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Dining with pandas: Reframing isolation as an opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Dining with pandas: Reframing isolation as an opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus
The Maison Saigon restaurant uses stuffed panda dolls as space keepers for social distancing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

A restaurant in Thailand has found a unique way to ensure it meets social distancing guidelines while providing lonely diners with some company: it is seating stuffed pandas at its tables.

Earlier this month, Thailand relaxed some restrictions on businesses as the number of coronavirus cases slowed. Restaurants were allowed to reopen, but strict rules were enacted to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

One restaurant owner said, “Earlier we had only one chair for the tables where the customer came alone. But for me, it felt strange, so I thought I’d give them some company.” He filled some of the empty chairs with panda dolls, to the gratitude of his customers.

“The doll makes me feel less lonely eating by myself,” one said. Another agreed: “It’s a lot easier to understand compared to other restaurants where people always get confused about where to sit and end up sitting too close to each other.”

Thailand’s new rules seem to be working. Yesterday, it reported zero new cases of coronavirus for the first time since early March, before the lockdown began.

Reframing isolation as an opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus

After God created the first man, he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We were made to love our Lord and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). Every image of the church in the New Testament is collective—a vine with many branches, a body with many members.

One of the most debilitating aspects of the pandemic is the isolation it has forced on the world. But when we reframe solitude as an opportunity for spiritual growth, we can not only turn a negative into a positive—we can find comfort and the community we long for.

The example of Jesus makes clear the benefits of solitude with our Father. This is how he began his day: “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). On one occasion, “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on a mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23). On another, “he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Such solitude with his Father was his regular habit (Luke 5:16).

Jesus taught us to follow his example: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6a). With this promise: “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6b).

The harder it is to spend time alone with our Lord, the more we need time alone with our Lord. In fact, he loves to reward faithfulness in hard places.

Oswald Chambers observed, “It is the disagreeable things which make us exhibit whether or not we are manifesting [Jesus’] life. . . . The only thing that will enable me to enjoy the disagreeable is the keen enthusiasm of letting the life of the Son of God manifest itself in me. No matter how disagreeable a thing may be, say—’Lord, I am delighted to obey Thee in this matter,’ and instantly the Son of God will press to the front, and there will be manifested in my human life that which glorifies Jesus.”

Will Jesus manifest his life in yours today?