The world has been interrupted by COVID19. The Olympics are postponed. All of us had things we were looking forward to canceled.
The apostle Paul knew all about having his plans blocked, including his visit to Rome. But in his letter to the Romans he told them,
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Rom 12:11–12
1. Stay Urgent – Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
It’s easy to lose motivation when you lose momentum, BUT for many this is an opportunity to assess what’s really driving your life.
Are you driven by the things God cares about? Is your fervor SPIRITUAL fervor?
People with an eagerness to serve find a way to add value to others even from a distance. Paul always found ways to advance the kingdom even from prison, he shared with guards, wrote letters, wrestled in prayer and welcomed visitors.
Let the fact that you have less opportunities in front of you lead you to the ones that really matter. Craig Groeschel says, “Limitation breed innovation.” In the Hope Quotient Ray Johnstone says,
The leader’s most important job is to stay encouraged. – Ray Johnstone
When you lose your fire, you lose your followers. All of us, leaders or not need to stay spiritually urgent in our mission to serve and spread the gospel for the sake of our families, friends and our own souls.
2. Stay Joyful – …be joyful in hope…
You fight for joy by fighting for hope. The good news for followers of Jesus is we have an unshakable hope. In uncertain times we have certain hope.
The best way to fuel you hope is to feed on God’s Word! Paul said,
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. Rom 15:4
Endurance springs from being encouraged by the stories of those who went before us. If God didn’t fail them, He won’t fail us.
God’s past provision points us to his future promise.
Looking back with humility, leads us to look forward with Hope. Learning from God’s past faithfulness, assures us of God’s future provision. With God there’s always hope.
As Sam said to Frodo in The Two Towers,
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam? Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.
The Bible is full of stories of people who had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t, because they had and an unshakable hope that this present darkness is but a shadow and will eventually be dispelled by God’s great light. This hope leads to…
3. Stay Patient – …patient in affliction…
Your ability to be patient is directly proportional to your hope in God’s promises.
Patience is NOT the resignation that things will always be this way, it’s the ability to deal with the troubles of today looking forward to the day they will go away.
For some reason, I enjoy disaster movies, but living through one is not the same. At first, the new reality comes with the excitement of new possibilities, but slowly the restrictions start to take their toll and you start to realize this is not an extended spring break. And without patience we won’t weather the storm.
If your plans have been blocked, ultimately God has allowed it to be blocked, God’s got other plans for you during this season. And part of that plan is to grow your patience. James said,
For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:3–4 NLT
God is using your problems today to grow your patience, so let it grow!
4. Stay Prayerful – …faithful in prayer
It’s amazing how easy it is for us to fill up our time with anything but prayer. One leader says the reason prayer is so hard for us is…
“Nothing about prayer appeals to our flesh.”
Many of us are literally stuck in our homes. If you are not carving out time to pray now, when will you?
The word faithful here means, “to continue to do something with intense effort.”
I want to challenge you to use this opportunity to take your prayer life to “a whole’nother level.” I’ve rarely met someone who is content with their prayer life! Most Christians, even the strongest among us, usually have a lot more room to grow in prayer.
I’ve personally been seeking to step up my game in the last year or so. Having lists I pray for everyday including my family, the individuals in my church, my discipleship group, and the Joshua Project unreached people group of the day and the country of the day in Operation World.
If you don’t have a plan, get one. I use the PRAY acrostic (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield) based on elements from the model of the “Lord’s Prayer” that Jesus taught us. For me I have been setting a timer so that I can dedicate time to prayer alone. Even if you need to start with just 5 mins a day, 5mins is better than no mins.
What is your next step for growing in your prayer life?
Let’s review Paul’s passionate plea to the Romans:
- Never Stop Serving Urgently
- Never Stop Hoping Joyfully
- Never Stop Waiting Patiently
- Never Stop Praying Faithfully
As Gandalf wisely told Frodo in the Fellowship of the Ring,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
You didn’t choose for your plans to get blocked, but they did. What will you do now?
This is Part 2 of Making the Most of Isolation, check out Part 1 Here.
2. Reach Out To Others
Paul wasn’t afraid reach out for help when he was alone,
“Please come as soon as you can… Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry… and …Do your best to get here before winter.” 1 Tim 4:9,11,21
Because of pride, many of us don’t reach out when we feel lonely. Instead of reaching out, we feel sorry for ourselves. One thing I’ve learned is that if there is someone you want to connect with, ask. The worst thing that can happen is they say no and you end up right back where you started.
As great as God’s presence is, we also need other people because God made us as relational beings.
Another time David was lonely was when he was on the run, hiding from King Saul in the desert. This time he needed someone else to encourage him, so God sent Jonathan.
“And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” 1 Sam 23:16
Jonathan and David established a special bond when David served Saul. In his moment of need, Jonathan found David before his dad could and helped him find his strength in God. Notice, David didn’t find strength in Jonathan; Jonathan helped David find his strength in God.
The best way we can encourage others is help people find their strength in God.
Sometimes we can strengthen ourselves in God; other times we need others to help us find our strength in God. Often we need both! So if you are lonely, reach out. And when you find a Jonathan, hold on to them.
Back to Paul, I want you to notice that he wasn’t just asking for help. Even in his loneliness, he was sending greetings to the people he loved. Instead of waiting to get love from others, go ahead and give love yourself.
One of the reasons some of us stay in loneliness is because we are selfish. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, start thinking about how you can share love with others and help others out. Find someone else who who is lonely; you can both be lonely together!
When Jesus came, he loved the lonely and the outcast.
- He invited a hated tax collector to be in his inner circle
- He let a prostitute wash his feet with her tears
- He touched the untouchable lepers
Jesus loves the lonely, and if you are lonely today, Jesus loves you. One of the ways Jesus shows us his love is through the church, his body on earth. David said,
God places the lonely in families. Psalm 68:6
You don’t have to be lonely. There are people who want to help you find your strength in the Lord your God. I want to challenge you to reach out, because very often you get back what you put out. Don’t let selfishness or fear stop you from investing in relationships. Solomon said,
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1
Loneliness can lead to losing our minds in other ways, and into a spiral of selfishness. Jesus came to die so that he could bring us into his family. The day he was crucified, from noon until 3pm the sky went dark as Jesus hung on the cross, until as Matthew records,
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Matthew 27:46
In that moment, Jesus experienced the loneliness of being separated from his Father that he had never experienced.
As the song, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us says,
“How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away, As wounds which mar the Chosen One, Bring many sons to glory.”
In that moment, Jesus was forsaken temporarily so we don’t have to be eternally. His death and resurrection made it possible for him to offer us his presence, starting now, and lasting forever. Have you accepted Christ’s sacrifice?
A few moments before Jesus died, a thief who was being crucified beside him said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42–43
I don’t care what you’ve done, it’s not too late for you and there is room for you. Jesus said this to his disciples before he left them to die on the cross,
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:1–3
There is room for you! Don’t let your heart be troubled; choose to trust that Jesus is preparing a place for you. As the song Who You Say I Am says, “In my Father’s house, There’s a place for me, I’m a child of God, yes I am.”
Today if you feel alone, remember God’s presence, reach out to others, and trust God to help you leave loneliness behind!
To listen to the audio of this sermon go to https://subspla.sh/dwcjgct
After years of fighting the fight of faith, the Apostle Paul finally reached the end of his journey. Awaiting his execution in a cold damp Roman prison, he wrote his last letter to his spiritual son Timothy. In Rome, Jessica and I got to visit the prison that was likely the one Paul was placed in before being executed.
He was deserted by his fellow worker and friend, Demas, who left to pursue the things of the world, and He was also actively opposed by a metal worker named Alexander who did great harm against his ministry. Paul’s other friends left for good reasons, leaving him to strengthen the churches.
Only his faithful biographer, Dr. Luke (who wrote Luke and Acts), stayed by his side. Then, when he was brought to court EVERYONE abandoned him!
It’s safe to say Paul was lonely. The man who helped many lonely souls find a spiritual family found himself lonely. If someone as loved and well connected as Paul can find himself feeling lonely, any of us can.
In a recent Harris Poll, almost 1 out of every 3 of Americans admitted to experiencing loneliness. If you are not lonely, someone around you is. So you can learn today how to help them.
But why do we get lonely?
- Maybe, like Paul, you are in a transition and isolated from the ones you love.
- Maybe, like Paul, the people you were once close to you have been ghosting you.
- Maybe, like Paul, you are actively being opposed.
- Maybe, like Paul, for whatever reason your season of life forces you to spend extended time alone.
How do we leave loneliness behind? In 16-18 Paul said,
16 The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. 18 Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen. 2 Tim 4:16-18
1. Remember God’s Presence
When everyone else left, God stood with him, strengthened him, and rescued him. Strength comes from remembering that God is standing with us. Everyone else will disappoint you eventually.
If you are follower of Christ, God is with you. Remember that.
Too often, when I’m feeling lonely the first thing I do is pull out my phone. I try to overcome my loneliness by texting someone or looking at social media. I feel better for a moment, but often at the end of being on Facebook I feel even more lonely than when I started.
Instead of pulling out my phone, I should pull out my Bible. Actually in verse 13 one of Paul’s requests for Timothy was that he would, “Also bring my books, and especially my papers.”
The Scriptures were sure to be included in his collection of books and papers. Instead of focusing on his isolation, Paul made himself productive.
My mentor in college, Max Barnett, used to tell me that
“If you are going to walk with Jesus, you are going to go through some lonely times.” Max Barnett
Sometimes Christ’s path for us is a lonely one. But God wants us to use those lonely times well. The best way to use that time is to spend it with God and dive deeply into his Word. I wonder if one of the reasons God allowed Paul to be put in prison was so that he would have time to read, study and write many of the letters in the Bible today.
Max would tell stories of being in college when his friends went to the movies, he would go on a date with God. He said he wouldn’t trade those times for anything in the world.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, get busy doing good things, read books that feed your soul or study Gods’ Word to remind yourself of God’s promises. The Psalmist said,
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life… If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. Psalm 119:50; 92
The Bible is full of God’s promises, like Heb 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Clinging to promises like this gave Paul the strength to say in vs 18 that, “the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom.”
You may feel lonely today, but someday you will be standing in front of Jesus and see him face to face. Paul knew that even if they killed his body, he was spiritually safe and could look forward to the glory of heaven.
David, my namesake from the Old Testament, had some pretty lonely times. One of the worst was when he and his men returned home from battle to find their town burned to the ground, and their wives and children gone.
I can’t imagine showing up to my house to have it burned down with no trace of Jessica and my sons. Understandably, it hit David and his men hard, and they wept until they physically couldn’t weep anymore.
His men then blamed David and talked of stoning him because they were so mad about losing their families. With nothing left and no one to support him, here’s what David did,
And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. 1 Sam 30:6
David had a decision: was he going to give up or would he go to the only one left with him, God himself. David was able to remind himself of God’s presence and found strength in the Lord. After David found the strength, he was able to lead his men to find the captors and get their families back.
You will go through some lonely times, but if God is with you you never have to go through them alone.
Next time you feel lonely, how will you remind yourself of God’s presence?
Read part 2 Here.
To listen to the audio of this sermon go to https://subspla.sh/dwcjgct
How should I pray for people in this crisis? Start with Paul’s prayer for the Romans,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Go to the God of hope! As we pray, we are to drawn on his overflowing reservoir of hope. If we hope in God, joy and peace are possible. We can pray for people to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit like joy and peace as they trust in Jesus. We should pray that they would…
Trust God as the source of hope. Not the economy, not a job, not health, but God as the source of hope.
Rely of the Holy Spirit for joy and peace. Joy and peace don’t come from seeking joy and peace, they come from seeking God and letting Him fill you with those things! It’s only by God’s power that we can consistently experience peace and joy.
Where are you looking for peace and joy? Go to the God of hope!
Faith is how you start, and faith is how you finish. Paul said,
This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” Romans 1:17
Other versions say “from faith to faith”, and “from faith for faith”, basically saying the entire Christian life is accomplished by faith.
Times like this, with so much uncertainty, demonstrate our daily need to always live by faith. Every step of the Christian life is by faith, we don’t move on from it!
Don’t forget faith!
In 3rd Century AD, an epidemic swept across the Roman Empire with 5,000 dying a day in Rome. The sick were abandoned in the streets and the dead were left unburied. In some places, the Christians were being blamed. But while others fled and left loved ones to die, it was the Christians who stayed back and buried the dead risking their lives by taking care of the sick.
Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity, argues that the dramatic growth of the church during that time can be attributed in part to care and compassion Christians showed for the sick. In other words, when they sacrificially loved their neighbors in a crisis it led to many coming to Christ!
Josh Howerton of Lake Pointe Church, observed that the cycle of world history goes this way,
“The world gets dark… The Spirit falls… The Church rises… People start seeing the light of the world! The world’s crisis is always the gospel’s opportunity!“
We want to do our best to STOP the spread of this virus, and at the same time we want the gospel go viral! We want the hope that we have to be contagious.
AW Tozer said in times like these, A scared world needs a fearless church. – AW Tozer
The night before Jesus faced His personal crisis on the cross, he showed his disciples how much he loved them by taking the role of a servant and humbly washing their feet.
A little later he said, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34–35
Howerton also says, “Wash your hands, then pick up a towel and wash some feet!” The world will recognize us by the way we love each other! In this crisis, we must choose generosity over greed, helping over hoarding, worship over worry, and faith over fear, instead of seeing what’s happening as an obstacle, see it as an opportunity! Henri Nouwen said,
My whole life I’ve been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered my interruptions were my work.
All our plans have interrupted, what will you do with the interruption?
Good fathers create an atmosphere of safety for their children. I grew up in a home where I felt protected by my dad, but even if you didn’t, followers of Jesus can rest in our Heavenly Father’s care.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:15
In Christ, you are a son not a slave, or you are daughter not a slave! You are the King’s kid. Since your dad is in control, you have no reason to fear. This Spirit of Sonship frees us from fear and assures us of his loving care.
Cry out to him like a kid cries out to their dad! He longs to give you comfort!
Hope is built on God’s promises. God made a promise to Abraham that required him to believe the impossible.
As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Romans 4:17
When we started Compass, God encouraged me with Romans 4:17, reminding me that he is, “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” I thought, if this is going to work, it’s got to be God! He’s the only one who can give life to the spiritually dead and make something out of nothing. Abraham knew this IS the kind of God we serve. Paul continued,
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Romans 4:18-19
Hoping against hope, Abraham believed. He didn’t know how it would happen, but he knew when God says it, he does it. Facing the facts of your situation doesn’t have to diminish your faith. Obstacles are often opportunities for God to come through in a bigger way.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20–21
Don’t waver in trusting God’s promises and goodness. As you fight fear with faith you will be strengthened and God will be glorified.
God’s has plenty of power to keep his promises. One of the best things you can do during this this time is to explore God’s promises like this one…
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
God’s purpose always prevails, and He is working everything out for your ultimate good and His ultimate glory. There are hundreds of other promises God has given of that can give you comfort and hope in dark times.
What promise will you cling to for hope today?
The inclination to isolate is more tempting now than ever. But our faith was never meant to be kept to ourselves.
The best way to stay encouraged is to stay connected. Paul longed to experience this with the Romans.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you
that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:11–12
Paul needed encouragement too! Your leaders need encouragement, maybe more than most. Don’t assume just because of their position that they are immune to discouragement. Leader, if you are normally pouring out, don’t be afraid to receive encouragement also.
There is a type of encouragement that can only come from community. As amazing as Paul’s letters were (good enough to be Scripture), he still wished to actually be with them.
As many churches and communities go online, don’t let mere receiving encouragement be a substitute for real interaction. Even if community needs to be digital, you can still make sure it’s mutual.
So many people are struggling with fear, anxiety and worry right now. Who can you encourage? Also, who can encourage you? Get around people who will strengthen you. Paul said this to Philemon,
I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. Philemon 6
Unshared faith is unfulfilled faith. You can’t experience all God has for you on your own. You need to be sharing it with others to experience all the benefits found in Christ!
Who can you share your faith with today?
It’s 4 weeks till Easter! With our church and many others going online, it’s time to fight fear with faith. Today I read…
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Jesus died for me, so my old life has died with him. Fear died, anxiety died, worry died, those things no longer have to control me. I still struggle with them, but I have power to fight them because of Jesus.
Jesus rose, so he lives in me. Because Jesus lives he can live his life in and through me.
Faith fuels my life. I’m powered by faith not by fear. Because he loves, I love, because he sacrificed, I sacrifice. Lord, forgive me for forgetting to look through the eyes of faith.
Jesus died for your sin and is now alive. He is offering to live his life through you, and give you the power to choose faith instead of fear, confidence instead of cowardice, and worship instead of worry. What will you choose?