Community is a great gift. Many of us have come to appreciate it now more than ever, since gathering with others has been restricted for several months. There’s nothing like being with, singing with, exercising the “one anothers” of the Bible, encouraging and being encouraged by God’s people.
So many have fallen away from regular church attendance, leaders have stressed the importance and benefits of Christian community in the last several years. But as often happens, the pendulum sometimes swings too far the other way. Some admonishments have overstated the importance of community. In one tweet I saw, some advocated changing the pronouns in hymnbooks from singular to plural!
I believe strongly in Christian community, in gathering regularly together as believers. I wrote about it here and here and here and here.
But some of the most poignant moments of life occur between the individual and God alone.
Joseph spent years isolated from a believing community after he was sold into slavery before his family came. If he had not known how to walk with God alone, his story would have come out very differently.
Two of the major events in Jacob’s life occurred when God met with him alone. One was in a dream on his journey to his uncle’s house; the other occurred when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord on the way back home to face Esau.
Daniel had three friends, but he faced the lion’s den alone, received visions from God alone, and prayed for his nation alone.
David spent much time alone and used much of it to write psalms.
The psalmists speak of remembering God’s word, work, and character and communing with Him alone in the middle of the night.
Elijah met with God alone after the great victory over Jezebel’s priests.
Paul traveled and ministered with companions, at times he had to stand alone.
Jesus ministered to crowds, small groups, and individuals, but sought time with His Father alone.
One of the blessings of the Christian life is that we have access to God directly. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). We don’t have to go through a priest or anyone else to get to Him. And, though sometimes we come with others, there are times we interact with Him alone.
God formed us individually. Psalm 139:13-16 tells about God forming us, knitting us together in our mother’s wombs, making us in secret.
We’re born again individually. Someone might be with us; someone might have explained what salvation meant and prayed with us. But we’re saved when we individually believe on Christ. No one can do that for us.
We’ll give account of ourselves. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
We have our own relationship with God. I wrote recently that the Christian life is a relationship with God, not a set of rules and rituals. We have a relationship all together as a family. But most families don’t relate to each other just as a group all the time. Each individual child has a relationship with the Father.
We meet with God individually. As vital as it is to meet together to hear God’s Word preached and explained, we need to partake of it on our own. Many verses compare God’s Word to food. We don’t eat just one or two times a week. We’d be pretty malnourished spiritually if we did. When I attended a Christian college, students were often reminded that it was an easy place to get away from the Lord. It was easy to coast on the atmosphere, to read the Bible for class assignments, to attend many Christian meetings, etc., without personally meeting with the Lord.
We walk with God individually. Just as we’re saved in a one-on-one exchange with God, so also our obedience, growth, and sanctification occur between us and God. Again, others help, teach, encourage. But they can’t obey and grow for us. They might help us resist temptation, but we need to apply the Word of God and yield to Him in our own hearts.
We encourage ourselves in the Lord. Other Christians are a great source of encouragement, and I have leaned on them many times. Yet sometimes we have to stand alone. David experienced one such instance when everyone was against him, even threatening to stone him. But David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6). So many of his psalms were written when he was alone, or at least they were written about being alone. Yes, the psalms were sung congregationally. Some dealt with God’s people as a whole. But many of the situations written about were experienced individually, written down, and sung with the congregation so that they then could individually be encouraged and apply the truth of them.
We can pray individually. Yes, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20). But He also said, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret (Matthew 6:6a). He’s not forbidding public prayer in the latter verse, but illustrating that it’s not something we do for “show” (compare with verses 1-5). I’ve often requested prayer from the whole church body or texted a Christian friend with an urgent prayer request. But have you ever noticed how many times in the Bible people prayed alone? Take as just one example Elijah, of whom James says “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:17-18). Kevin Schaal says in This Is No Time for Timid Prayers:
Sometimes we minimize the power of the prayer of a Christian individual. We tend to view prayers like votes—ours is only one among many millions and God somehow looks at the collection of prayers before Him instead of the heartfelt cry of an individual. The Bible never presents prayer like that. James 5 does not say “the effectual fervent prayers of a large group of righteous people accomplishes a lot.” The individual prayer of one righteous person can change the world.
I’ve read in some missionary biographies of great victories that were followed a few weeks later by a note from some faithful supporter saying, “I felt strongly led to pray for you on this date. Was anything in particular going on?”
We worship God individually. Even when we’re worshiping with a congregation, we worship and praise in our own hearts. And we can and should worship and praise when we meet with God alone.
Meeting with God isn’t meant to happen either alone or with a group. We need both. Our time alone with God will inform and enrich our time with each other, and our time with each other should do the same for our individual walk with God.
I’ve appreciated the creative ways people have developed to keep in touch with each other through this pandemic. Let’s use all of those ways as much as possible. But be encouraged: you can pray, worship, serve, and walk with God in any circumstance, alone or with a group.
I could not do without Thee,
I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
No wisdom of my own;
But Thou, belovèd Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And perfect strength in weakness
Is theirs who lean on Thee.
I could not do without Thee!
No other friend can read
The spirit’s strange deep longings,
Interpreting its need;
No human heart could enter
Each dim recess of mine,
And soothe, and hush, and calm it,
O blessèd Lord, but Thine.
I could not do without Thee,
For years are fleeting fast,
And soon in solemn loneness
The river must be passed;
But Thou wilt never leave me,
And though the waves roll high,
I know Thou wilt be near me,
It is I.
From “I Could Not Do Without Thee” by Frances Ridley Havergal
(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Selah, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)
this is so uplifting and beautiful Barbara, thank you!
Thank you. 🙂
This is so true: “One of the blessings of the Christian life is that we have access to God directly”.
Bless your heart for sharing. I find it uplifting
Great post Barbara! Yes, we definitely do need alone time with our heavenly Father, as well as community time with the church body. Some of us in chronic health conditions don’t get as much community as we would hope for but our heavenly Father is always there & being alone with Him takes on a whole new meaning in chronic ill health.
I agree, Jennifer. We can’t all be out and about much physically, especially these days. I’m thankful there are ways to interact online, and God is always a faithful companion.
Even when we’re worshiping with a congregation, we worship and praise in our own hearts. I like that. Enjoyed seeing your visit to Sunday Scripture Blessings so I could come visit you. Have a happy week.
That’s a good thought–we don’t lose our individuality even when worshiping together. If we’re just following everyone else and not worshiping God in our hearts, we’re not fellowshipping with God.
Beautiful post, Barbara. It reminds me of something my dad, a WWII vet, said to me…he was waiting to disembark from a troop carrier and there was a German airplane strafing the beach…his feeling at the time was – lonely. We each come to our relationship with God as an individual
Thank you, Laurie. Even when we’re together, we love and worship Him as individuals, and He knows each heart. I can’t imagine what vets went through during war time. I am thankful for them.
oh you are so right! this is a great reminder, especially in this year of separatedness! I miss the intimacy of fellowship I once had, but wow, the fellowship I have had with the Father this year has been so precious!
Thank you, Mariel. I miss time together with the church family, too. But I am thankful we’re keeping in touch in other ways, and I am thankful my Father’s fellowship is available around the clock.
This is a great post, Barbara! Time alone with God is so important. I agree, there seems to have been more of an emphasis on community lately and while that is important, time with God as an individual is also crucial. For me, some of the most powerful encounters I’ve had with God have been when I’ve been alone with him.
Thank you, Lesley. That is true for me as well—that some of my most poignant times with God have been alone with Him.
Thank you for this encouraging post, Barbara. Praying I make good use of my alone time with God so that I’ll be fully prepared for community.
Thanks, Joanne. I think it does help to think of community and alone time with God as feeding each other rather than competing.
Getting away from “the kingdom of noise” is foundational to my peace of heart. Thanks for arguing so convincingly for a life lived before God.
Me, too. I could not be effective in anyone else’s life without time alone with God.
I like the singular pronouns in Hymns because it makes me feel like the worship is just the two of us – even though I might be in a room of fellow worshippers. You’ve laid out beautifully the history of the individual relationship and alone time between great men and God – without that alone time with God, I cannot know God enough for Him to wrestle with me, fight for me, heal my brokenness! You say: ” the Christian life is a relationship with God, not a set of rules and rituals.” – Yes and Amen!
Thanks so much, Maryleigh. I agree about the singular pronouns. I am glad to belong to the family of God, but glad that He sees and knows me as an individual and not just part of the crowd.
As an introvert, I love this. Yes, we need Christian community for sure — and this year has brought that home to me — but my deepest insights about Jesus have come in time alone with him. I just like to really think and meditate on Scriptures, prayer, etc., which is much more easily done for me when I’m on my own with quiet. Please NO with the replacing pronouns in hymns! Egads!
I agree about the pronouns! And the rest as well. My deepest times with the Lord have most often come in moments alone with Him, too.
These are such great thoughts on finding that balance between community and alone. Thank you for this!
Thanks, Jed! It is a balance–we need both.
“One of the blessings of the Christian life is that we have access to God directly.” Amen! Thank you for an encouraging post! Blessings to you!
Thank you, Gayl!
Barbara, what a beautiful post. You really nail down the roles of alone time and time with others in your words.
And this: “Our time alone with God will inform and enrich our time with each other, and our time with each other should do the same for our individual walk with God.” AMEN.
Thanks so much, Jeanne.
Thank you, Barbara for this post! I love the way you skillfully wove the two important aspects of Christian community and alone time with God together. I agree we do need both to be “complete”, but admit my most life giving and enriching times have been spent alone with God. Your post was very encouraging!
I like the verse in Jude which admonishes us to encourage ourselves in The Word and The Spirit.
Love this!! Yes, we need to meet God and worship him alone and together in community. We need both experiences and to keep them in balance!
What a wonderful post, Barbara! So many great points … the one that really stood out to me as I read was the part about encouraging ourselves in the Lord as David did. We have all we need to speak truth to ourselves, we just need to do it!
Yes! We need both—and depending on our personality (introvert or extrovert) in different proportions. Spending the whole day at church sounds like pure torture to me—my husband loves all the ‘fellowship.’ We should never shame someone else or question their devoutness based on how many hours they spend worshipping with others.
So much goodness here, Barbara: “Meeting with God isn’t meant to happen either alone or with a group. We need both. Our time alone with God will inform and enrich our time with each other, and our time with each other should do the same for our individual walk with God.”
I definitely love my group time with others in the Lord, but without my alone time with him, it would mean much less.
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Such a beautiful post! It’s true with all the “social-ness” in life, the alone moments are so important. Beautiful read this morning.
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