PROVERBS 18:1-2: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” ESV
OBSERVATION: Have you ever isolated yourself from others in your time of trial? Isolation is one of the key ways the enemy of our souls positions us for his attacks. There is something in our human nature that tends to pull away from others in our times of crisis or disappointment. We need to learn and understand how destructive this pattern actually is.
In 40 years of pastoral ministry I have both witnessed and been the subject of isolation. Isolation is often linked to times of great trial, disappointment, and personal offense. However, isolation can also be the result of temptation and the attempt to walk the fence in our spiritual lives. As one studies the pages of Scripture they will discover that when someone isolates himself from the people of God, it never turns out well.
One key example of this is found in the life of David and his fall into sin. David was alone and isolated from his army while his army was engaged in war. Isolation usually leads to idle time. Isolated, idle, and not engaged in his duty, David found himself walking on the roof of the palace and looking where he should not have been looking. This led to his sin with Bathsheba, the death of Uriah his close ally, the death of a newborn child, and the eventual rebellion of his son Absalom against his rule and the kingdom. All of this could have been avoided if David had not isolated himself!
Here is the pattern I have observed during my years as a pastor. Someone is hurt or offended, or is facing an extremely difficult time n their life, and the first thing they give up is their church attendance. The Bible likens us to sheep, so in essence, they decide to leave the sheepfold. The enemy is very crafty. He tries to convince them that they can do just fine staying at home, reading their Bible, and praying. Yet, isolated, idle, they begin to rehearse their hurt and disappointment over and over again. And one by one, they begin to stop praying, and reading the Bible. They are now alone, without their spiritual armor, and open to the attack of the enemy.
When the enemy of our souls comes to attack, he does not choose to attack the strong sheep. He looks for the stragglers, for the isolated and wounded sheep. He is not a shepherd at all. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Bible warns us over and over again of his method of attack.
- “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” John 10:10-13 ESV
- “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV
When we are going through great trials, when we have been wounded emotionally, when we have encountered great disappointment or loss, we must resist the temptation to isolate ourselves from the sheepfold. The church, the Body of Christ, is this sheepfold. It is the place of protection and healing for the people of God. When a sheep is wounded it needs to be protected and surrounded by the prayers and love of the other sheep, as together they look to the Great Shepherd for His healing power and care. Surrounded in love they are protected from the attacks of the enemy and from the pitfalls of isolation and idleness.
But, what do you do when the people who are the cause of your woundedness are the very people in your sheepfold? Jumping from church to church is so common today. If someone looks at us cross eyed we simply get in the car and drive to the church down the street. And, in a short time we find ourselves facing the same issues and problems with the new sheepfold we have identified ourselves with. As in marriage, so in the life of the church. We are called to work through our issues, to speak the truth in love, and to find reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing – right where God planted us. The church is not supposed to have a revolving door. The church is only supposed to have a sending door.
During my times of deepest despair, disappointment, physical and emotional duress, I have found the safety of being in the midst of God’s people. There were times when I led God’s people. And there were times when they surrounded me in love and carried me. Yet, in all of these times I was surrounded by both the people of God and the presence of God. The times in my life where I isolated myself always led to deeper hurt and disappointment. I have found how desperately I need to be a part of the people of God, the church, His Church! I have found the truth that Proverbs proclaims,
- “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way,
- “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 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, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV
If we are going to enter into the holy place in worship, if we are going to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, if we are going to hold fast to our confession – then we need each other. The call to worship, to faith, and to perseverance is a call to the sheepfold, not just to an individual sheep. We need each other in our walk of faith and service in the Lord. It is through the gifts and love of the Body of Christ that we are nurtured, encouraged, and protected as we serve the Lord and look forward to the Day of his appearing.
This morning the Lord is reminding me of the importance of His Church as I begin a new chapter in my life. I am no longer an undershepherd, a pastor leading a congregation. I am now one of the sheep called to join my heart and hands in love and service to the other sheep, and to my Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the first time the roles in my life have changed. Yet, as I have seen the sheepfold from both sides I have grown in love with God’s Church, and I look forward to my new role in encouraging others to move from isolation into the sheepfold of God’s people.
There is great love and protection in the Family of God!
In Jesus Name!