The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, heigh-ho, the derry-o the cheese stands alone.
Did you ever play Farmer in the Dell when you were younger? I have an early memory of doing so in the church nursery. It’s not fun to be the cheese, the last one picked, the one left standing in the middle of the circle when it’s all over.
If you’ve ever been left alone in life and complained about it, you’ve got company. There was once a man who ran terrified into the wilderness and cried out, “I am the only one left!” And again, hiding on a mountainside, “I am the only one left!” He was Elijah, prophet of Israel, and he had just won a fiery showdown over the prophets of Baal. But he freaked out when angry Jezebel vowed to kill him within the day. So he ran into the wilderness, full of despair.
Sometimes, we are alone because we run from the Lord. We step outside the kingdom work he’s called us to and turn our eyes inward. We put up curtains between ourselves and the world. Whether because of fear, anger, or despair, we hang our heads and cry “I am the only one left.” This is selfish aloneness, an utter absorption with our personal issues and sin.
Other times, we stand alone because we are called to, like Elijah did right before he crashed in self-pity. He announced, in a most hostile environment, that he was on the Lord’s side, and he commanded Israel to choose between the Lord or the prophets of Baal. In the midst of this showdown, Elijah proclaimed, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” This is kingdom aloneness: standing apart for the sake of the Lord, standing out because he calls you to.
Don’t ever think that the Lord calls you into selfish aloneness, that pitying of yourself which shuts out community. “Woe is me” may have a place in private prayer, but it’s a place to pass through, not to dwell in.
When God calls you to stand out, it may be a lonely place, but it will be a kingdom place as well. When God calls you to stand out, do not focus so much on the standing-out part as the God-calling part. Let your standing out be purposeful and hope-inducing. Beware the temptation to turn your eyes upon yourself, for as soon as you do, you will be like Elijah, alone in the wilderness crying “I am the only one left.”
God quickly corrected Elijah’s vision. Finding him in the wilderness, God revealed himself afresh to Elijah and called him right back into kingdom aloneness. “Go anoint Hazael as king,” he told Elijah, and immediately, Elijah was back in the fray of the battle.
The cure for selfish aloneness is to return to the work to which God has called you.