 139:3)

Though He knows every single thing and being that He has created – down to the smallest detail – the God of the heavens and the earth declares that He loves His children.  So much so, in fact, that the Son of God Himself endured the greatest humiliation, physical pain, and incalculable spiritual suffering; all to save those that were given to Him.  God loved us and sacrificed Himself for us while we were yet His enemies: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)  He has adopted us as His children (Ephesians 1:5), and works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

God’s sovereignty over every thing, every power, and every being are all truths that the Christian can take the very greatest rest and comfort in.


Applying the Doctrine of Sovereignty to Isolation

Yes, the Lord could immediately send you someone at the very moment that your loneliness starts to become difficult for you.  But would a Christian genuinely appreciate such an intervention?  Can a man be grateful for a full belly if he has never hungered?  And can a person be truly thankful for the warmth given by a fire unless they have endured bitter coldness and the harshness of winter winds?  God tells us there is a time for every thing, there being “…a time to break down, and a time to build up” and “A time to get, and a time to lose” (Ecclesiastes 3:3, 6).  A man cannot truly appreciate the things he has received, unless he knows what it is to be without them.  And how stubborn and forgetful the human heart can be, which is always so inclined to rely on self rather than the Sovereign Lord!

It is also true that the isolated Christian is in good company.  The prophet Elijah is first introduced in 1 Kings 17:1, boldly stating before the wicked King Ahab: “As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” (1 Kings 17:1b)  Immediately after this audacious remark, Elijah was commanded by the Lord to turn eastward, “and hide thyself by the brook Cherith”, where he was to drink from the brook, and be brought food by ravens – alone.  After this period of isolation, he was sent to the heathen city of Zarephath, to lodge with a widow there.  However, Elijah was not the only godly man in Judah at this time.  In the following chapter, we are told of Obadiah, who “feared the LORD greatly” (1 Kings 18:3b), and who in the time of persecution under King Ahab’s pagan consort Jezebel, hid one hundred prophets of the Lord in caves, and fed them.

As A. W. Pink notes in his excellent commentary on the life of Elijah, the Lord could surely have sent Elijah to hide with these other children of God.  But, for the LORD’s own wise purposes, Elijah was isolated totally for a time.  This isolation taught him to trust in the Lord alone, for everything.  He relied on the providence of God, delivered miraculously by ravens, for his daily bread.  Whereas, notes Pink, if he were to have been placed with Obadiah and the others, a part of his human heart would surely put its trust in his fellows, rather than His Creator.  This is, unfortunately, part of the human condition.

What this shows is that God has a purpose for all things that He does.  And, concerning His children, it is God’s purpose to perfect them, conforming them to the image of His Son.  Trials are often put on us by God in order to achieve this, and Scripture in several places compares the process to the refining of gold or silver, where the dross is removed in the fire: “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10 – read also the wonderful proceeding verses!).  As the dross is removed from silver and gold, so also is our dross removed by the Lord, and the only place that dross is removed is in the heat of the furnace.  This causes the Christian to rely totally on His God, instead of on himself (see also 1 Peter 1:7).  It is for this reason that Peter said: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter 4:12).  Our trials are not odd occurrences outside of God’s knowledge or control, rather, we are given them for our edification.


What To Do

You could say that, in this position, there is not much that a person can do!  Concerning the situation of isolation, this is indeed the case; but this does not mean that a Christian should rest on his laurels.  One of the greatest lessons that a Christian can take to heart, and one that should be considered over and over, internalised, and worked out in the life of the Christian is this: To make the best of what God has given you, and to be content in the position that you find yourself in. (See Hebrews 13:5.)

Whatever you have now – in this very moment in time – has been decreed by the same Almighty God Who commended His love to you, in that while you were yet a sinner and an enemy, He shed His blood and died for you.  If you are a Christian who has been blessed with friends and fellowship, perhaps being unacquainted with the trials that I have aimed to outline above; then thank and praise God.  Likewise, if you are totally alone, but have the free and precious gift of salvation, and are convinced that you should not be looking to the world for social fulfillment: Praise God for His electing grace, His mercy and the wisdom that He has given you.  As the Apostle says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, give thanks to God in every thing.

For the Christian who is walking righteously, it is a wonderful truth to know that wherever you are at this very moment, it is exactly where God would have you be.  All the Christian can do – and indeed, should take joy in doing – is serving God wherever he has been placed and in whatever capacity he may.  One of the primary responsibilities given to the Christian is to obey God – to live our lives willingly and gladly under His Holy Law, as one of His adopted sons or daughters (Ephesians 1:5) –  not as a slave under a cruel taskmaster who resents the requirements put upon him.  This is how we prove we love the Lord (“if ye love me, keep my commandments.” – John 14:15).

And does it not further prove the love of God toward us, as well as our own inadequacy when we fail at times to be righteous consistently?  We are saved by grace, yet sometimes we may listen to the “old man” (Eph 4:22), bringing chastisements and great troubles upon ourselves.

We may of course – and indeed should – bring our troubles to the Lord, and leave them at the foot of the Throne of Grace.  Things may appear to be going very badly for us, but we do not know what the Lord is doing “behind the scenes,” just as Job did not when faced with his devastating trials.  Yet, though we do not know, we can be assured totally and completely that we may trust Him, and that God does all things well.

May every Christian be fully convinced of God’s goodness, and may we entrust our lives into the Lord’s worthy and righteous Hands.  Let us all take Him at His word concerning His promises toward us, and respond in like manner as Job who, instead of questioning God’s judgment and the circumstances he had been dealt, “…sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (Job 1:22b)

[1] If the reader looks for this book, be sure not to purchase it from “The Banner of Truth,” who have deceitfully removed Pink’s chapter on Reprobation.

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