Shut In

I just love how exercise and fresh air have the ability to jump-start my brain!  As I was running this week, my mind was wandering and thinking about people who are closed off from the world.  There are so many who literally don’t have the physical ability to leave their homes, go to the grocery store, have coffee with a friend, or simply go for a walk.  I’m certain there are numerous reasons, perhaps some self-inflicted, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that being a “shut-in” is a horrible way to live.

As I began to pray about this tragic state of living, I realized God had impressed this train of thought upon me for a reason, and there was much more to understand. He showed me that becoming a shut-in can happen spiritually too.  In fact, the number of people who have become spiritual shut-ins is far greater than you might expect.

In my last message, I shared what a week in my life looked like in order to point out how God was at work every day, no matter how dire the circumstance seemed.  If we look carefully, “the things of God” can be found all around us and in every single life.  I’ve sat down and talked to dozens of people over the years, and I’ve noticed that many of them actually have quite a bit of trouble recognizing God’s hand in their lives.  I admit it can be challenging, and it’s something that I’m still learning, but it becomes much easier to miss God’s fingerprints on our life if we have become closed off to Him all together.

Part of why we miss God at work can be due to our own busyness and lack of focus, but another reason I’ve found is due to something far deeper.  The epidemic of people who have become spiritual shut-ins has a root cause.  They have become closed off to God and His goodness, or even the idea of God, due to loss.  The loss may be that of a spouse or a loved one, a career or one’s dreams, it could even be the lost of the life they thought they would have.  No matter where the pain comes from, a price is paid, and usually in the form of a lack of security, safety, protection or provision.  In other words, they fear they won’t be taken care of.

Jesus very plainly explained to his disciples that they would have trouble in this world (see John 16:33).  The same warning is still relevant to us today, but does trouble equate to loss, or can loss equate to trouble? Absolutely!  There are few things in this world that can send a person’s life into a tailspin like the loss of something or someone they love.  One only needs to look at the sheer volume and percentage of young men and women in our prison system who grew up without both parents to see the stark connection between loss and trouble.  If a person experiences enough loss, or a big enough loss in their life, they will begin to push people out in order to avoid experiencing more hurt.  Once again, I’d encourage you to revisit my message Circles that touches on this subject.  Becoming a shut-in damages personal relationships, and spiritually, it can be perhaps the biggest hindrance to a rich and fulfilling relationship with God in a person’s life.  Having a guard up against loss translates with God the same way it does with the people around us; we become distant and unconnected. The effects of this that I often see can range from general apathy or non-interest in the things of God, all the way to total distain, blame, and bitterness. Whichever end of the spectrum a person may find themselves, being able to see the work of God in their life will be clouded. 

As I ran, my thoughts on this topic continued, and I was reminded that in the Bible we are often told about the importance of taking care of widows and orphans (see James 1:27 as example).  When we stop and think about these two groups of people, they have both experienced great loss in their lives.  The love of a spouse or protection of a father and mother are gone, and in Scripture, God is often imploring others to step in and help those who have lost so much in their lives.  Widows and orphans are extremely susceptible to becoming shut-ins if they are not surrounded by a loving community that ultimately points them towards a loving God.

As important as it is to take care of those who have literally lost a spouse or parent, the Bible also uses the language of “widows and orphans” to describe spiritual shut-ins.  Those that are far from God can be helped in the same way; His desire is for those who have experienced great suffering and loss to be placed back within the safety of a family.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows…God sets the lonely in families” Psalm 68:5-6

Have you ever been in the position of trying to comfort someone who has experienced loss?  There aren’t words.  Often times the only thing that helps is simply being there, offering a listening ear, or filling a space at the dinner table.  The presence of a person can be more soothing than any audible word.  This dynamic in our lives gives us a clue to the essence of how God works too.  He must be allowed to come near in order to remove the sting of loss.  As plainly as Jesus informed us that we would have trouble in this life, he also promised that our peace would be found in him and him alone. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus knew he was leaving, and the fulfillment of the cross was moments away.  His disciples were about to experience great loss as they witnessed his betrayal, crucifixion, and death.  Some of his final words were to make sure that they wouldn’t give up on their relationship with God.  Unlike the disciples at that time, we have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story.  Christ “overcame the world” by his resurrection and sent his Holy Spirit to comfort us during the time he wouldn’t physically be present (see John 16:5-16). With the Holy Spirit in our lives, there is no loss or pain too great for God to heal.

In the same way that the Bible continually addresses the need of the widow or orphan for a family, it also expresses the limitless ability of God to adopt those very same people.

“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:5

Whatever the reason a person has closed themselves off to God, I pray that somehow they have one more opportunity to hear of and experience His love.  No one is out of reach from it, and no gap caused by loss is too great for Him to span.  Security, safety, protection, and provision can be gained once more as we place ourselves back into the hands of the One who will never leave us.  The adoption into His family is final and it comes with a certificate that states: SHUT IN NO MORE!

I recently heard that one of our local churches broadcasts their services over the radio so elderly people in nursing homes or those who couldn’t physically attend could still listen.  I’m not sure if they still do this, but I love the heart behind it because it’s all about bringing the truth of God’s love to those in the midst of loss, loneliness or pain.  Some were likely shut in because no one was left to care for them and others may have been there dealing with the loss of their own mobility, memory, or life itself.

At Mended, we hold the simple accessibility to God’s word as one of our core values. As a church, we have adopted a similar approach with a bit of a modern twist.  We don’t meet on a weekly basis in a large gathering space, instead opting for a “we’ll take it to you” approach.  These messages are freely available each week from our website for anyone with a computer, tablet, or cell phone.  We want God’s Word accessible to all so His presence can be felt by all.  If you know of someone who is shut in from relationship, either physically or emotionally, please consider sharing our messages with them or getting them connected online to see what doors God will open.