“I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”
If you hit an oil drum you can tell if it’s empty or full by the sound it makes. People are the same way. Whether it’s at a cocktail party, a rest home, in an airport lobby or a church, when you bump into people, you can tell if they are hollow or full. And from the sounds many people are making today, they are lonely.
An elderly lady told me, “When my sister died, the last person on earth who cared for me was gone. I don’t even have anybody to put in the blank space on my identification cared in my wallet which asks whom to notify in case of emergency.”
Loneliness is not just a problem for the elderly. Popular people get lonely too. Comedienne Lily Tomlin spoke for a lot of Hollywood when she quipped, “Remember, we’re all in this alone.” Just before her death from a drug overdose, rock singer Janis Joplin confessed rather sadly, “On stage I make love to 25,000 people; then I go home alone.”
A group of graduate students was being shown through the computer center at a large state university. The guide said, “Here’s a simple model. You can talk to it through this typewriter. Ask it anything you want.” There was an awkward silence, and then a student sat down and typed, “Hello!” Immediately the machine began to type back, “hello there. Welcome to the University of Virginia!” The young man sat there for a few moments. Then he turned to the group and said rather wistfully, “Why, that’s the warmest thing that’s been said to me around here in three years!” I’m sure you know how he felt. We live in an impersonal world. And many of us are lonely.
Perhaps the “Beatles” summed up many of our lives in their song classic “Eleanor Rigby.”
Ah, look at all the lonely people!
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been– lives in a dream.
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door, who is it for?
All the lonely people, where do they call come from? All the lonely people, where do they belong?
Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear– No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, what does he care?
Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name– Nobody came…
All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
Most any dictionary will define loneliness as a depression brought on by a lack of meaningful relationships. At one time or another we have all wrestled with strong feelings of loneliness. Did you know that Jesus Christ was lonely at times? Before his crucifixion, he prayed alone in a garden; his disciples had fallen asleep. Jesus had gone to them twice saying, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” He was lonely.
This episode is not an isolated incident in Christ’s life either. When Jesus was but twelve years old, he had already begun to move beyond his parents’ vision and understanding. His closest disciples did not really understand his mission. The Bible states that, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11 KJV) His family even asked him to come home and abandon his ministry which was causing so much controversy. Later in his life the great crowds began to thin out. Enthusiastic followers became back-sliders. Things got so bad that Christ turned to his disciples and said, “Will you also go away?”
Yes, Christ experienced it all! The loneliness of leadership and high vision; the loneliness of rejection, of broken relationships, of having no one who understands; the loneliness of betrayal and suffering– he had a full portion of loneliness. Even God himself seemed once to have abandoned him, for Christ cried out from the cross, “My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Yes, Christ faced all of the loneliness that we face and more. The Bible says, “We have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 4:15, 2:18) Yes, because Christ was lonely, he can help the lonely.
In the text Jesus was preparing to die. The shadow of the cross had fallen across his path. He was a man marked for death. He knew that his friends would betray him, deny him, or run away. By all reason Jesus should have been a very lonely person. Yet Christ said confidently, “I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”
If we study Christ’s life-style it will become evident that Jesus had ways of dealing with loneliness. They were methods that worked. And they are ways that can become our ways.
The first way Christ dealt with loneliness was by faith. “I am not alone.” Jesus said when all the world stood apart. “The Father is with me.” Christ knew that God loved him. He knew that God had not abandoned him to the reckless forces that threatened his life. He had faith that God himself would be faithful. And didn’t God’s angel strengthen Christ in the garden? Didn’t God send another man to help carry the cross to Calvary? Didn’t Jesus die much more quickly than death by crucifixion usually allows? Wasn’t God faithful on Easter morning? Not once did Christ’s faith prove vain. God was with him all the way.
God is with us by faith, too. This is one of the meanings of Christmas. Christ’s name is “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” Hence, the text can become our Christmas motto, “I am not alone. The father is with me.”
Didn’t David by faith write in the Twenty-third Psalm, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me?” Do you believe it?
And what was Christ’s last promise while on earth? He said, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” And did he not keep that promise? At Pentecost the disciples were afraid and hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were lonely, and God came to them. He gave them the powerful companionship of the Holy Spirit.
There is a scene in the play, Green Pastures, when the children of Israel have gone on ahead into the Promised Land. They have left Moses behind. He is to die on Mount Pisgah. What a pitifully lonely figure Moses is as he watches them go. Then he hears a movement behind him, and he feels a hand on his shoulder. Moses asks, “Is you wid me, Lord?” The voice that comes back warms his soul. “Cou’se I is, Moses. Cou’se I is.” There are many times in life when we need to feel God’s hand on our shoulder. There are many times when we feel like an absurd person singular, condemned to be imprisoned in our own separateness. It is during those times that we need to have faith in God.
After I graduated from college I set off to graduate school in Atlanta. I was afraid of failing. I was timid about living alone in a big, strange city. During that time of transition my girl friend rejected me and all things combined to thrust me into a lonely pit. Severed from every meaningful human relationship, I wanted to quit, to go home. The struggle for faith was fierce. It required all I had and more. Once I drove along in the car, weeping uncontrollably. In faith I sang the old hymn,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back;
Though none go with me,
Still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
Sometimes all a person can offer God is faith amidst tears. But that is good enough. Within several weeks the Lord had comforted me with new friends, a roommate, letters from home, and a new church home. But, best of all, God soon filled a void in my life by introducing me to the woman who is now my wife. The Lord, by faith, turned loneliness into with-ness. He showed me that he could supply all my needs if I trusted him. There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper. There is no isolation that God will not penetrate. Call out to Christ. He is there. He is near. By faith he will place his hand on your shoulder.
“I am not alone, the father is with me,” Jesus said. And how was God with him? By faith. Yet another way God was with Jesus was in fellowship. Jesus invented the church. Wherever Christ went he drew about him men, women and children who shared his love. Christ was able to overcome many a lonely moment because his church was there to eat with him, to listen, to encourage, and to pray.
God will be with us in our fellowship, too. It is in church that we come together for worship, for friendship, for comfort, for discussion, ministry and counseling. Hebrews 10:24, 25a says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”
The Apostle Paul is a fine example of what the church can do for people. Consider his life for a moment. Paul was probably very short in stature. His name was actually Saul, but someone nicknamed him “Paul,” which is Latin for “shorty.” We are told that Paul was not a good speaker. His sermons were hard to comprehend (2 Peter 3:15-16). And, as if nature’s unkindness’ were not enough, Paul had been shipwrecked two or three times; he’d been whipped with a cat-o-nine tails, rejected by his own kinsmen, and even stoned and left for dead. Imagine the gashes! No doctor had stitched them up. Paul’s wounds must have haled as frightful disfigurements. Then there was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Was it a problem with his eyesight? Perhaps. A doctor named Luke was at Paul’s side much of the time. He must have been something of a walking candidate for the hospital emergency room. But instead of being hospitalized, Paul spent much of his time in prison. Yet God took this unbecoming manual laborer, a tentmaker by trade, and made him the founder of many churches. As Christ had found the Church a cure for loneliness, St. Paul did, too. It was the churches that ministered to Paul while he was ill or imprisoned. When the world had chewed Paul up and spit him out, it was the fellowship that helped him get his life together again. Listen to Paul’s own words: “It was kind of you to share my trouble… for you sent me help once and again.” (Philippians 4:14, 16) “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)
Perhaps one of the greatest accounts of the fellowship’s encouragement to Paul is found in Acts 28:14b, 15. Paul was being transported by ship to Rome for trial. He was in chains. Within the past few weeks he had been in a two-week tempest, shipwrecked, and snake bitten. His future was very uncertain. His dream was to preach the gospel in Spain, but he was now a leg-weary prisoner being led to Rome. He was lonely and discouraged as he drew within fifty miles of the city. The Bible picks up the story from here: “And so we came to Rome. And the brethren there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them Paul thanked God and took courage.” Do you see how Paul’s lonely, discouraged spirits were enheartened by fellowship? Christian company! It’s a potent cure for loneliness. Even Paul needed others. He couldn’t stay away from the Church and live victoriously. The world would not let him anymore than it will let you. We all need fellowship.
Do you want a cure for loneliness? Try faith and fellowship. They’re Christ-inspired. They worked for Jesus and Paul. And they’ll work for you!
One other prescription for loneliness is friendliness. Christ tested this out in his own life. The Lord was a friendly person. He made friends out of strangers. We have Bible stories of his befriending people by the sea, little children, a man up in a tree, a fellow at a tax booth, a woman at a well, and a thief on the cross.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only way to have a friend is to be a friend.” Truer words are not to be found. Indeed, if we are constantly befriending others in their time of need, then we can rest assured we will have friends to serve us when we stand in need ourselves. Dale Carnegie said, “you can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Paul knew this. He did not sit back and try to interest others in himself. He showed interest in them. While in jail, Paul wrote letters to encourage others. He shared his faith with the guards and the jailer. And when Paul himself needed help, others were there. It will be the same with you today. If you learn to befriend others, you won’t lack a friend yourself.
Jesus brought out the true essence of friendship when he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Understanding this verse can be the key to freedom from many a lonely day and night. Jesus did not mean that a good friend dies for his companions. People are always willing to go to war, to wrangle philosophically, even to die for God or friends. But few people are ever willing to live for God and others. This is the key! To lay down our lives for others means we become a servant. It means you enjoy helping others succeed.
The greatest deeds of human history have been accomplished by those who lived for somebody else. Was David Livingstone poor, sick, and lost in Africa? No. For somebody else! Was Dr. Salk stricken with polio? No. For somebody else! Was Martin Luther King, Jr., poor and uneducated, oppressed? No. For somebody else! The darkest deeds of the human race are all characterized by self-serving greed. Yet life’s bright moments occur when someone unselfishly serves. Check yourself! Whenever you find yourself feeling very good and joyous, you will discover, if you look, that you’ve been giving to others!
How can you be a friend to others? Just do to them what you’d have them do to you. A pat on the back, a listening ear, an unexpected gift, a phone call, a shared meal– there must be thousands of ways to show interest.
The personals section of the newspaper had the following ad in it.
“Considerate male, 43, divorced. 5″8″, 150 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes, good looking, with secure job. I do not smoke, take a social drink, abhor foul language. I enjoy all the good things of life, living in general. I am looking for a girl, 30-35 who is neat, has a level head, and is lonely; one I can love and respect. Please take a chance. Write to ‘waiting and hoping’ Box 580.” Each week thousands of such personals are printed in newspapers. And do you know what sticks out most? That little phrase, “Please take a chance!” It’s risky business to be friendly, but it beats the alternative of loneliness. Will you take a chance?
Don’t Let Go!
A school teacher announced to her class of fifth graders that she was going to take them to a museum in downtown New York City. Each pupil was to bring a permission slip from his/her parents. The mothers all quizzed their children saying, “New York is a dangerous place. Who will go with you?” The children simply said, “No one except our teacher.” Parents wondered how one person could manage thirty grade school students while crossing streets and boarding buses. But the field trip came and went without any injury or major event. So the parents again quizzed their children. “Did anyone else go with you?” The children said, “No, just the teacher.” “Did she give you a bunch of rules?” The answer came again, “No!” “Well, what did she do?” asked the parents, mystified. Their children responded, “All she did was bring a rope and told us not to let go of it.” And you, child of God, you will not get lost or hurt with loneliness either if you just hold onto this rope of the text! You are not alone. The Father is with you in faith, in fellowship and in friendship.