Genesis 2:18
It is not good that man should be alone

Luke 5:15-16
But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

I have heard several times in the past couple of days people reminding one another (reminding me) of the difference between isolation and solitude. This isn’t a new concept for some of you or to the counseling world, but it’s new to a lot of us, maybe especially us extroverts that don’t do this “alone” thing very well. In light of this, I want to mutually confess the pitfalls of isolation and then wade into the warm spring of Gospel-Solitude.


1 Peter 5:8
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

When a predator is looking to overtake a victim, he begins by trying to separate him from his group which offers him safety. We see it clearly in the animal kingdom, and see it with great horror among abusive people. But it is also true in the spiritual world.

When we are isolated, we become vulnerable to lies from outside and inside. We don’t have an accountability-filter to help us discern what is real and what is false, what is truth and what is a lie. Here are a few of these tactics:

  • When I am by myself, I think I’m actually and truly alone. But I’m not. The Lord has told us perpetually throughout history that we are never alone; that he will never leave nor forsake us; that he dwells within us and we dwell within him.
  • When I am by myself, I begin to believe that I have been abandoned. I feel like I’m not loved, wanted, needed or valuable. This tends to happen because we rate our value and identity on what we accomplish and what others say to and about us.
  • When we are by ourselves we are more susceptible to overt sins. (Think broad here: lust, gluttony, sloth, over-spending etc). We may think that nobody will know and therefore it doesn’t really matter. But sin isn’t a matter of consequences as much as it’s a matter of love, and fidelity to our Lord because of his faithfulness to us. Be alert when you sense yourself falling into a place of isolation.


Psalm 46
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

When Jesus was getting stormed on all sides, he took a personal prayer retreat (Luke 5:15). He knew that all of his strength and hope sprung out of his communion with the Father and the Spirit. He didn’t go off by himself because he was weak but because he actually knew what was real, what was essential. And what was coming.

Right now we are all faced with what is mostly likely the least amount of human contact and connection you’ve ever had. With very few exceptions, we literally can’t be physically near each other. Whether or not you are an introvert or extrovert, we all crave intimacy; we crave affection; we crave loving touch. Science has proven and confirmed what Scripture has always taught: “It is not good for us to be alone.” We were designed in God’s image to be in relationship and we are weakened outside of them.

So what do we do in this time when we are so limited?

This alone-time is an opportunity to truly and deeply strengthen three other relationships. I invite you now to join me in intentionally using this time to re-calibrate what’s most important in life.

  1. With your loved ones. If you are able to be near to your loved ones, what would it look like to take this time to intentionally grow closer? Asking questions. Listening. Sitting down and learning new things.
  2. With the Lord. What a time we have to have actual, deep, undisturbed, quiet time where we can read, talk, listen and invest.
  3. With yourself. None of us truly know ourselves. We are all (to a degree) terrified of what we’ll find if we really look. But it is utterly imperative. So much so that John Calvin, as he began his historical work (The Institutes), his first sentence was this: “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves”

When the time comes for us to come together again, if we could have grown a little more in our primary relationship with the Lord, we will be able to more freely engage with one another. We can enjoy each other without strings, without forcing the other person to make us feel complete, because we’ll already realize that we ARE complete in Christ. This solitude time, though wrought with great struggles, can actually be used by God to grow us in ways we couldn’t have grown because we weren’t willing to engage “self-solitude”.

This challenge toward healthy solitude might feel overwhelming. It leaves me hoping that I have the strength to do it. Then I remember that the power has already been given to me. That I can find joy and health when I’m alone because, in fact, it is literally impossible for me to be alone. I remember the last days of Jesus. He began the week by being with his best friends in the upper room enjoying community, conversation and the Passover meal (that was missing the lamb, because he WAS the lamb). But a short time later Jesus and only a few of his closest brothers went to the Garden of Gethsemane as he was preparing for the Cross. As they entered Jesus (in Luke 22) “withdrew from them” so that he could be in solitude with His Father, face to face. Though a horribly painful time, what intimacy he and the Father had at that time. Deep sorrow, emotion, pain and conversation.

And then…the cross. Jesus was truly isolated in ways we can never remotely understand. He was utterly alone and separated, forsaken, by the Father. In so doing he paid the price of our isolation. And in rising again he has given us new life. And in being glorified into perfect intimacy with the Father, he sent his Spirit to us to dwell in us, and us in Him.

It’s in this truth, this hope, that I can mediate when I am by myself, letting the Gospel remind me of how, when I am listening to the lie that I’m an orphan, I am a beloved, cherished son of God.

Memory Care

Psalm 42
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
6 my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

It’s pretty embarrassing when somebody catches me talking to myself. Maybe it’s when I’m doing a project around the house and I complain at myself for not being able to hit a nail straight; or maybe it’s when I’m trying to write a blog and I tell myself how dumb I am for not being able to think of the right word to use. But sometimes when I talk to myself it’s with words of encouragement, like after I finish a workout and (though it feels arrogant) I silently proclaim “Man, I killed it today” or as I eat the brisket that took me 12 hours to smoke I proudly tell myself “This is pretty dang good.”

Here’s reality: we talk to ourselves constantly, proclaiming “truth” to our souls. Sometimes this “truth” is actually a lie, and other times it’s actual Gospel Truth. And it’s often hard for our hearts to tell the difference.

Sometimes I tell myself how alone, unlovable, incompetent and worthless I am. Lies.

Sometimes I tell myself (not in a personally prideful way) that I am a man of value, promise, ability and love. Truth.

Here in Psalm 42 the Psalmist (the sons of Korah) lets us into his inner thoughts; the things he is experiencing, feeling, thinking, saying, fearing, hoping. I want to pull out a handful of truths that we can apply to our real, everyday life. Especially when there is fear, strain and pain (like right now with COVID-19).

Be Honest

Jesus has no care for your buttery religious platitudes. He did not come to pat you on the back while you shallowly proclaim that you are “too blessed to be stressed.” Now, I do know (and struggle with envy) those who have a super optimistic and faithful outlook, and really aren’t (often) struck with anxiety and fear. This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how the Lord longs for us to be truly honest with the concerns, pains, fears, doubts, vices, tears and wailings in our life. (He also wants to hear about the sweet joyous things, but hold onto that thought for a second). Enough of the “I’m fine, how are you” conversations we have with ourselves and with Jesus. Dig deep, like this Psalmist, and cry out that there are waterfalls and waves crashing over us, and it feels like we are going under; it feels like our Lord has forgotten us; it feels like we are alone, out life is over, futile, wrecked.

But don’t stop there…this is just the beginning of hope and healing.

Talk to Yourself

Sit in the pain and fear. Try to actually hear the enemy that is trying to convince your heart that you are overcome, and then talk back. Begin to have a back and forth conversation with that broken part of you that is hurting. This Psalmist, when he is feeling overwhelmed, turns to his own soul and says “Why are you downcast?” He says “He little guy, what’s going on? What are you REALLY afraid of? What’s making you hurt?” I think he sits and listens to his little broken soul, and then he calmly, truthfully and hope-fully whispers love into his soul. He tells himself “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him!” I don’t think this is a directive to us but a directive to himself! It’s not something weird or magical, but a practical way to be honest with what’s happening inside your heart, and letting the Holy Spirit speak Love into the weak and hurting places.

(HERE is a tremendous podcast by Church DeGroat to help explain what it means in times of anxiety to honesty “talk to yourself” in a hope-filled, productive way.)

Memory Work

The practical work of finding this hope is wrapped up in this one word: “Remember.” Over and over and over and over God tells his people to “remember.” God’s people would set up stones and monuments to that, when later generations would ask about them, those who have gone through the Red Sea and Jordan River would remind themselves and others that God’s rescuing steadfast love has never ever ever failed. When the armies attacked; when they were enslaved; when hope seems to have been lost, God himself “remembered” his people and rescued them (No, God never forgets us, but “God remembering” is a literary device to comfort our hearts as it reminds us that we are on His mind, and He longs to save us).

So, what about you? How do you do this? Amy (my wife) knows how much I need this in my everyday life, so she bought me a simple spiral notebook for me to write down what is happening in my heart. It’s not really a diary, but a place where I jot down little words and phrases. My personal way (we can each do it differently) is to have 2 simple columns: one that says “Thankful” where I just write a word of what I am thankful and the other says “Helpful” where I am asking for God to come intervene (I include confession in this columns).

Ultimately, the very best Memory Work and Self-Talk I can do is to hold onto 42:8

8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

Look at the verse more closely. The LORD himself is talking to himself. Even though God is Love itself, he “commands” his HESED (his Steadfast Love) to overwhelm and overcome us. When it feels like the waterfalls and waves are crashing over, it is actually God himself and He steadfast love surrounding us.

Jesus himself allowed Death itself to crash over him; the Father and the Son both went through the cross-centered pain and strain of being “forsaken” so that, even when this world crashes around us, we have a Father that will protect and hide us under His wings. Jesus has secured for us our perfect Home and perfect Family that will never perish, spoil or fade.

This by no means minimizes the reality of pain, hurt and true threats around us. But it can, the Spirit’s power, put them into eternal perspective. Very very slowly, prayerfully, graciously, God’s love can begin to eclipse our anxiety. Our anxiety may (likely will) still be there, but so will our realization of our Loving Father.

Giantest Giant

I suspect that a lot of you are like me. Have you had (or how often have you had) that dream where danger in some form was pressing in on you…your house on fire, an intruder approaching your room, a looming car crash….and. you. are. paralyzed. Your window won’t open; your feet can’t grip the ground; your legs are immovably heavy. You are stuck and have to face sure doom.

This stuckness has sprouted roots into all of our hearts ever since the Garden. It was there that Adam and Eve, after cracking Creation itself, hear the footsteps of the Lord and crouch down in shame and fear. And they’ve passed this inheritance down to all generations like a bad heirloom that nobody wants.

To get a better understanding of this incapacitating fear, let’s look at a beautiful comparison/contrast in Numbers 13 & 14 where God’s people are on the verge of entering the Promised Land after being miraculously rescued from Egyptian slavery through the parting of the Sea:

Numbers 13
30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

A collection of men were sent to scout out the land that the Lord has sworn to them. But there was a problem Most of the men came back with a terrifying report that the land was teeming with murderous overwhelming enemies that would surely wipe them out. And then there was Caleb and Joshua who were sure of their victory.

The difference between these two responses has nothing to do with how big or how real their opposition was. It was about how big and how real they saw their Lord, and how sure his promises were. And it still is.

We are currently living in a crisis that virtually nobody alive has ever experienced. Adding fuel to this fire is the instant availability of information, much of it powerful enough to save countless lives (i.e. the “flattening the curve“), some of it so false and/or inflammatory that it might actually cost some lives…for certain cost many of us a peace and strength that the Lord wants for us.

So what does the Gospel actually mean in this territory, where microscopic giants are wreaking havoc? Let me pull a few things out of this passage (and beyond) to give us direction and hope:

  • Use Wisdom: God’s people, holding onto God’s promises, also used the brains, hearts and information available to make the wisest moves forward, especially when it came to protecting the most vulnerable among them. Moses send scouts ahead not out of fear but out of wisdom. As we see at the end of the story, the faithlessness of God’s people caused them to wander in the wilderness, but the Lord still protected His children, the vulnerable ones, and would still guide them into the Promised Land behind the leadership of Joshua and Caleb.
  • Hold onto God’s Promises more than the empty threats of this world. Yes, COVID-19 is a very serious problem and has/will cause untold destruction. And God is even bigger, and has/will bring about untold glory and restoration. We see in Numbers 14:21 this promise among a fainting people: “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.”
  • We as a church aren’t going underground or crouching in fear, but mobilizing into smaller “scout groups” (like Moses sent out) so that we can be more relational, more effective, more personally and practically loving than we could be in a larger cluster. This pandemic is absolutely horrible. And yet an opportunity for us to be refined as followers of Jesus as we hold onto him rather than this world, and sacrificially serve others as a living testimony not to our own courage but to the One that has come to set us free.
  • As you read that, please wisely evaluate your current role and calling. Moses sent out “heads of the people of Israel” (Num 13:3). He did not send out those who were the more vulnerable and at risk. If you fall in this category, please allow the rest of the Body of Christ to go ahead on your behalf. Let the body serve the body, and serve the community. To God be the Glory.
  • Finally, in the end not only will God get the Glory (Num 14:21) but he will also bring his people into the Promised Land…in His perfect way and in His perfect time. We know that to be perfectly true because Jesus has already gone before us and defeated the greatest threatening giant: sin, fear and death. On the cross we see the death of death itself. Whereas as ALL fearfully looked on the horizon and saw the grim reaper justly swinging his sickle, Jesus stood his ground, was cut down by the sickle meant for us, and three days later rose again in full beauty and glory so that now the sickle, though it will one day take our flesh, will never touch the hearts and souls of those that know and trust in Jesus as the Giantest Giant of all.

Joshua 1:9
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

John 16:33
(Jesus said) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

I encourage you to join me in sitting at the Lord’s feet, even if your knees are knocking together and you don’t want to, meditating and worshiping using the song embedded below: Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me

Evil Schemes

Mark 5:1-20 (excerpts below)
2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces.

9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The narrative of Good vs. Evil permeates virtually every story we know and love. There is always a protagonist and an antagonist; a good guy and a bad guy; light vs. dark.

  • Skywalker vs. Vader
  • Avengers vs. Thanos
  • Axis vs. Allies
  • John McClane vs Hans Gruber
  • Kevin McCallister vs. Wet Bandits

The reason this battle is so pervasive in our stories is because it is written in our very DNA. From our inception we have been designed for perfect love, but we’ve listened to and followed the lies and deception of the evil-one. What is so terribly embarrassing is that his schemes are not creative in the least. From the beginning he keeps whispering twisted lies that God isn’t who He says he is and we aren’t who he says we are. These same lies keep coming in different forms, enticing us to live for ourselves, be our own rulers, kings….gods…usually coming back over and over to sex, money and power. But when you think about it, why would he change his schemes since they are clearly working just fine.

As we look through the most vivid demon-story in Scripture we can see several tactics our enemy uses, followed up with the one true remedy and victory. Here are a couple of these tactics:

  1. Divide and Conquer. The man with an “unclean spirit” (“demonized”) was overtaken by the enemy and separated from community, from himself, from hope. This is a first-stage tactic: isolation, loneliness and hopelessness.
  2. DeHumanize. We are made men and women of value, precious in God’s sight. But this tomb-dwelling man was so hopeless he became less “himself” — he felt that his God-Image was so broken that he wailed and cut himself. In our sin we are literally becoming “less ourselves” by living contrary to our identity of love.

In reality, we see two different truths about our enemy:

  1. They are more powerful than we think. These demons teamed up and dominated this tomb-man. They played him like a puppet. For a moment, don’t get lost in the “possession” language. The truth is that these horrible and personal forces either have an evil controlling behavior, or they have (more often) an evil influential behavior. Every one of us hear and respond more than we know to these whispers, telling us to serve ourselves, turn our backs on truth and our Savior, use others to elevate ourselves.
  2. They are less powerful than we think. Re-read the incredible narrative of Jesus’ encounter with these beasts. There was no battle whatsoever. When the demons even saw Jesus, they fell face-down and pleaded for mercy. Jesus didn’t have to lift a finger…he merely spoke. He simply commanded the demons to go, and they went. Though we can easily be afraid of evil, the honest truth is that, though we ought to respect it, Jesus has full and utter control over them, and he has come to “give abundant life” (John 10:10). He has come to set us free from the power of sin and darkness. Even at Jesus end, when Peter wanted to free Jesus from arrest, Jesus said that he had twelve times the ability to be free…

Matt 26:52-54
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

But…he chose to go to the cross instead because, in so doing, he put death to death. He finally and fully crushed the head of The Serpent so that, though his tail whips back and forth causing damage, his defeat is sealed and Christ’s victory is fully won.

But for now we live in a world filled with trials and temptations, with our enemy whispering lies and death into our ears. To get a clearer vision of these lies, of Satan’s schemes, as well as the Truth we need to hold onto as we face the lies, Thomas Brooks wrote a book in 1652 called “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” where he lists out dozens and dozens of our enemy’s schemes, each followed with a handful of different Gospel Truths to combat and protect our hearts and lives from what the enemy is trying to do: to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).

You can read the entire book online for free HERE

Or read a short summary (for free) HERE

Here are a few of these scheme/remedy combinations:

Scheme: “Others sin worse than me”

Remedy: The Truth that we need to have our eyes humbly and repentantly on ourselves, not on others. We don’t know others’ hearts and are called personally to take God’s love, life and truth seriously. Life and morality are not a competition but a life of Jesus-given victory, life-long repentance and dependence.

Scheme: “God will forgive me”

Remedy: The Truth that sin decays and destroys. Yes, God will forgive you, but sin has consequences and causes damage to others and you.

Scheme: “You are worthless; focus on your failures”

Remedy: The Truth that you are made in God’s image. For all who are in Christ the Lord proclaims over us what he proclaimed over Jesus as His baptism: This is my son, whom I love, in him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17)

There are dozens and dozens of these lies/remedies. I would encourage you to give them a glance and ask the Spirit to guide you into a place of God’s joyful presence

For 2 of my sermons on this topic, click HERE and HERE.