Isolated But Not Alone

The week of March 16, 2020, our church was told we couldn’t gather. The same week, my U.S. university-attending daughters bought tickets to Dubai and arrived home the day before the airports shut down. (We loved having the girls home!) After they arrived, only one of us could leave the house at a time with a permit once every three days. At first it was fun, but it’s not easy having five adults locked down in the same house 24/7 with online school in session at various hours of the day and night.

Of course, all of us hoped that things would turn around soon. But then the cancelations started rolling in: retreats, conferences, graduation ceremonies, summer abroad programs, internships, training, and a language immersion capstone year. All of our plans were canceled with a slew of emails.

James wrote:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

If nothing else, God confirmed to us that we are not in control. We were locked down in Dubai, were quarantined after traveling and then my son got COVID. He recovered quickly but we were quarantined again. I’m well aware that we did not suffer the worst of COVID. We had our plans canceled and were shut inside most of the summer, but many people we know have lost jobs and some have lost loved ones to this pandemic.

It is now six months later. COVID-19 numbers are still spiking all over the world.

Have you been struggling this COVID season?

How can we remain calm in the midst of uncertain futures, isolation and loss? What we need is a deep reservoir of contentedness and joy.

We fill the reservoirs of our hearts not just by dutifully having a quiet time, reading our Bibles and praying. We need to draw near to God by delighting in the Scriptures—hearing from our Lord personally, with his word filling our minds and seeping down into our hearts. That’s what we need to go for daily. That kind of delight (over the long-term) will overflow into consistently more joyful lives that our circumstances can’t diminish.

Psalm 16 shows us where this kind of joy comes from. David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote Psalm 16. David knew God but he still had trouble in life. He was hunted by Saul. His family betrayed him. He fell grievously in sin. But, in spite of all that, look at Psalm 16 and see the communion David enjoyed with the living God:

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

David knew something about uncertainty and loss. He may not have experienced a pandemic, but at times he was a refugee on the run—like the apostle Paul: “fighting without and fear within.” He lost his job, and he lost beloved sons. And yet, David possessed the unshakable joy characterized in this psalm. How so? Because he knew the Lord. Psalm 16 is all about communion with God—taking refuge in the Lord (v. 1), who is his “chosen portion and [his] cup” (v. 5). The Lord was at David’s right hand (v. 8).

Sometimes we can get so caught up in life that we lose our purpose. We forget that God is our chosen portion; he is the goal. We think the weight of the world is on our shoulders and don’t remember that he holds our lot.

The remedy is this: knowing the Lord increasingly— sitting regularly in his presence, relating to him through his word. We need the Lord infinitely more than anyone or anything needs us.

Verse 11 is the punch line of Psalm 16. Let’s look more closely at each phrase of this verse:

“You make known to me the path of life.”

The path of death is where the world will take us—futility, hopelessness. Jesus called it the road to destruction. But the path of life is the experience of communion with God, leading ultimately to the new heavens and new earth, where we will be with Jesus forever. It’s the path of wisdom, and we find it in God’s word.

Do you want to be a woman with unshakable joy? Do you want to be a support for your husband and a firm foundation for your children? Do you want to help women in your church, and proclaim the gospel to your community? Then commit yourself, long-term, to steady, regular time in God’s word. That will give you the wisdom you need, and you’ll find yourself craving the Scriptures more.

Have you heard the adage, “You are what you eat”? When we eat, the nutrients from the food go into our bloodstream and feed all the cells of our body. We have to do this regularly or we become malnourished and eventually starve. The same is true of God’s word. If we have regular meals from the Bible where we ingest Scripture—meditating on what we’re reading—the truth goes into our minds and feeds our hearts, nourishing our souls. Over the years, this “food” changes the way we think. It changes the way we feel. It changes the way we react. It makes us healthy and strong and keeps us on the path of life.

Does Scripture change us in a matter of two weeks? Probably not. But do it for two years and you will be a changed woman. Do it for a lifetime and you will be prepared for eternity.

In Psalm 19, David said of the Scriptures “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Do you see how he delighted in God’s word? David treasured the commandments of the Lord. He craved them. He ate them up like a delicious dessert.

Don’t you want confidence for life—to not tremble when you face uncertainty, to not crumble when you suffer loss. Meditate on God’s word. Devour it like honey. Spend time with the Lord. He makes known to us the path of life. He is the path of life.

“In your presence there is fullness of joy.”

This was David’s experience. Of course, not all the time. Sometimes he was on the run. Other times he felt deserted by God. He struggled and mourned just like the rest of us. But over the long haul, he was transformed by communion with the Lord.

In Matthew 16, Jesus compared gaining the whole world to a relationship with him and essentially said “What good is it, without me?” Paul said the same thing in his letter to the Philippians: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:7-8). Nothing compares to Christ! Not our beloved families. Not our goals for life. Not our reputations or career success. Our Lord Jesus is of surpassing worth. He is the one who offers—not just a little bit of happiness but—fullness of joy!

So, do you want to be with him? The Bible, written about him and by him, is the way. We go there to hear from him. In his presence there is fullness of joy!

“At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Intimacy with God doesn’t only bring fullness of joy. The fullness of joy is ever-increasing, with new pleasures extending out forevermore. David knew this. It’s why he rejoiced. He knew he had hope that was secure.  

Those of us who know Christ have an equally certain hope. Here’s why: In verse 10 of Psalm 16, David spoke prophetically. He said that God’s holy one would not see corruption. But David’s body did see corruption—he died and his body deteriorated in the grave. David was speaking in verse 10 of the coming Messiah.

In Acts, the apostles proclaim Jesus as the fulfillment of this verse. Jesus is the one who died but did not see corruption. He was raised and seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Acts 2:25-33). That’s why eternal pleasures are at God’s right hand. Because Jesus our Lord is there! He died to pay for our sins so that we could join him. Even though we once walked on the path of death, even though we were once condemned for our sin—no longer. If we’ve trusted Christ, we’ve been set free.

So now, we can have the privilege of sitting at his feet when we open the Bible. Our goal in reading the Scriptures is much more than knowing about God. Our goal is increasing levels of enjoying God that result in that joy spilling over into our days. This is how we have intimacy with God. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore!

Do you want fullness of joy and eternal pleasures? If so, treasure God’s word.

But how do we do this practically? We lead busy lives with multiple demands on our time. Some of us work intense jobs that require much time and energy. Some of us have young children who need constant care or older children who need consistent emotional support. How can we turn our times with the Lord into treasuring him?  

10 Ways to Increase Your Treasuring of God’s Word.

1. Make a regular habit of systematically reading your Bible. Set aside a regular time and a regular place and have a plan.

2. Pray for more love for God’s word—not once but continually, regularly, until your love for the Scriptures is noticeable. Don’t you know it will be God’s pleasure to answer that prayer?!

3. Learn more about the trustworthiness of the Bible: Peter William’s book, Can We Trust the Gospels? or my book, The Good Portion: Scripture, can help with this. The more you learn about the Bible, the more glorious you will find it. How did multiple men write 66 books in various genres that tell one overarching story with perfect harmony? They were carried along by the Holy Spirit, the ultimate author of it all.

4. Read your Bible with Christ crucified in mind. In other words, know your biblical theology. See how the thread of the gospel is woven throughout God’s word. This will transform your reading of the Old Testament, and it makes your reading of the New Testament more exciting too, as you see the promises that God made in the Old Testament fulfilled in the New. Graham Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom is a classic, and Vaughn Roberts God’s Big Picture is also good for getting a handle on biblical theology. Or take Nancy Guthrie’s Workshop on Biblical Theology!

5. Read big chunks of Scripture. Read the Bible like you might sit and read a novel, taking in chapters at a time. In this way, you’ll get the overall big picture of the Bible and see for yourself how it all fits beautifully together.

6. Study small portions of Scripture in fine detail. Get deep into texts, understand them and figure out how they apply to your life.

Have a diet of both of these. You can even alternate over the years: read through the Bible one year and then slow down and study several books in more detail the next.

7. Make sure you’re meditating on the texts you’re reading. When we meditate on a passage, we take it from our brains down into our hearts. We think through what the text means and how it applies to our lives. When we do this, the text doesn’t leave us.

Think of God telling Joshua: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8). Why should Joshua do this? So that he will apply the Book to his life in obedience. And what will be the result? His way will be prosperous and he’ll have good success. Not a big bank account and worldly success but the purposes of the Lord will be fulfilled. He will triumphantly complete his mission for God. That’s where meditation gets us. 

There will surely be times in your life when you can only pick up your Bible, briefly pray for God’s illumination and then read a verse. Let that verse knock around in your head that day. Take it out and use it for encouragement. When we first got to Dubai, I was homeschooling my young children and doing massive amounts of hospitality (with no help) to get to know the church. I remember a couple of harried days when I held onto one word in Romans 8—the word was “life.” “For I am sure that neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38-39). As I rolled that four letter word around in my head, it gave me a lot of peace and assurance. What does it mean? It means that all the difficulty and details of life cannot separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord. Life was threatening to overwhelm me, but it couldn’t take my God away.

So, don’t just read. Meditate on God’s word. It will build you up and sustain you.

8. Listen carefully to your pastors’ sermons. Make it a point to read the passage beforehand and think during the sermons. Be active. I know this isn’t always easy for us. We’re thinking about conversations that we need to have. We may be having people over for lunch. We have kids to keep organized. But more than anything, we need to soak up the teaching of God’s word.

Not just private devotions but public meditation on the word will encourage your soul. (Christopher Ash has written a helpful pamphlet on this called, Listen Up!)

9. Talk about what you’re reading—and hearing from the pulpit—with friends in the church. Colossians 3:16 ties together meditation on God’s word and ministry. The two feed one another. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”. If we’re meditating on God’s word, it leads to speaking it and singing it with thankfulness. And when we’re speaking and singing God’s word, we can’t help but meditate on it. It will dwell in us richly. So talk about it with your brothers and sisters at church.

10. Study the Bible with women in your church. Read and discuss the Bible with another woman one-on-one or in a group. You can use the Bible alone or get a study guide. (I’ve written several on various books of the Bible in a series called Delighting in the Word. They have straightforward questions to observe, interpret and apply the texts. Check them out, if you’re looking for something to go through with friends.) Studying the Bible with others spurs us on to work harder on the text so we’re ready to discuss it, and we benefit during the discussion from others’ insights. I gain deeper understanding from Beverly’s interpretation of the text. Claudia’s questions cause me to consider an issue I hadn’t thought of. When I hear how Sherill applies the text to her life, it encourages me to apply the text to mine.

Private devotions and corporate meditation—commit to these things increasingly for the rest of your life and you will, correspondingly, increasingly treasure God’s word and delight in the Lord.

Close Communion with Christ

We have no idea when this pandemic will end. Our lives are uncertain. We may face more loss. But everything is in the Lord’s hands. He has a plan for this pandemic, and he has a plan for your individual life in it. His plan is good; it is to draw you closer to him. The source of long-term sustaining joy, come what may, is close communion with Christ. Enjoy spending time with Jesus. J.I. Packer said, “The written word of the Lord brings us to the living Lord of the word.” This is the goal. Because in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore!

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