There is a tension in our lives following Christ between living by faith and doing good works. In our lives, we are called to be obedient, and to love as Christ would. This requires action. It is the long debated challenge of James: “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’” (James 2:18). At the same time, Paul writes that our actions without love (without God), are worthless. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1-3)
Christians are continuously challenged by this tension. In many churches, leaders and members are expected to do good works, some with higher and higher expectations of productivity; to show fruit. However, the reality of our lives in Christ is it is not I who does good things, but Christ in me. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20). I don’t do it, Christ does. I don’t love, Christ does. But I am His vehicle.
So we wrestle with this tension. For better or for worse, in our human forms, we are better able to grasp the tangibles of life, the things which we can see and do and measure, and we struggle to recognize the spiritual, the transcendent work of Christ in our lives. Far too many of us focus on the things which we think we can control: our actions. We get busy doing the work of the Kingdom. We may very well work from the knowledge that God has given us gifts and talents thus we are equipped to do His work. But if we are primarily focused on the work, it is far too easy to lose sight of our very reason for doing, or better, our reason for being. Caught up in activity, even very good activities, we lose sight of our Father. We come to trust in our own ability, and hold to values of self-reliance and individualism.
And then one day, whether by choice or by circumstance, we realize that we are not where we thought we were. Shelley Trebesch  writes about the periods of spiritual isolation that comes in the lives of believers, particularly leaders. Trebesch uses personal, historical, and biblical examples of times of isolation in the lives of leaders to demonstrate that these periods are intended to bring about transformation. Isolation is defined as those periods of time in which an individual is partially or wholly removed from ministry (or perhaps their walk with God) in order to deepen their relationship with God.  This is sometimes voluntary, when an individual chooses to take a leave and commit to solitude with Christ, and sometimes it is involuntary, when life circumstances force a pause. 
One of Trebesch’s themes is that the transformation that comes from isolation brings us from a place of doing to being. It moves us away from arrogance into humility. It moves us from leading roles to servants. Isolation is that experience of loss and grief as God re-defines who we are. We may lose sight of our ministry, our purpose, and even God. We may feel alone and wonder where God went. In those low times, God is able to step in and transform us. He shapes our heart from self-reliant to reliant on Him. He helps us to move from that place of seeking or needing recognition and validation from others, to knowing that He already knows us.
I have struggled writing this post. Trebesch’s book was familiar, brief, and in some ways refreshing. But part of me was thinking as I read, “Been there. Done that. (And hope I don’t need to do it again any time soon.)” It was not new. I know these things. I know how God uses times of isolation. And honestly, while comfortably sitting on the other side (at least for now), I love the result.
Here is my real struggle: I struggle with the doings of church and ministry. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:4). Everything I do, the love that I hope to share, the conversations that I hope to have, the work that I hope to do, must be grounded in Him, otherwise it is without meaning. I am a noisy, clanging gong. When I sit in leadership meetings, it often seems to come back to, “what are we going to do?” In my church we have been teaching about the cost of Christ’s sacrifice – the cost of love. We have considered what it might mean to fight for love, that no matter what, we fight to love because apart from Christ, apart from love, apart from knowing His love, nothing else matters. We TALK about love and faith, but then we separate it and turn it into an activity.
And I know I frustrate others, because I keep saying that love is not an activity; it is who we are in Christ; it is Christ in us. I say that if we focus our hearts on Christ and seek Him, the “doing” will come. It’s not that we will not act, or that we should not have a plan or a direction, but that the action will come out of our being in Christ.
And then the question will come, “Yes, but what will we do?”
Honestly, at times even Trebesch frustrated me with this. As she argued for allowing space for God to transform us, to seek Him and to be ok with the silence and the struggle, she provided activities to do while in the midst of the process. At the same time, I appreciate that many of us need to feel like we are doing something to help facilitate the process. Or we get caught up in our thinking and need to do something so that we don’t feel so lost in the desert. These activities can be helpful, but we have to be cautious not to rely on them as the answer.
I get this tension. Faith without action is worthless. Action without faith and love is also worthless. The question becomes, which comes first? Or is there a first? If Trebesch is correct, that a result of isolation is transformation from doing to being, then I posit that we must first pursue God. As we make our plans for good works, we must first bury ourselves in prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit, and recognizing that these are not our plans, but His. These are not our lost sheep, but His. This is not our church, but His. This is not my life, but His.
 Shelley Trebesch, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1997.
 Ibid, p. 10.
 Ibid, 30-34.