Most of us will not end up in isolation on top of Mount Sinai. It is a beautiful sight. Have you thought about what it would be like if you were there alone for 40 days, 40 months or what about 40 years? Isolation hinders our spiritual growth, no doubt about that. God provides plenty of scripture about staying connected with the body of Christ, the church. There are also times in our lives when isolation occurs for Godly reasons. Sometimes we actually need to turn off the sounds of the world, hush the craziness and be still in the presence of God. Listen quietly and hear his sweet sweet voice. Find the Holy Spirit that lives within us and buddy-up to Him as a best friend and savior. This can take time. This can take a life-changing event like chronic illness to help us to stop, literally, stop and be still. I am not saying God made you ill. I am saying he might be using your illness and pain as an opportunity to get your attention, there is a significant difference in the two. We have three biblical giants to gain perspective on Godly isolation.
When we realize how sick we are, that disease is in our body and it appears from a human perspective that it is hopeless, we tend to respond in panic and fear. Then we run. Then we fight. Finally, we tell everybody. God’s counsel is just the opposite; Don’t be afraid. Stand still. Watch Him work. Keep quiet.
“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.'” – Exodus 14:13-14
Moses is an all-time favorite Godly man. Let’s look at how he got there through his first 80 years, spending a lot of it in isolation of one type or another in training for his Godly assignment. Born to Hebrew slaves, from the house of Levi, Moses became the adopted son of the Pharoah’s daughter and was part of the royal Egyptian family until he was 40. Fleeing Egypt as a murderer, he entered into the desert for his next 40 years. From 40-80 years of age, Moses was in the wilderness, leading a quiet life of a shepherd serving his father-in-law, a Midian priest. At age 80 an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. That same year Moses and Aaron faced the Pharaoh together and then started the Exodus of the Israelites. We can easily divide Moses’ life into three categories.
“Moses spent his first forty years thinking he was somebody. He spent his second forty years learning he was a nobody. He spent his final third forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody” – Dwight L. Woody
We tend to jump forward to Moses defeating Pharaoh and leading the Israelites through 40 years of the Exodus without clearly seeing his training ground, his bouts of isolation during his first 80 years. God had a perfect plan for Moses’ life and it included some intense isolation. When we see what isolation can do for mighty people of God, we can accept our own isolation with vigor to make the best of it and prepare us for mighty works from God. If you are currently sitting alone and lonely, keep reading, the facts become inspiring when you see end results from others.
Moses’ first 40 years was in isolation from being raised by his own family and his own people, although he knew them and had some contact, it was not the same. His parents, Amram and Jochebed, were faithful Levites, true to God when many of their contemporaries were no longer following Jehovah. For Moses to be isolated from this kind of parenting is disappointing, yet God always has a plan.
Being raised as the Pharaoh’s grandson did not appear to bring enough satisfaction. Moses had a heart for his own people, the Hebrew slaves. When Moses defended a Hebrew by killing his Egyptian attacker, Moses knew he had to flee for his life. Now even deeper into isolation, he found himself without either family. He escaped death from the Pharaoh by going deep into the Midian wilderness. That certainly is isolation. He sat down by a well. Can we even imagine what that would be like to have left both families and civilization, going into the Midian desert all alone? Surely while he was fleeing he did not grab his personal belongings for any comfort or a best friend for companionship, he did not have anything that would connect him with people or comfort.
At this point, Moses is living amongst shepherds still without any of his Hebrew or Egyptian families. We are told in scripture that Egyptians despised shepherds and now Moses was to become a shepherd before he became the great ruler and save his people. There are no shortcuts with God. We can all benefit from the experience of the desert.
Moses was able to be still, to be quiet and listen to God. Had he not been able to spend all of those years in the quiet of the Midian wilderness he might not have been able to see the burning bush and hear from God. If we could ask Moses what he was thinking through all of his isolation, I bet he would have had some of the same thoughts that we have had during our isolation of chronic illness and pain. As children of God, we are all still human and have wandering thoughts and questions as to why and how life has turned out the way it has.
Moses chose to be in the moment, using his time very wisely while he was in the Midian desert. He married Zipporah, a wonderful woman and served his father-in-law well. He became part of that family and was loved, and loved them deeply. In time Moses reunited with his sister, his brother and his mother and they all experienced the Exodus and even more isolation in different ways. Moses had many isolation moments. Even at the very end of his life, he did not get to enter the land of milk and honey, he was isolated from that, accepting it with great dignity. Through it all, he grew in his love and honor for God, maybe because of it all. Isolation can help us be the people we were made to be.
David has been and will always be a treasured youth, king, and man after God’s own heart. He too has a mighty life story filled with isolation and victory for God. He was born to a man named Jesse from Bethlehem in Judah. David was the youngest of eight brothers and he was left alone a lot to tend the herds.
When David was perhaps 15 or 16 years old, the prophet Samuel was sent by God to anoint David, although no one else knew he was to be king. At that time the spirit of God came on David. God was with David as he went back to his sheep and he began to show signs of greatness. David slew lions and bears on his own while he was taking care of the sheep and himself during this time. While David was alone all day he practiced throwing stones in a sling until he could strike exactly the place he aimed. And young as he was, David thought of God, and they talked and God showed David His will. Just in case you missed that, he was alone all day and he used his time very wisely.
When the ruling King Saul disobeyed the voice of the Lord and the Spirit no longer spoke with him, he became sad and distraught. King Saul heard of David and called for him and he played on his harp and sang for him, soothing the King. Then back to the hills of Bethlehem to his sheep. Now, back in isolation, David was singing to his sheep and crafting beautiful songs that we still enjoy today. This was David’s life and common for a shepherd to be alone most of the day or even days on end. The fact remains, David had to deal with the isolation and had to make a choice on how to handle his time.
A few years after the encounter David had with the prophet Samuel, King Saul was fighting the Philistines, namely Goliath. One day Jesse told his son David to go and check on his three brothers who were in the army and located at the camp with King Saul. It had been some years since King Saul had called on David to play for him. He had grown from a boy into a man. With the experience of isolation and the necessity of caring for himself and his herd, he knew his strengths. David knew he could slay this giant with his skills and God with him. Goliath had insulted the armies of the living God. There was no question in David’s mind. He just did it. It was kind of like, “Don’t talk about my Pappa that way!!”
When we are alone, completely isolated while we are ill, we find a strength inside of us that allows us not only to have faith in God but in ourselves. We find ways to care for ourselves and get the job done. When we do it day in and day out, over and over again, we learn what we are capable of and then we do not need to question it. David had years to himself to learn how to sling stones and slay lions and bears. When you rise up and just do what needs to be done there is no looking back. You are a warrior by the sheer fact of what isolation has brought to your life. God is so awesome this way. He provides in what seems to be the oddest of ways, but He always provides.
David is not yet done with isolation just because he single-handedly killed the giant. Life still goes on. King Saul’s son Johnathan and David become friends, closer than brothers could be. There are years of drama with King Saul and his erratic behavior towards David. Remember this whole time David has already been chosen by God to be king through the prophet Samuel. Even through great adversity, Johnathan and David remained close friends.
When Johnathan learned his dad wanted to kill David, he warned him to flee King Saul. Much drama pursues. David flees into the wilderness hiding in caves. He is on the run for several years. He is back in isolation but a different kind than his youth this time. On at least two occasions David had the opportunity to kill King Saul and take the throne that had already been promised to him by God. At one point King Saul and his army of 3,000 went after David with only 600. David and his men were hiding in a cave when King Saul entered. Don’t tell me that David did not feel a bit overwhelmed and abandoned by his king and fellow countrymen.
In the cave, David quietly crept up behind King Saul and cut off part of his coat without Saul knowing. David would not kill King Saul even though his men encouraged him to do so. He actually felt bad for cutting off a portion of the king’s robe. Listen to the exact amazing words of the story.
“Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’ With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.” – 1 Samuel 24:5-7 NIV
Amazing, to me that is absolutely amazing. Obviously, God has done a work in David’s heart to allow him to see the honor in his reigning king. Even though David had been God’s choice for king years prior, he had an incredible respect for authority and God’s will. A thought to consider; while David was hiding out in caves for years waiting to become king and running from King Saul, did he have time to pray heavily on this and think it out over and over again? I think God implies this in scripture.
Think about it for a moment. If you had to run from someone trying to kill you and hide in caves for years, would you not take some time to ask God why, how can I honor you, where can I show you glory, when the heck is this going to be over? David used his time wisely during isolation. One proof shows in his honoring response to King Saul in the cave when he had the opportunity to kill him. There was more than one occasion this happened and it is well worth the read. It is a perfect example of being abandoned and isolated and still rising up to do the right thing, for the glory of God. He went on to be a great king and God called him, “A man after God’s own heart.” Those years as a youth and running from King Saul in isolation helped make David who God created him to be.
“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” – Acts 13:22 NIV
Read 1 Samuel 16-31; all of 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1:1-2-12; and 1 Chronicles 28 & 29 to get the big picture. Psalms 34, 52, 54, 56, 63, and 142 gives us more insight as to what David felt and did during his years of flight from Saul.
Joseph is my personal favorite. I cannot read the story without crying. Life has its twists and turns that we can never see coming and God has a way of sorting it all out the way He intended from the start.
Joseph was a young man favored by his father and consequently hated by his older brothers. His father, Jacob, loved him so much he gave him a fancy colorful coat. In his youth, 17 years of age, he made the situation worse by telling his brothers of dreams he had about them bowing down to him. One day Jacob sends Joseph from the Hebron Valley to check on the older brothers tending the sheep. The brothers conspired to rid themselves of Joseph by placing him in a well. The oldest brother, Reuben, heard the other brothers plotting to kill Joseph. He persuaded them not kill him but instead sell him as a slave to a caravan headed for Egypt. They pulled off his fancy coat and threw him into the dry well. Yes, in a well, a cold dark lonely musty bug infested well. Can you imagine Joseph’s isolation and discomfort as he was alone in this well, looking up with no help in sight?
Joseph was in a tough spot; isolation, abandonment, fear, anxiety and probably banged up a bit. There was no way he knew how long he would be there or what his fate would be. Completely helpless he had to wait it out. After the brothers ate lunch they saw a caravan coming from Gilead. When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph’s brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver, they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt. The older brothers went home to Jacob with the fancy coat dipped in goat’s blood and claimed Joseph has been killed by a wild animal. Jacob mourned for Joseph a long time. Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold Joseph in Egypt to a man named Potiphar, who was the king’s official in charge of the palace guard. So Joseph lived in the home of Potiphar, his Egyptian owner.
Think about this. Joseph was his father’s favorite and he had a good life at home even though he had some grumpy older brothers. At 17 he gets sold into slavery by those same brothers and he has no control over his life, none. As a slave, he has no rights to visit his family or have any contact with them. He is told what to do and when to do it. He had every right to be angry and bitter. Instead, he takes the moment at hand and does the best he can with it, serving his master well. Not once do we hear about Joseph pouting or being bitter, he just does the best he can with what he is given at the moment. During chronic illness and pain, it is hard to even imagine not pouting or having a moment of bitterness. Joseph gives us a whole lifetime of exemplary behavior, attitude, and faith. He continues to get in worse and worse situations through no fault of his own and he just keeps hanging in there.
So, now Joseph is a slave to Potiphar, because of his brothers. Potiphar realized that the Lord was helping Joseph to be successful in whatever he did. Potiphar liked Joseph and made him his personal assistant, putting him in charge of his house and all of his property. Doing right by his Egyptian master wins Joseph Potiphar’s favor, which makes Joseph the most powerful man under his authority. Potiphar’s wife soon noticed him. She asked him to make love to her, but he refused and said,
“’With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?'” – Genesis 39:8-9
She kept begging Joseph day after day, but he refused to do what she wanted or even to go near her. After rejecting her advances, she gets angry and grabs his coat. What is the deal with his coats? With his coat in hand, she screams rape and he goes running out the door.
Again manipulated, turned on and alone. Isolated once again through no doing of his own. Running out the door with nothing but his faith. Although a slave, he had some comforts in his position with Potiphar’s favor. The comforts of that home were now gone. Running through that door to the unknown was an act of obedient faith.
Potipher’s wife caused Joseph to be imprisoned on false charges. Now that he has been abandoned by his brothers and sold into slavery only to land himself in prison for doing the right thing, now it is time to start the pity party and get good and bitter. No, not Joseph. Not a moment of it. He gets right to serving his new master, the jailer. As always, he does such a good job that he is noticed. While Joseph was in prison, the Lord helped him and was good to him. He even made the jailer like Joseph so much that he put him in charge of the other prisoners and of everything that was done in the jail. The jailer did not worry about anything because the Lord was with Joseph and made him successful in all that he did. Joseph is amazing and faithful through it all.
During his imprisonment, he interprets dreams of the Pharaoh’s baker and the cupbearer and asks to be remembered for the court’s favor. Again, he is forgotten and abandoned. He goes on about his daily business keeping the moment at hand and doing the very best he can with where he is at the time. Two years later, still in prison, the Pharaoh of Egypt had disturbing dreams and Joseph was remembered for his earlier interpretations and was taken to the Pharaoh. Finally, someone who sees value in Joseph, because of what God did through Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams. The value comes from who we are because of God, not who we think we are in our own efforts. Joseph always saw himself as a servant in every one of his misfortunes. He walked out the role of servitude, far more to God than to his masters but serving both in doing so. Joseph is released from prison. Can you even imagine the moment?
Joseph is elevated to the second-highest position in the land, and then God uses a famine to bring his brothers to Egypt. This is the part where I always cry. After all of that isolation, abandonment, hatefulness, and cruelty he gets reunited with his family. There is no bitterness inside of Joseph for what they did to him at the well and creating a very difficult life for him. instead, he sees it completely different. He sees it from the eyes of God. When he finally reveals to his older brothers who he is, they wept loudly, then Joseph pulls them in close and says,
“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” – Genesis 45:4-5
The older brothers were first reunited with him and then Joseph’s father Jacob and younger brother Benjamin. They all survived the famine and they all lived happily ever after together.
Time of chronic illness and pain can be used for so much good when we allow it. God catches us when we are broken and feel unworthy and helpless and uses that as ideal working conditions for his glory. He can use this downtime to refine us, change our perspective, soften our hearts, help us grow closer to Him to be used by Him. God can even use our illness to heal others in our lives because of what God has done in us during this time. Joseph’s brothers became better men because of Joseph’s trials. As Joseph grew through his isolation and abandonment, he was able to hold out a hand of forgiveness to the people who wronged him and heal a whole family, not just himself. Through all the events of isolation and abandonment, he also saved a nation from starvation.
These are only three male examples of how God has used humans during their difficult times. In a way, these trials actually are no different from what we struggle through being ill for so many years. Do not get stuck in those kinds of details. We are all made uniquely and we all have different circumstances but God is still exactly the same, always has been and always will be. Use your time of chronic illness and pain to grow with the Lord and see what He has in store for you and those around you. As your soul heals you will most likely see greater health resulting from this.
Donations accepted to serve others in their chronic illness journey. Maribeth Baxter, HHC provides voluntary certified health coaching services to the financially limited during their time of crisis.