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5 ways isolation can radically deepen your faith

March 27, 2020 by Robert Kenna in Asia

Day after day, this quarantine can feel like a devastating limit on our lives. We’re all experiencing little-to-no contact with others in our communities, churches and even within our own families—especially those who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions that compromise their immune systems.

However, it is essential to remember that throughout history, God has often used times of isolation and solitude to accelerate spiritual growth in His people like never before. 

Elijah experienced despair in the desert while he was on the run from Jezebel, but it’s also the very place he was cared for and heard the voice of God. 

David experienced isolation and anxiety while on the run from his enemies. Still, out of the experience, he wrestled with the presence and promises of God—which fueled some of the most inspiring Psalms in history. 

Joseph spent years in prison, John was exiled to Patmos, and even Jesus spent 40 days alone in the wilderness. These times were not meaningless; in fact, you could say they were some of the most critical in their lifetimes. Could it be that God is doing something similar in our lives today?

Could God use this time of isolation to spark a new personal revival in our faith?

If we take to heart some of the popular stories from persecuted Christians who’ve experienced separation—some in prisons, some on house arrest and others as secret believers cut off from any contact with Christian community because of their faith—the answer is an emphatic, yes. 

1. Isolation and solitude strip down our lives.

Isolation and solitude force us to look inside our own heart—to pause and look deeply—to see what’s there apart from the slapdash of our busy lives. Isolation simplifies our lives and amplifies our hearts—so we can approach God in a new and unfettered way. A slow way. 

One Chinese believer who spent 23 years in prison for his faith, says, “I was pushed into a cell, but you have to push yourself into one. You have no time to know God. You need to build yourself a cell, so you can do for yourself what persecution did for me—simplify your life and know God.”

In a way, this pandemic has pushed us all into a cell of sorts. And it can either be a present or a prison. One of the most difficult things to accomplish in a busy life is to carve out time, with God, undistracted.  

What if we accepted this time as if we were in a cell?

What if we let time slow down—and renewed our focus on God, prayer and His Word? What might He accomplish in us?

2. Isolation and solitude reveal the current that carries us.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, The Way of the Heart, writes:

“The basic question is whether we have not already been so molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives … Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude, we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusion of the false self.”

Isolation and solitude allow us to truly see what might be entangling us in this world and holding us back from seeing the actual spiritual reality—both in the external world and in our own hearts. Doing the work of the heart is not easy, but times of solitude, without distraction, provide clarity and vision to guide us on the deeper journey of faith. 

Whether it’s a subtle sin pattern, lies we believe, past hurts we’ve never moved through fully or just a slowly creeping love for the world that dethrones Christ as King in our lives. If we never sit still with God, it’s easy to let these things grow like barnacles on our hearts. Through isolation and solitude, we can face these realities, run toward Christ and shed the illusion. 

3. Isolation and solitude form the geography for an authentic encounter with God.

When Elijah ran in fear from Jezebel to the desert, he fell quickly into despair—asking the Lord to take his life. However, it was in this isolated desert experience that God gave Elijah what he needed and even allowed Elijah to hear the very voice of God. 

Similarly, Hea Woo, a North Korean Christian imprisoned in a labor camp for her faith, powerfully experienced God when she was alone and uncertain she would survive to the next day. Hea Woo lived through deplorable concentration-camp conditions, but it was in this isolation and that she heard the voice of God. 

“Physical labor was hard, but something harder was that we did not have freedom of faith,” Hea Woo says. “We could not pray freely, but I still prayed in [my] heart. When people were asleep, I woke up to pray. It was so pitiful that we did not have freedom of faith; I really yearned for freedom.

“Although there was nobody, God protected me with His grace. When I prayed that I could become light and salt, He told me to ‘share and sacrifice.’ And he also told me to evangelize. There were so many answers I got through my prayer.”

It was through these prayers that Hea Woo started sharing her faith and five other prisoners gave their lives to Christ. They met in the outhouse for worship together. Later, Hea Woo was released and she’s alive today, but it was in this prison experience that God refined and purified her faith, she says. 

What might God be saying to you in His still, small voice during this time of isolation?

4. Isolation and solitude can expand our prayer lives.

Our physical space is limited in times of isolation. Still, it can expand our spiritual space—opening our eyes to the needs around the world and our ability to step into those stories through the power of prayer.

When we meet with Christians who’ve experienced extreme persecution, the No. 1 request they often have is for more prayer. It’s during their times of trial and loneliness that they see the invisible impact of the prayers of the saints—it’s the greatest resource we have to give and receive. And it’s the most critical discipline we can engage in redeeming the time when we experience isolation and solitude.

As you pray for believers all over the world, your prayers are inching the Kingdom—and all of creation—ever closer to the day we see in Revelation when “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

5. Isolation and solitude can increase our passion for His presence.

Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was held for more than two years of a life sentence in a North Korean labor camp. When he was released, he shared his story.

“From the first day of my detainment [late January 2015] to the day I was released, I ate 2,757 meals in isolation by myself. It was difficult to see when and how the entire ordeal would end,” Lim said through his English interpreter.

“During the winter, I had to dig holes that measured one meter wide and one meter deep. The ground was frozen. The mud was so hard that it took two days to dig one hole. It was incredibly challenging. My upper body was sweating. My fingers and toes were frostbitten. I also worked inside a coal storage facility, breaking apart coal,” he said. “In the spring and summer, I worked outside, eight hours a day, in the scorching sun, under the constant watch of two guards.”

Lim reported that the hard labor took a toll on his body, causing him to lose 50 pounds and be hospitalized four times—the first time for two months.

Lim said he knew people were praying for him and that daily, the feeling of loneliness and isolation turned to “peaceful solitude with God.”

“While I was laboring, I prayed without ceasing. I did not have a day of gloom,” he said. “My moments of discouragement, resentment, and grumbling turned into courage, joy and thanksgiving.”

Every Sunday was a rest day, so he said he spent his 130 Sundays worshiping—for eight hours every week. During that time, he also wrote five new hymns in Korean, some of which were sung by his congregation.

We may never experience the extreme isolation of Pastor Lim. Still, times of separation and solitude can drive us back into the beauty of the presence of God like nothing else can. Reminding us of the words of King David, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”

“Our task is to … concentrate on the real but often hidden event of God’s active presence in [our lives]. Hence, the question that must guide our activity is not how to keep busy, but how to keep from being so busy that we no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.”  

—Henri Nouwen