“Have you ever been alone with GOD?” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)
I am very blessed in that I have several friends with whom I can engage in unfiltered discussions about spiritual and theological issues. There are still matters about which I’m not fully resolved, and so having the ability to wrestle with these things out-loud is important to me.
I had once such conversation a few days ago concerning how well individual Christians, many of whom are physically disconnected from their local churches because of Covid, are faring spiritually. I’ve had a little exposure to church leaders who conducted their ministries in physically and emotionally hostile environments, and I’ve long questioned how we in the West would handle it if there were significant and long-lasting obstacles to traditional church participation (i.e. church school, worship service, prayer gatherings, small groups, etc.) and the close relationships, mutual encouragement/support and calls to action that grows out of that fellowship.
I think we’re pretty much there, at least for a lot of former regular church goers. Unlike other parts of the world where hostility and sometimes virulent persecution of Christians is normal, Covid does not allow for the development of an “underground church” (except for maybe some anti-maskers and “Covid is a conspiracy” advocates). Nine months has been more than enough time for most of us to settle into new routines, including those who may have been church fringe players to begin with. Getting up on Sunday (or Saturday for some) morning and preparing to head to a church gathering place may have been replaced by new routines. Virtual attendance/participation has become an important tool for many. Some others may have checked-out enough that even virtual participation is inconsistent and maybe even unimportant. When Covid is no longer the threat it is now, will those groups return to in-person presence? Have new routines become so hardwired so that it is unlikely the local church will see them much, if at all?
The big questions for me are how many of them counted on regular physical attendance for their spiritual feeding, but never adequately developed the passion and discipline to feed themselves? How many are good with having someone else explain scriptural truths to them but never developed the habit of regularly digging into scripture themselves? How many are grateful to know someone is praying for them or will ask someone to pray for them but don’t have a prayer life of their own? How many don’t know what it’s like to spend time alone with GOD?
As a former local church pastor, these were always concerns. Imagine an adult who would have nothing to eat unless a parent or someone else prepared a meal and then literally fed it to them. Not only that, they wouldn’t even have much of an appetite, but would eat if someone provided it. As ludicrous as that sounds, it is not at all a far-fetched metaphor for those who have never developed any consistent, personal devotional life outside of the four walls of the church building. They “eat” only when they “come to church” and only what someone else serves them. The pervasive reality of Covid not only complicates this issue for these folks, it highlights it with a bold yellow highlighter.
Jesus, in one of His parables, used the example of ten young women who were to be the bridal attendants at a wedding ceremony. Because the wedding celebration could begin upon the arrival of the bridegroom, these young women needed to be prepared for both a daytime and a nighttime arrival. Consequently, each of them had lamps, but only five of the women had sufficient oil to take them well into the night. Instead of the other five getting oil for their lamps as night fell, they all fell asleep. Suddenly, word came that the bridegroom was near. They rushed to purchase oil. Meanwhile the wedding celebration began without those five. When they arrived, they were denied entry when the bridegroom said he didn’t recognize them.
While the ending may seem preposterous to our 21st century western ears, the parable was intended to be an object lesson on spiritual readiness. The oil enables the lamp to cast physical light in the same way that the indwelling Spirit enables the believer to cast spiritual light. Attaining capacity and demonstrating it in daily life is the validating indicator for each one desiring entry into the eschatological wedding ceremony (Rev. 19:7-9). That kind of oil can’t be purchased in a store; it is the direct result of regular alone time with the One who gives spiritual oil freely and abundantly to those who earnestly seek Him (Luke 11:13).
Covid, I think, has exposed the soft spiritual underbelly of those too dependent on others to give them their spiritual bread. That substance is needed daily (Matthew 6:11). Without it, we may not be ready when the Bridegroom arrives because we are not casting light…and not able to.
As Solomon said, there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:17). There is a time to get ready and then there is a time to celebrate. Let’s learn how to get alone with God now so that we can be ready later for the celebration.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2021. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.