We’re having a shut-in at Imani this Friday, January 24th, beginning at 8:00 p.m. For those who don’t know, a shut-in is an all-night worship experience in which participants engage in a variety of spiritually edifying activities - prayer, sharing testimonies, Bible lessons, readings from other inspirational literature, singing, listening to music, watching inspirational videos, and whatever else the Holy Spirit inspires in the moment.
I grew up in a church that had shut-ins regularly, once or twice a year, usually at the beginning of the year or in preparation for a revival. Although, occasionally, the congregation was called into a shut-in just because God led the pastor to call the people into a time of intense and focused prayer together. I cannot remember the last time I heard of anyone having a shut-in. I don’t know whether that is because folks aren’t doing it anymore, or I simply haven’t heard of it being done. But I want to explain why I find it to be a completely worthwhile thing to do.
For me, it’s about treating my relationship with God with (at least) as much care as I do other important and intimate relationships. Consider intimate partnerships, for example. Successful ones must be nurtured, intentionally and deliberately. We do date nights or otherwise vary our routines to them fresh because, otherwise, there is a tendency even for the people we love most to become just another part of our routine. We revive our intimate relationships by carving out time to focus on our loved ones. We are intentional about fixing our attention on them; and, when we get really serious about it, we shut out any distractions. We turn off the TV, silence or ignore the telephone, put the laptops and iPads away. It’s about giving ourselves the opportunity to feel the feelings we’ve felt before; feelings we remember having, but need to re-experience. It’s about taking a relationship we cherish out of the realm of our routine by reviving it. And that operates to deepen it, to heal it of any day-to-day wear-and-tear, and take it to the next level.
It’s about treating my relationship with God with (at least) as much care as I do other important and intimate relationships.
I think of my relationship with God as being like other intimate relationships in some ways. It requires - and deserves - intention and effort, on my part, to nurture it, and to experience revival and refreshing. Unlike anyone else in my life, God is with me on a constant basis, every minute of every day. I would be lying if I deny that it is easy to lapse into taking God, and my relationship with God, for granted - like just another part of my normal routine.
My experience has always been that God initiates revival, meaning God calls the church into a season of revival and our task is to respond to that call and movement of God by doing what we are willing to do to keep any relationship we value fresh, vibrant, and fulfilling - be intentional and deliberate about setting aside time, shutting out distractions, giving ourselves the opportunity to feel the feelings we’ve felt before; feelings we remember having but need to re-experience. This, too, is about taking a relationship we cherish out of the realm of our routine by reviving it. And that operates to deepen it, to heal it of any day-to-day wear-and-tear, and take it to the next level.
And here is what I believe with all of my heart; in fact, this is something I know - God absolutely, positively, without fail, will bless and honor our efforts. It’s as simple as that. Just as surely as any of us would be touched and moved by the effort of someone we love to make time for us, to set everything else aside, and to focus on nurturing and strengthening our relationship, God is moved by any sincere effort we make to draw closer to God. And God will respond with blessing.
So is a shut-in for everyone? Maybe not. It is for those who believe that, even if it is not “necessary,” it is worth our while to interrupt our routines, to make sacrifices, and to put extra-ordinary effort into nurturing, reviving, and strengthening our relationship with God. It is for those who believe that it is God, not us, who initiates this type of intense encounter and who want to be responsive to the inner urging to immerse ourselves, for a while, in it. And it is for those who believe that, regardless of whether we appear to be misguided, or fanatical, or over-the-top to others, God does not see any of that when God looks at our efforts. God sees beloved children who want nothing more than to be as close to God as we possibly can be; and are actively seeking that, in accordance with a tradition that has worked for many generations of believers before us.
Personally, I can hardly wait for Friday night.