By Tony Twist
He saw strangers coming toward his home. Years of persecutions had sensitized him to the schemes and seductions of the enemy, and alarm bells were ringing in his head. He quickly put his most precious possessions, his wife and two young daughters, in the hiding place.
Sure enough, the men burst into the house looking for his girls (ages 9 and 11). Their intention was to gang rape, traumatize, and dishonor them so they would never have Christian children.
For the radical Muslim leaders fighting “infidels,” this was a calculation of war. For our student, it would have been a devastation of his family.
We now have almost 100 students from Central Asia and the Middle East who have become disciples of Jesus Christ. They, like the man above, teach us much about the cost of discipleship. A lawyer who lost everything, including his family, when he followed Christ. A church leader who was imprisoned and beaten for eight months (his home was recently raided by the authorities and those found inside arrested). Another church leader, now in exile with his wife and two young children, has lost his home, family, job, and community. A young preacher from the Middle East believes he may be killed within the next year.
I’m always moved by the sacrifices they make for Christ. Their examples contain a vital message. One that goes way back! So, buckle up and please stay with me.
In the beginning, the Word was with God and was God. And the love between the Father and the Son was so powerful that, through their Holy Spirit, it formed everything. From their love came Heaven, principalities, powers, thrones, authorities, cherubim, seraphim, and the entire universe. Everything carefully and thoughtfully put in place for one purpose: to bless their beloved children.
The church father Irenaeus described the Son and the Spirit as the right and left hand of God. Through these he wraps his arms around his family—in love. And, this relationship is our heart’s true home. It is where we truly belong. And, in the depth of our spirit, we know this. We are God-breathed into his image. Our hearts will not rest until we find our rest in him, as Augustine reminded us.
In this world, we are like spiritual salmon swimming upstream. There is something built into us that compels us homeward. In spite of obstacles within and without, we journey upward against the current. But, our journey is often lonely.
A big reason for this is because we are at war. Battles rage within and without as we fight our way upstream. Our struggle is against a powerful enemy we often cannot see. We wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil. Enemies under, around, and above us plot our destruction at every turn. We feel isolated, vulnerable, and afraid.
The times spin out of joint. The earth groans, the mountains quake, and the seas surge. “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6). In times like these we feel small and alone.
Those nearest us may betray us. Jesus was rejected by his people. So was Saul when he became Paul. The same thing occurred to many early Christians and saints throughout the ages. And so with us today. As Jesus warned: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:52, 53). Such divisions isolate, frighten, anger, and deeply grieve us.
We desperately need a refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. A fortress. A God who is with us at every turn of our life.
Psalm 46:8-11 describes it aptly:
Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
When possible, I ask about what motivates our TCM students who convert from Islam. Their stories are very similar on this point: They felt empty and alone, with no hope of forgiveness or relationship with God. Then, some had dreams in which Christ appeared to them. Some had visions. Others met him for the first time through the written Word. Many were introduced to him by someone they knew who usually had suffered greatly because of confessing Jesus as Lord. Their hearts were drawn to Jesus.
And now their vital message to us: they are found by the exalted Father they always desired, the Word that gives them light and life, the Spirit that brings home to them. In the quiet place where lonely hopelessness had terrorized them, they now discover an abundant solitude—one desperately needed for survival.
A Place of Filling
This type of solitude is not emptiness—a place to retreat, a getting away from it all because there are no resources. Rather, it is a place of filling—a place from which power emanates, a way of life. It is a place of abiding in the vine at all times throughout the night and day. As Jesus said following his resurrection and defeat of evil: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me” (Matthew 28:18). Solitude is the disciple’s power station; it is where abiding in the vine refills, refreshes, and renews those disciples who are suffering and lonely (John 15).
Abundant solitude does not mean going it alone. The command in the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations. The ordinary kinds of caring, sharing, and witnessing that belong to the Christian community are the starting points for making disciples. Every moment and relationship are immersed with kingdom priorities. It means simply hugging others toward Jesus and prayerfully marching forward on our knees . . . together.
As we are going, we learn solitude is not the avoidance or loss of true family. Yes, in this spiritual war, disciples like us do face betrayal, loss, and loneliness. But that does not mean God abandons us. God himself becomes our Father—a refuge and strength. In the midst of suffering, we can find abundant solitude in him and in his family. It is complete immersion into the will of the Father, life of the Son, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We discover what Jesus promised in Matthew 19:29: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
A Place of Refuge
In Studies in the Book of Apostolic Acts: Journey into the Spiritual Unknown, Dallas Willard put it this way: “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”
Such solitude is not the absence of struggle or some sort of passionless avoidance. Instead, it is a refuge in the eye of the storm. It is a place of peace surrounded by devastation. Loving obedience to all he commands is the guiding compass. Islam does not have a loving father who forgives and saves. But we do. Jesus put it this way in John 14:23: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
At the conclusion of the Great Commission, Jesus assured us his presence is with us always, even to the very end. He gave that assurance to disciples who were facing trials, persecution, and death for his sake. When creation groans and evil strikes, his abiding presence is with us still. It is deeper than groans and stronger than suffering. It is readily available when we are.
In times like these, we will be tested. But when we are willing, obedient children, we can look up in faith to our exalted Father and simply enter . . . abundant solitude.
Tony Twist is president of TCM International.