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The pain of loneliness for some is so sharp that they were willing to try anything for half an hour of companionship. The scourge of loneliness is something that hits all of us at some time in our life

I want you to turn with me to the Psalms again, to Psalm 69 this time, and we also want to read from Psalm 73 - just one verse from both those Psalms. I want to speak to you this morning on the subject of loneliness. Psalm 69, and then Psalm 73, under the heading of loneliness.

Verse 20, one verse, the Psalmist says: "Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none". Then Psalm 73 and verse 25: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee".

There was once an advertisement in a Kansas newspaper that read like this: 'I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for five dollars'. It sounds like a hoax, doesn't it? But it wasn't long before that individual who had placed the advertisement in the newspaper was bombarded by about 10 to 20 calls a day. The pain of loneliness for some is so sharp that they were willing to try anything for half an hour of companionship. The scourge of loneliness is something that hits all of us at some time in our life. It can last from any time span of a moment to a lifetime, and loneliness - to define it, if it is possible to do such - is the painful awareness that we lack meaningful contact with others. It involves within it a feeling of inner emptiness which can be accompanied by sadness, discouragement, a sense of isolation, restlessness and anxiety - and even an intense desire within to be wanted and needed by someone.

The fact of the matter is, if you have experienced loneliness in our congregation today, you will know that lonely people often feel left out. They feel unwanted or rejected, even when they are surrounded by others - whether it be friends, family, or a congregation of a church. With loneliness, not only can there come this feeling of being left out, but a sense of worthlessness - in other words, people reason within themselves: 'Well, since nobody wants to be with me, I guess I'm not worth being with'. It is important that we realise that loneliness is one of the greatest problems that 21st century society faces.

Now let me make a distinction here, because there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is a voluntary withdrawal from people; loneliness is forced upon you, against your will you are made alone. Solitude can be a refreshing experience, it can be rejuvenating and even enjoyable - but loneliness is something that is painful, draining, and unpleasant. Solitude can be started and stopped at your own will, when you decide; but loneliness sweeps over us and hangs on in spite of the best efforts to cast it off. Vance Havner, that great South American preacher, put it like this: 'One of the worst things about loneliness is that you can't run away from it' - you can't run away from it.

When we look in the Bible we find, as John Milton the great poet said, that loneliness is the first thing which God's eye named not good - do you remember that? Right back at the very beginning in creation, before even the fall of humankind, in Genesis 2:18 God said: 'It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make an helpmeet for him'. Our Creator, right at the beginning, knew that human beings need other human beings to live. Although, as we scan through the covers of our Bible from Genesis to Revelation loneliness per se is rarely discussed in the Bible, it is witnessed frequently in the lives of many giants of the faith, many of the great characters of our Bible stories. You see it in the life of Jacob, the life of Moses, that great patriarch Job, Nehemiah, the prophet Elijah, the prophet Jeremiah, David the Psalmist that we've read from already today on another occasion in Psalm 25:16 says: 'I am desolate and afflicted; I have been left and deserted' - and of course, need we say that the Lord Jesus Christ in the four Gospels, as we see Him there, is the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were are faces from Him, we esteemed Him stricken of God and afflicted. He was rejected of His own people, and we see Him near the end of His life's ministry in the garden of Gethsemane, even His disciples around Him had fallen asleep, and later they desert Him, and then He is nailed to the cross at Calvary and there is that great cry of dereliction and forsakenness of God: 'My God, my God, why...'.

Loneliness sweeps over us and hangs on in spite of the best efforts to cast it off

We read also of John the Baptist who was executed after his imprisonment. The last book of the Bible is written by John the apostle, who was exiled to an island in Patmos, we don't know what human interaction he enjoyed at all - but we know that he probably died there. Then we have Paul the apostle spending his last days in prison, and writing the words that we find in 2 Timothy, if you turn with me to it, 2 Timothy chapter 4 - and writing to his son in the faith, the great Paul at the end of his life and ministry, in prison facing execution, says these words - verse 9: 'Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus'.

He's telling us that everyone, apart from Luke here, had forsaken him. None stood with him. Now we see, even at a casual glance of all those characters that we have mentioned, that this problem of loneliness is no respecter of persons. It hits us all at sometime or another, but especially in the life of great men and women of God we find that their souls are gripped often with the scourge of loneliness. A. W. Tozer said: 'Most of the worlds great souls have been lonely'. It's not only great people in the eyes of God, but great people in the eyes of this world are not immune to it. Albert Einstein, who was not a Christian, said: 'It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely'. A giant of science, a giant of the modern age, yet affected by this scourge. Whether you're a giant in the world's sight, or a giant in God's sight - like William Carey, the father of modern missions in India, who said these words in his diary: 'O that I had an earthly friend on whom I could unbosom my soul'. No matter who you are, saint or sinner, giant or dwarf spiritually, you will be affected by loneliness.

Now we could spend time this morning discussing the causes of loneliness, which are many and varied. We could discuss the effects of loneliness on our lives and modern society, which are diverse. The reason why you are lonely today could be because of bereavement. So many in our fellowship have been affected in recent days with this. After the death of her husband Queen Victoria said these words: 'There was no one left to call me Victoria'. That intimate one was gone, the Queen of England and the Empire could say there was no one left intimate enough with me to call me Victoria.

So often we pinpoint those who are bereaved, those who are widows and widowers, as those who are lonely - and we forget that there are folk who are single, never been married, who are equally as lonely. While some may have enjoyed many years of companionship with a husband or a wife, these people have never enjoyed those pleasures at all. We ignore those who are divorced, those who have been deserted, those who are separated. We ignore children, perhaps, who have been orphaned. We ignore people in our fellowship, our friends who are in the latter end of their lives, we could say they have entered into old age - and they feel lonely.

Loneliness is not the same as being alone. You could be surrounded with all the friends, all the family, all the acquaintances in the world and still be the loneliest soul in existence!

I read this week about a man at the age of 71, who had retired in the state of Detroit in the States, and he spends most of his everyday playing solitaire - which is a card came that you play with yourself. In ten years playing this came he has recorded completion of 132,400 games, he has recorded the results of each one, and he can show any visitor six ledger books full with all the figures. You may be unemployed - yes, unemployed - you're at home, and you're lonely. Your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your parents perhaps are at work, but you're not at work. You might even be a missionary - a missionary away from home, like Carey that we've mentioned, but I could mention a dozen more who in their life's experience, many many great men and women of God, have told of how they have lost the vision, that they've lost the dream because of homesickness and loneliness.

But let us not make the mistake of not just focusing in on people who have lost partners, let us remember all those other people, but also realise that loneliness is not the same as being alone. Please grasp this: loneliness is not the same as being alone. You could be surrounded with all the friends, all the family, all the acquaintances in the world and still be the loneliest soul in existence! Isadora Duncan, whom some of you may know, was a great ballet dancer. She danced before the royalty of Europe, and was considered one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time. She said these words: 'I have never been alone, but that my heart did not ache, my eyes fill with tears, and my hands tremble for a peace and a joy that I never found' - and she went on to say that in the midst of millions of admirers she was actually a very lonely woman. Surrounded by millions who adored her, yet a lonely soul!

Dr Gary Collins, who is a professor of psychology and a Christian author, writes like this: 'We live in a loneliness producing society'. Isn't that interesting? A loneliness producing society, 'where rapid change and modern technology discourage intimacy and stimulate loneliness. Even in homes and churches people avoid each other, only to throw themselves blindly into open sharing with strangers'. In the promiscuous age in which we live students do this, fellow drinkers do it at the bar, people sitting on plane seats will divulge the most deepest darkest secrets to the person sitting beside them, because they don't have intimacy in their real life - and it mightn't be the plane, it might be just the bus down into town - all of it in the hope of finding closeness, and escaping their inner sense of isolation.

Now time would not permit us today to look at the factors and the effects of loneliness, and although it's so important, I believe, to understand the reason for your loneliness, and know that you're lonely, and know that's the problem that you're suffering if you don't already know it - the fact is, if you're here this morning and you are lonely, you probably know you're lonely, and you don't need to be told why you're lonely or the effects of how you're lonely because you know all too well. What you need is for your lonely heart to be ministered to by the Spirit of God, regardless of the causes and effects.

If you find yourself in that category of the lonely: how do you cope with your loneliness?

So here's the big question for you then this morning, if you find yourself in that category of the lonely: how do you cope with your loneliness? How do you cope with your loneliness? Some advice given today by psychiatrists and psychologists is: change your job; join a club; be positive; get married; get remarried; travel the world; move house; use your hi-fi; turn your TV on and your radio; read good books; take up a hobby; expand your horizons; renew your goals; volunteer for some good cause. All of these things, although they may do something temporarily, maybe I would say even artificially, cannot remedy the deep down pain, the problem at the deepest level. Now what I want to leave with you this morning are some Bible guidelines of how to cope with your loneliness. Let me say in preface to what I'm about to say, that I cannot, one iota, enter into what your loneliness may be - and I do not claim to do that. But what I can do is give to you the word of God, and pray that God's grace will help you in that.

Here's the first thing that I've found in the Scriptures: one, the first guideline to coping with your loneliness - accept what cannot be changed. Have you got it? Accept what cannot be changed. What I mean by that is, you cannot always change the circumstances that have caused your loneliness. Many of the examples that we have cited of lonely people are self-explanatory why you cannot change those circumstances - but for many people the biggest problem is not their loneliness, but their struggle with the acceptance of their loneliness. At times their struggle with accepting their problems and their circumstances can at times engender more anxiety than the loneliness itself! Do you understand what I'm saying? The first step to healing in your loneliness is to accept what cannot be changed, in fact it's to embrace your loneliness.

Turn with me for a moment to Philippians chapter 4, Philippians chapter 4 - I know it's very easy to quote glib proof texts, but here is a principle that the great apostle Paul (who, remember, we have just read at the beginning was deserted by everyone that was close to him) - he said, he is speaking, even if I'm not, out of experience in Philippians 4 verse 11: 'I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content'.

Now that doesn't mean jumping for joy, but what it does mean is: in those respects of life that you cannot change, instead of trying to struggle and fight with it, embrace it knowing that there is a beneficent heavenly Father in glory, a benevolent God who is only after your good and who is working all things together in His sovereign graciousness for your good in the end.

Now, it's easy to say, isn't it? But it's a different thing to actually embrace what seems to be prickled paw. But what we do need today is to realise that all the anxiety of struggling with accepting our circumstances causes more anxiety, more pain, more stress, and even accentuates our feeling of loneliness. Let me remind you of what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:27 in the Sermon on the Mount: 'Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?' - have you got it? Maybe you're short like me, and maybe it worries you at times - it doesn't really worry me, because I'm standing up here above you all - but maybe it does worry you. All the worry in the world will not add one cubit or one inch to your stature. It's a circumstance that must be accepted unless you're going to go for some really drastic cosmetic surgery! The fact of the matter is, there are things in life that we cannot change, and therefore we must accept them in God's providential dealings, that He has allowed this to enter into our lives, and we must - as hard as it may be to take the next step - we must embrace it.

Don't be a person who sulks in self-induced seclusion, feeling sorry for yourself, and then wonder why you're lonely

Now please do not think that I am being defeatist in what I'm saying, that you have to accept adverse circumstances. You have to accept them when you cannot change them, but the second thing is this: we also have to alter what can be changed. This is not a defeatist doctrine, because if anything in our lives can be changed we ought to alter it in order to help us in our lonely situations. Many situations can be altered, many people in their loneliness, as they diagnose it, can find out that one of the reasons why they are lonely is because they have shut other people out. They do not benefit from their family and friends as they could do, as a Christian perhaps they do not get involved in church activities that would help them bolster their soul, be ministered unto by the word of God and prayer. If they only altered those circumstances in their life, they would find that they are helped a little in their loneliness - it might not dispel it all, but it would at least help a little bit.

What I'm saying in the converse is this: don't be a person who sulks in self-induced seclusion, feeling sorry for yourself, and then wonder why you're lonely. What I'm talking about here is not people that cannot help their loneliness, I am now talking about people that can actively change their circumstances and their situation. There is a very telling proverb, if you turn with me to Proverbs 18, that actually speaks right into such a situation - someone who can alter and change their circumstances of loneliness. Proverbs 18 and verse 24, now I want you to keep this verse open - the first half of it says this: 'A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly'.

What a wise proverb! In other words, if you want to have friends you need to be a friendly person. Isn't it so true that some people who are lonely, and some people who complain about their loneliness, are not the most friendly people in the world - sometimes it's hard to get a smile from them. There are things that we can alter, if we can alter anything it should be altered to help us in our loneliness.

Now here's the third Bible guideline to coping with loneliness, which is the most important, and I want to leave with you finally today. It's found at the end of Proverbs 18:24: 'A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother'. Here is the third step - the first was 'accept what cannot be changed'; the second is 'alter what can be changed'; and the third and most important is this 'meet the spiritual need'. Meet the spiritual need - what do I mean? Well, what I've said: you could surround yourself with all the friends and all the relatives in the world, you could engage yourself as the most powerful or the most famous person in the world, and still be the loneliest creature on the face of God's earth.

H.G. Wells, that famous author, said: 'I am sixty, and I am lonely, and I have never found peace'. What a man of success he was in the literary world, yet at the end of his life he said he was the loneliest man who had never found peace. Now let me say, just in case there's someone gathered with us this morning who does not know the Lord Jesus Christ as their own and personal Saviour, there is an existential loneliness, a spiritual loneliness within the heart of every man that can only be filled by the personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in salvation. That is the only way that that lack of peace, that spiritual loneliness, can be dispelled from your dark heart - is to repent of your sins and place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation.

Can I ask you, believer, believer in the midst of your loneliness: do you dwell upon those thoughts?

You see, although God Himself even declared in Genesis 2 that people need each other, many people in our modern world have concluded that human contact is the only solution for loneliness. They fail to realise that in addition to human companionship an individual needs to be introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, you could set up all the psychological and counselling programs that you like to address your loneliness, but if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour you will never have the companionship that matters the most. The friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

Now if you are a Christian, and you're here and you're still suffering from this problem of loneliness, what I want you to do now, and in fact do on a regular basis, which I feel we as believers don't do, is to realise that kind of Saviour that we have. Now I'm talking about practical exercise, where you sit down with your Bible and a pen and a piece of paper, and you write down all that Jesus means to you as a Christian. He loves you unconditionally, doesn't He? No matter what you do, no matter what you say, because you're saved by grace He loves you all the same - not like some fair-weather friends. In fact, His love was so great that He demonstrated it by dying - stretching out His arms on the cross to save you. He took upon Himself your sins as if they were His own, and through confession of those sins He has welcomed you as adopted children into His family, and He has become your friend that sticks closer than a brother!

When He was going to leave the disciples, He told them in John chapter 14 and John chapter 16 that He would come again - not just in His second advent, but He said: 'I will come to you', meaning by the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He has given us within our bosoms, as children of God, the Holy Ghost - a companion! He is not some force, or cosmic liquid, or influence, He is a friend - as real as Jesus - and He resides within your heart.

When we read the book of Romans we read of that friend within it, that He helps us in our infirmities. In our weaknesses that no one understands, He helps us, He is in us, He actually senses us - and in fact, go further, we read that He prays for us in the moments when our anxieties are so great that we cannot or know not how to pray for ourselves, He intercedes on our behalf! The mighty thing about His ministry is that day by day as we are living down here, no matter what circumstances we go through, He is making us more into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ - He's getting us ready for heaven.

Now can I ask you, believer, believer in the midst of your loneliness: do you dwell upon those thoughts? I challenge you: make out a list of all the things that you are in Christ - I am a new creation - go through the list, all in the New Testament. Make out a list of all the blessings that you have - blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Go through all the promises of Scripture, list them out, and go down them at a regular time in the week, maybe even a regular time in the day, at regular intervals - and it will be better to you than a tonic that you would get from the doctor!

What other companion could we need, for Christ understands our loneliness?

Dispelling the loneliness and actually cultivating, this is what it does, cultivates the companionship of the Lord Jesus Christ. We could say it's practising the presence of God. Now: do you dwell upon those things which produce the consciousness of God's company with you, or do you do the alternative, do you dwell on the dark side of things? Which do you do? Paul said in Philippians: 'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things'. Solomon said in Proverbs 23: 'For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is'.

Now can I paraphrase that into our contemporary situation that we're making an application of here: if you think lonely thoughts, you will feel more lonely - but if you think God's thoughts, that God is very real, that His presence can be sensed, that He communicates to you through His word, and you can communicate to Him in prayer and pour out your deepest needs. But also realise that although God can be sensed, and God can be heard, and God can hear you, God is not tangible - He can't be touched, He can't be seen with your eyes, but there is the tangible body of Christ, and that is the church of the living God!

Jesus has no arms down here, but our arms - do you get it? You know, sometimes I think in our evangelical circles we ignore this aspect: that the church ought to be a helping and healing community which radiates the life, acceptance, and support of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself - for we are meant to be His body, and when one part of the body hurts it all should hurt!

John said in his first epistle: 'But whoso seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'. But more, please don't miss my main point this morning, more than all the fellowship in the world - every Christian, but especially lonely Christians, need to fellowship with their God. That is the key if there be any one!

Elisabeth Elliott, who lost her husband early in their marriage to the Auca Indians in South America - Jim Elliot - said out of her experience: 'When you are lonely too much stillness is exactly the thing that seems to be laying waste your soul, but use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him'. Bill Gothard said: 'Loneliness becomes our friend that forces us to enjoy the friendship of God as much as you would the friendship of others'. F. B. Meyer said: 'Loneliness is an opportunity for Jesus to make Himself known'.

John, on the Isle of Patmos, all alone - but who in this world is given, quote the title 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ', that the whole world is still disputing and exegeting today? It was that lonely man who got a vision of Christ in his loneliness! What other companion could we need, for Christ understands our loneliness? He has been through greater loneliness, and this is our friend, this is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. This is the one who says 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee' - and I'm asking you today in your loneliness: do you cultivate His companionship?

That is why David was able to say out of the depths of his desolation and despair: 'Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee'. What is the conclusion, the scriptural one? It is simply this: that loneliness is reduced and even at times prevented by building an intimate relationship with God as well as other Christians. We often sing on a Thursday night:

'What, though clouds are hovering o'er me,
And I seem to walk alone,
Longing mid my cares and crosses
For the joys that now are flown.

If I've Jesus, Jesus only
Then my sky will have a gem:
He's the Sun of brightest splendour,
And the Star of Bethlehem'.

He has been through greater loneliness, and this is our friend, this is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother

Charles Swindoll, the Christian author and preacher, before his conversion he was a marine in the Marine Corps in the United States. On one occasion they were out for 17 days at sea. He writes that about the tenth day out, they were far removed from any body of land in the Pacific, and the waves were sometimes 30 or 40 feet high. 'The ship that looked enormous in that dock as we boarded it, now felt like a toothpick in the middle of the circle of the horizon. At that great moment I remembered Samuel Taylor Coleridge's words in the rhyme of the ancient Mariner', here it is: 'Alone, alone, all all alone, alone on a wide wide sea, not a saint to pity on my soul in agony'.

Is that the way you feel today? Alone, alone, all all alone, alone on a wide wide sea, not a saint to pity on my soul in agony? Well listen: Jesus speaks, and still stills the storm, and says: 'Peace, be still! Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!'.

Let us bow our heads, and please note that what I have said this morning is not a cure for loneliness - I don't think there is one - but it is a Biblical coping mechanism for loneliness, chiefly found in the companionship of our Lord Jesus Christ. Are you cultivating it? For that is the way to cope until we get to glory, with all the trials and tribulations of this life.

Our Father, we pray that everyone gathered here today will know the companionship of the Master. O, our Father, that they will not shut Him out in the midst of their loneliness, and be even lonelier; that they will not shut out the saints of God, and that we as the saints of God would be loving and compassionate, tender, and that we will minister to those who need to be ministered to. We read so many times of our duty toward the orphan and the widow, but Lord we so seldom live up to it. We pray that as the body of Christ, that we will minister the love of Christ, and all of us will be recipients of that love, and that it will draw us closer to the Lord Jesus - and in some strange way, turn our mourning into dancing, for Jesus' sake we pray. Amen.

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
February 2004

This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape titled "The Subject Of Loneliness" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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