Meditations for Troubled Times
Sheltering in Place - Is It Safe?
Of course, it’s safe, at least for some period of time, if battling the effects of a pandemic is the goal.
But sheltering in place is not a good way to nurture your spiritual life, given the extended periods of time believers are away from the Lord’s house on Sundays. We all understand that combatting the novel coronavirus is facilitated when we are socially distanced, but there’s nothing novel about the reality that Christians need the support, encouragement, conviction, and spiritual strength that comes when we hear the Word taught, prayed, and sung. Plus, we have the extraordinary benefit of being with like-minded believers who “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
But there’s another aspect to the issue of being away from the Lord’s house on Sundays. We see glimpses of it in the minor prophet Haggai, who, in 520 BC, prophesied to the returned exiles in Judah. His people had returned to Jerusalem from captivity as a result of the 538 BC decree from Emperor Cyrus, and very quickly they began work on rebuilding the temple. Within two years, the foundation had been completed, and it appeared that work would continue unhindered.
However, political pressure and physical threats from the Samaritans disrupted the progress, and work on the temple stopped completely—for 16 years. As a result, the returned exiles had no place to worship, no place to hear the Word, and no place to gather with their people on the Sabbath. In a sense, they were “sheltered in place.” For believers, this is dangerous!
Interestingly, the first chapter of Haggai gives the impression that the Lord’s people had gotten very comfortable with their situation:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.’ Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?’” (Haggai 1:2-4)
The reference to “paneled houses” suggests that the people had made personal dwellings and luxurious living a priority while the temple remained “in ruins.” This is a statement about improper priorities, without question, but imbedded in this assessment is the fact that the people had no concern for their inability to gather in the temple on the Sabbath. They enjoyed their “Sabbath-free-Saturdays,” devoid of worship and Word.
According to Haggai, this conduct had huge implications, as he described in
“Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”
The painful truth for them was this: their time away from the Lord’s house had dreadful consequences. They were obviously disobedient in favoring their personal homes to resuming work on the Temple, but chapter 1 of Haggai vividly explains that their violation of the fourth commandment had a detrimental “trickle down” into their daily lives.
So, the clear principle for all of us is this: being sheltered in place away from the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day can be dangerous for all of us. Indeed, Haggai described the further effect of the people’s failure to build the Temple that they may resume Sabbath worship (chapter 1:9):
“You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”
There may be a season when, for reasons of the health and safety of ourselves and others, we avoid public meetings, but our personal spiritual priorities should drive us to please the Lord by resuming Lord’s Day worship as soon as possible.