Stagnation is defined as “the state of not flowing or moving,” or a “lack of activity, growth, or development.” Spiritual stagnation would then be lack of movement, growth, or development in our spiritual lives, or in our relationship with God. It’s getting stuck in a rut, to use a different metaphor, or becoming a spiritual “couch-potato” to use another. It doesn’t really matter which word picture I choose. You get the idea.
Are we doomed to spiritual stagnation as we spend most of our time stuck at home? To answer briefly, no. To say so would mean that if a person is isolated then they have no choice but to stagnate. So much for Christians stranded on a desert isle. So much for believers imprisoned unjustly. So much for the apostle Paul who was imprisoned for years (Acts 24:27). A person who is isolated is at a disadvantage, no doubt. They don’t have access to public worship or Christian fellowship. But we must stop short of saying that therefore they cannot grow or flourish in any way. It must be said that people who have opportunity to share in the ordinances and in Christian fellowship but choose not to are another story. Being forced by circumstances to be isolated is different from willingly choosing to be so. The first is beyond one’s control, and the Lord will specially make up for that lack. The other is a deliberate choice that is itself a sign of stagnation.
How a person defines things says a lot about them. It is easy for people to say you are stagnating if you don’t accept a new style of music or if you don’t add a new faddish program to the church. People also can define flourishing as opportunity, as if Christian growth were synonymous with opportunities for service. Once again, so much for imprisoned saints, very ill saints, or homebound saints. Of course if we have opportunity we must use it, and to fail to take full advantage of opportunity is a spiritual problem, but it must be maintained that people with less opportunity can grow and flourish every bit as much as people with more.
The bottom line is that we can flourish spiritually even if we are challenged locationally. We can grow while stuck at home. We can flourish in a corner. There are disadvantages to isolation; there will be ramifications to being isolated, especially for long periods. But you can grow and even flourish despite isolation.
We must define Christian growth and development biblically. What does the Bible say about it? Let’s sample how Paul defines Christian life and spirituality, Christian flourishing if you will, in Colossians 3. This won’t be a comprehensive study of all that it means to flourish and grow as a Christian, but it will provide a good snapshot, and it will also give us ideas of how we can pursue God in our time of isolation. It will give us inspiration about how to stay spiritually vibrant in this time. Here are five points drawn directly from the passage.
- First, “Set your minds on things that are above” where Christ is (3:1-2). One way to flourish spiritually is keep your mind occupied with Christ, thinking about him, reading about him, praying to him, talking to your family about him. Read the New Testament on the hunt for truth about Christ. Anything you can find about him, underline it or find some way to savor it, praise him for it, store it up, and make it the next topic of conversation with a family member. Read good books about Christ, like John Flavel’s Fountain of Life, or F. W. Krummacher’s Suffering Savior. Ransack such books and eagerly ask God to quicken your soul and give you more love for Christ.
- Second, “put to death what is earthly in you” (3:5). Another way to flourish spiritually is to use your time of isolation to wage war on your sinful tendencies and habits by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Imagine how spiritually strong you will be if you come through this time more loving, forgiving, gentle, and self-controlled! How do you do this? It starts with humble repentance and zealous, persistent, believing prayer. It persists with dependence on the Spirit as you zero in on your “beloved lusts,” or your particular sin problems, by memorizing Scripture to use as a sword when you are tempted. You can also read a good book on the subject such as John Owen’s Mortification of Sin.
- Third, “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (3:16). Another way to flourish spiritually is to use your time to get acquainted, or keep yourself acquainted, with your Bible. So much of the Bible remains a mystery to so many believers. Go read Deuteronomy, or Isaiah, Jeremiah, or the Minor prophets. Be patient and simply let them speak to you, whether or not what they are saying seems relevant. Just listen to God. Not only should we be familiar with the content of our Bibles, but we should know how it is all “the Word of Christ.” Jesus said the Old Testament Scriptures are “they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Read your Old Testament on the lookout for Jesus. A good book that explains how to do is Jesus on Every Page by David Murray.
- Fourth, “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (3:16). Use your isolation to fill your home with music, your own singing. Get out the hymn book and sing a lot. Do a Google search on “psalms that have been turned into songs” and see what you can find. Try some out and find ones that work well. (Many won’t, but keep at it!) Make your home a place of praise. Fill it with a spirit of worship. It’ll be like a touch of heaven for you.
- Fifth, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). Here is a great way to flourish in isolation! Wash away your tendency to grumble with a glad wave of gratefulness. Don’t look at anything except to find something of God’s goodness in it. Every task should be sanctified by worship as thanksgiving. The challenge of course is to get rid of our carnal thinking that wants to maintain the right to complain and thinks it can justify complaining. But if we humble ourselves in repentance before God, we can be assured that he will give grace—grace both to forgive our failures and to empower our obedience.
We can take strides forward spiritually during this difficult time of isolation. There is no need to backslide or “grow sour in your tower,’ as I heard one person put it. You can flourish and live a vibrant Christian life during this time of isolation, even as we wait to gather together once more to worship and edify one another in each others’ presence. I’m sure when that day comes again, we will be able to appreciate it perhaps more than ever!