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I read a lot of books, which can become expensive, so I am always on the lookout for bargains. If I am patient, some well-known books and books by well-respected authors can be found cheap as an ebook. Recently I came across one. The author and book will remain nameless to protect the guilty. I am nearly finished with the book, but am only “persevering to the end” as an act of self-discipline. Barring one chapter, it has not been of much help. It’s a good thing it only cost me R30.

My main “beef” with this book, whose theme is the Christian’s spiritual development, is the author’s demeaning view of the local church. Though I appreciate his concern for Christians to grow closer to and like Jesus Christ, the author over-emphasises the need for solitude in this quest; solitude that, he claims, will shape the disciple’s character in ways that the church cannot. Well, after seven weeks (and counting) of “seclusion,” I have had plenty of solitude by which to be “shaped.” I am ready for a crowd! I am ready for the crowd we lovingly call our church family. I need the body of Christ to help me to know Christ, to help me to love Christ, to help me to serve Christ, to help me to grow in Christ. And I suspect you feel the same way.

Times of solitude for reading Scripture, for reading good Christian literature, for praying, for meditating on truth, for self-examination and solitude for fasting are doubtless good and necessary for our souls. The Lord Jesus, on many occasions, would depart to a quiet place—alone—in order to spend time in fellowship with the Father. For example, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). And “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).

I suspect that the apostle Paul chose to “hoof” it alone to Assos from Troas (on his way to Miletus) in order to spend some time in solitary communion with the Lord (Acts 20:3). He perhaps sensed his need for quiet as he prepared his farewell to the elders of the church of Ephesus. With suffering awaiting him in Jerusalem, like Jesus, he needed alone time with God.

So, yes, solitude is necessary, but it also has its limitations. That is, what we learn in our times of being alone with God is to be shared with and reinforced by others. This is one of the supreme blessings of church life. Together we are stronger. Together we are sanctified in ways that extreme solitude can never achieve. Solitude with Christ, and sharing with Christians, is God’s plan for followers of his Son.

I am grateful for the ability to livestream preaching but, without seeing faces, it is hard to know how my explanations are being received. It’s hard to know if I need to clarify or move on to the next point. I appreciate the solitude in which I can study and prepare the sermon, but face-to-face fellowship is necessary for the full experience of word-fuelled worship. We need the congregation. Isolation leaves us the poorer.

The same is true as we face struggles. In solitude, God teaches us, but in gathering, we are able to learn from one another and to be strengthened in our resolve to apply what God is teaching us.

Brothers and sisters, my prayer is that we will come out of this time of “solitary confinement” having enjoyed solitary communion with a hunger to be saturated with the fellowship of the saints. Thinking about this, I feel sorry for the lock-up team on our first Sunday that we meet again!

Longing with you,