Lord, I’m Struggling With Loneliness

♬Hear that lonesome whippoorwill, he sounds too blue to fly.

The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry. ♬

Have you ever felt so lonesome, you could cry? That old Hank Williams song describes this common life experience. Many of us go through a season of lonesomeness at least once or twice in our lifetime. It is a growing problem in our society today. A study by the American Council of Life Insurance reported that the most lonely group in America is college students. Next on the list are divorced people, welfare recipients, single moms, housewives, and the elderly. It is a problem for people Ð young and old alike.

D. H. says, “I’m 21, and I have no friends. I had tons of friends in high school, but after we graduated, none of them talk to me. I miss them a lot.”

Martha writes, “Since being diagnosed with cancer, my feelings of isolation at home are deepening. I have little in common with my husband. We don’t share the same political views; he’s a tv addict and I’m not. My son came over for dinner tonight, and I felt invisible, untouchable, and insignificant. They are all trying to skirt the topic of my cancer, and I can’t say that I blame them.”

Even famous people suffer with loneliness. Years ago Mother Teresa said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.” Judy Garland once asked, “If I’m a legend, then why am I so lonely?” A popular actress, Anne Hathaway, is quoted as saying, “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. I worry most about being alone with no one to care for me.”

Loneliness can best be defined as a painful awareness that we lack meaningful contact with other people. It’s a feeling that nobody cares about you as a person, and it can happen for a variety of reasons Ð like when we lose a loved one. A friend of mine, who recently laid his wife to rest, talks of waking up in the morning with an absolute sense of loneliness. It can happen when we feel like an outsider, like the new kid in school.

Loneliness can be the result of something we do to ourselves. We get so busy looking at a computer or television screen that we don’t take time to build relationships. Then one day we feel as if we’re all alone. That feeling can be so painful that some people even hurt themselves or fall into destructive habits. The Bible tells us that God did not create us to be alone. After He created Adam, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

Loneliness is something that we all have to face now and then. God’s Word has some help for us in finding how to get out of it.

The Old Testament tells about a fellow named Elijah, a prophet and a faithful man of God. Elijah had major odds against him. He had been calling the people to worship the God of Israel alone, Ð not the Baals. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were angry about that, and Jezebel had threatened to kill him. Frightened, Elijah runs off into the wilderness. At one point he even prays, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”

Now Elijah is in a cave on Mount Horeb, which is the perfect metaphor for describing someone who is experiencing loneliness. God calls out to him in response to Elijah’s loneliness and has a counseling session with him. He says basically three things to Elijah that could be very helpful for you and me in our days of loneliness and fear.

The first thing God says is to go outside to the side of that mountain and look up! God gives him a spectacular show with an earthquake, fire, and a mighty wind. But God was not in those. However, Elijah then hears a still, small voice, and he knew he was now in the presence of God. He was reminded, as he looked up, that he was not alone. God was with him in the quiet and would have the final word concerning Jezebel and Ahab.

God’s words to Elijah are His words to us. Sometimes it may seem like God is not around, but even when He can’t be seen, just be still and listen. We, too, will find that still, small voice reminding us God will never leave us or forsake us. He is still at work in our lives.

I am reminded of Jesus telling his disciples, as he sends them off into a world that is not exactly cheering for Jesus, “Go and make disciples.” How overwhelming and lonely that must have seemed at the time. However, Jesus also said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time.” Look up, be still, call out His name, pray to Him, and open His Word. Let Him remind you that He loves you and you are not alone.

God also reminds Elijah that he does have friends. He directs him to go back and find Elisha, who is to be his associate and successor. God directs Elijah to have the courage and faith to reach out to Elisha. God also reminded Elijah that 7,000 people have remained faithful to God and will join in him in opposing those who are putting God aside. Elijah did what God asked him to do, Elisha became like a son to him, and Elijah no longer had to feel like he was standing alone.

We are not alone. We have friends in Christ to walk along side of us in our life, in our ministry as we serve Him in this world. Jesus has given us brothers and sisters to whom we can reach out. We only need to have the courage to reach out to somebody. Instead of wishing for a friend, be a friend.

In his book, “Who Switched the Price Tags?” Tony Campolo talks about the risk-taking necessary to establish friendships during the course of any given school year. Concerning his tenure at Eastern University, Tony writes, “I can count on some freshman coming into my office and complaining about loneliness. I can even predict what the student will say. ÔThis is supposed to be a Christian college, why then am I left so alone? Why isn’t anybody paying attention to me?’ I don’t doubt the loneliness of that student. I am certain he suffers from the sense of estrangement, but I also know that the causes of loneliness have nothing to do with the lack of Christianity in the rest of that student body. That the student is lonely because they are afraid to take the risk of reaching out to someone else. In the absence of such daring, the paralyzing fear of rejection takes over, and we are inevitably lonely. Jesus can help us to be risk takers.”

Often, when we are put into new circumstances, we have the sense of being a fish out of water. God’s words to Elijah apply to us as well. Take a risk. Reach out. Get involved in a church. Join a Bible study or small group. Risk rejection so you do not have to feel alone any longer.

Finally, God tells Elijah to get back to work! Elijah’s purpose was to do something wonderful for the Kingdom of God. Instead of isolating himself in his own little pity party, he needed to get off of that mountain and continue doing what God had called him to do. That is the surefire cure for loneliness Ð do something beautiful in the name of God for somebody else, a cause greater than self.

Karl Menninger was once asked how to get out of depression and loneliness. “That’s easy,” he responded. “Get out of your house, go to the other side of the tracks, and do something for someone else.”

Do something in the name of God. Serve as a volunteer. If you are physically unable to do something, pray. Pray faithfully for others each day. Come alongside someone who is having a rough time. Jesus himself told us, It is in giving yourself away that you will find life. You will find joy.

This is God’s counsel for loneliness Ð look up, look around, look alive! Do something beautiful in His name, and you will not be lacking for relationships. Follow that counsel, people, and you will no longer have the sense of being alone.

The Gospel Can Be Divisive

This is a very interesting text. It can be quite difficult to understand at times, but we are going to look at it in an effort to understand God’s holy Word.

Jesus is telling us that He came to this earth, not to bring peace, but division among families. These words can be rather startling, because in just a few chapters before this verse, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” So what does He mean in today’s text? Is he contradicting himself? As we study this text, we will find there is no contradiction at all.

When Jesus told the people, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid . . .” (John 14:27), he was trying to give the people comfort and courage. In today’s text, he is trying to show the power of the Gospel. This good news is far more than academic; it is a powerful message that grabs our soul and causes us to say, He is my Savior. Jesus tells us that if we confess our sins and accept him as our Savior and Lord, then we belong to Him forever. The Gospel is the powerful message of the salvation of our souls. However, it can also be very divisive.

For example, we find a couple who have a daughter and a son. They are a lovely family, built around love, with Jesus Christ at the center. Every Sunday morning, they head off to church and Sunday school. Sunday afternoons are spent as a family. Then they take a moment or two each Sunday evening to thank God for what they had received that day.

When the daughter reaches the age of 18, she is ready to go away to college. Her parents, realizing she will face many temptations in the classroom and with other students, give her some warnings. But they believe she will be all right, so off she goes.

The first Sunday on campus arrives. The church bells are ringing, and the daughter is ready to go to church. She looks at her roommate, who is still in bed, and asks, “Aren’t you going to church today?” Her roommate responds, “No. In my family, Sunday is a time to sleep in and take it easy. We never go to church.” This is shocking to the young lady. When she returns from church, nothing is said.

That same routine continues for several weeks, and then she asks her roommate, “Why don’t you go to church?”

“Because we are not believers. We do not believe what the church preaches. You do, and so that’s that. I don’t think we should talk about it anymore because it might hurt our relationship.”

At the end of the semester, the daughter goes home for break. On Sunday morning, she makes no effort to get up and get ready for church. Mother comes in her room and asks, “Aren’t you going to church with us?” She answers, “No, I don’t think so. At college we don’t go to church every Sunday. Some people, like my roommate, don’t go to church at all, and they are nice people. I’ve been thinking this through, and I don’t think it is necessary to go to church every Sunday, so I’m just going to sleep in today.” Her parents begin to argue with her, but then they stop. Off they go to church, just the three of them now, father, mother, and the son.

This is what Jesus means when he says the Gospel can easily cause division. The harmony that once existed in that family is now gone. They are divided on the most important blessing that family has Ð faith in Jesus Christ.

A couple more years roll by and the son decides to join the military. So he enlists, goes off to basic training. One day he writes home: “Mom and dad, a lady here in the miliary has attracted my attention and I think I have hers. I’m going to bring her home on a furlough in a few weeks so you can meet her.” Mother dashes off a letter, “Tell us a little bit more about her so we’ll be ready.” So he writes back, “We’re getting close to being engaged. Her parents and she belong to a church, but I don’t think they attend very often.”

A few weeks later he comes home with his girlfriend (now his fiancŽ), and they announce their plans to be married. When mother gets a chance to talk alone with her son, she says to him, “You know, son, this is dangerous. How will you feel on Sunday when you get up and go to church alone? How will you like it when Christmas comes, and we all get together to go to church, then come home, have our dinner, open our presents, and read the Christmas Gospel? Your wife will feel like an outsider. What will it do to your children to see a father who goes to church and a mother who doesn’t?”

“Well, mom,” he says. “I might as well tell you Ð I haven’t been going to church either. I don’t even know if I’m a Christian! I like many things about Jesus Christ, but some things I can get along without. We will have to settle this issue at another time.”

Mother and father are both very disappointed, and they ask themselves, “Where did we go wrong? Both of our children were so faithful in their church attendance and in their relationship to God. Today it seems to be all wrong.” But dad remembers the words from Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to speak and a time to listen.” “We have voiced our disappointment. We have shown them the dangers that they are living in. They know that full well and don’t need to be reminded of it again.”

The temptation is for those parents to compromise their faith and hope something can be worked out. But salvation cannot be compromised! “By grace you are saved through faith in Jesus Christ,” and that will stand until the end of time! Don’t give up! The seed has been sown, and it can one day bear fruit. We have to remain faithful to the Word of God and ask Him to help us.

A few years later, the family receives a new pastor. He is a young man, just out of the seminary, and very pleasant. However, they notice there is something different about him. He is willing to compromise just a little bit. He tells the congregation in his messages that same-sex marriages are all right, and places where Scriptures present a stumbling block for the world have to be adjusted to make everyone happy and so no one will get hurt.

This is something that the parents cannot accept, so they visit with their new pastor about it. And they ask some pointed questions: “Do you believe the Word of God can be changed to accommodate our culture?”

“Yes,” he replies, “on certain things, I do.”

“How do you interpret John 14:6 Ð I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me”?

“Well, I’ll have to wait and let Jesus interpret that when I get to heaven. But while I am here, I am of the opinion that Jesus wants all people to go to Heaven, regardless of whether they accept Jesus Christ or are faithful believers in another religion.”

Mother and dad are heartsick. Their church is swaying in the faith just as their children have done. They must decide now whether to stand firm and risk not having a close relationship with their children and their church anymore, or to compromise their faith. This is what Jesus was talking about in our text.

This is just a story, but it is happening in many groups today. What do you do? Where did we fail? We live in a world that wants nothing to do with a gospel that limits salvation to only those who believe in Jesus Christ. When we compromise the Word of God, we can no longer experience the power of the Gospel in our life.

The Gospel is divisive in our day, and it was Jesus’ day too. That is why He said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” It is important to make clear that, while the gospel can bring peace and joy, it can also bring division. You cannot compromise it if you are one of God’s children.

The Little Flock

I want you to imagine that it’s a Sunday morning, and you are in the church. People have gathered, hymns have been sung, you’ve been using the liturgy, all is going well, and now it is time for the sermon. The pastor goes into the pulpit and reads the Gospel from Luke 12:32-34. As you listen to the words, you ask yourself, to whom is Jesus speaking?

Peter had seen thousands of people in the crowd. Jesus was now telling them how He is pleased with their lives as his followers and is going to give them the Kingdom. Then Peter, in verse 41, says, “Lord, are you telling this . . . to us, or to everyone?”

As I sit in my study and study this text, I envision myself standing in a pulpit on a Sunday morning and reading this text to a couple thousand people sitting before me. Is the promise meant for all of them? Will all those present, who are receiving the message from our Lord Jesus, receive the Kingdom? Not according to other teachings of Jesus. Not at all. But He tells His flock, “Do not be afraid.”

Looking around this imaginary congregation, it is quite evident that not everyone is in church because they want to hear the Gospel again. Still, they hear Jesus tell them, “Have no fear little flock . . .” Does this mean they are part of Jesus’ little flock?

The biblical scholar, J. C. Ryle, has helped me a great deal in my attempt to understand these verses. He says that any time believers in Christ Jesus meet, they are “the little flock,” the group to whom Jesus is speaking when he says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

Oh how I love this verse! Jesus is telling us that everything is all right. You are a part of the little flock. I am with you. Your Father has been pleased to give you, and all those who trust in me as their Savior, the Kingdom of God. God the Father is assuring us that, when we breathe our last breath, we will be with Him in the Kingdom of heaven.

Not long ago, I watched my wife take her last breath, and I wonder what she saw during that moment. Not long after that night, I went to the wedding of her niece, whom she loved so dearly. I thought of my wife during the ceremony, for I knew she would have loved to have been there. However, she was a part of the little flock and is now with Jesus in His Kingdom.

My wife is one to whom the Lord had promised to give the Kingdom, for she was a believer in Christ Jesus. However, we need to remember that not everyone who sits in church on Sunday morning is part of the little flock.

Someone once took a poll of how many people in a worship service on Sunday morning are believers Ð those committed to Jesus Christ and living in a personal relationship with Him. They came up with a figure of around 24%. I’m going to use that figure and play on it, but I don’t have any knowledge of how many are actually in that little flock when it comes to any church.

Of those who are not part of the 24% are those who come to church simply to please others. Often times, when I used to do marriage counseling, I would hear the prospective groom tell me that before he met his fiancŽ, he never went to church. However, he had been coming to worship services every Sunday and planned on joining the congregation. In reality, that young man had no real intentions of joining or continuing to go to church after they were married. He was simply trying to impress upon others that he would become a good part of the church. The preacher cannot tell him, “The Father has given you the Kingdom.” However, he could say, “The Father wants to give you the Kingdom, but you have not accepted it.” But that is quite a bit different.

There are also, of the remaining 76% who are not real believers in Christ Jesus, those who simply enjoy coming to church. It makes them feel good to get the day and the week started right by going to church. They enjoy the quietness and listening to the wonderful music that has endured through the ages, the beautiful organ, and the organist playing it. They love to hear the choir sing the traditional old anthems. These kinds of people believe Christ was a good man, but that’s not the reason they are in church. They come simply for the aesthetics.

Others come to church out of tradition. You hear a lady say, “In our family, we always went to church. I was baptized as a baby and confirmed in my teen years. It is our family’s way of doing things. We never talk much about the faith or being lost or saved in our home, but I am a part of the church.” When she is asked if she has come to the place in her spiritual life where, if she would die tonight, she knows she would go to heaven, she smiles and says, “Oh, I hope so. I’ve tried to live a good life.”

Why do some doubt when Jesus, so clearly in His Word, promises to give us the Kingdom? If is ours, even if we never have really felt it. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are part of God’s little flock.

It can be a challenge to know what to say to a congregation on a Sunday morning when 24%, give or take, are members of the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and others are not. It is my prayer that the sermon has something in it for everyone, and no one will leave that church thinking they could have just as well stayed home. The seed of God’s Word is being planted, and the Holy Spirit is at work. The little flock can be led to feed more on the Word of God so they, then, can reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others. Then others, who for one reason or another have not desired to become part of God’s flock, can be awakened and become different people in Jesus Christ.

This awakening doesn’t always work just in the church building. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son who wanted his share of the inheritance. Although his father pleaded with him not to go away, he went anyway. When he had spent all his money, he went to a farmer, who hired him to live with the pigs and eat what they ate. In the smell and dirt of that environment, he said to himself, “What am I doing here? Even my father’s servants are cared for better than this! I will arise and go back to my father.” This man was being turned around, converted.

When he went back home, his father saw him coming from a long distance away and said, “Rejoice with me, for my son who was dead is alive! He who was lost is found.” The son, in his humility and shame, said to his father, “I am not worthy to be called your child anymore. May I work as one of your hired men?” But the father embraced him and said, “You are my child.”

This is a picture of the forgiveness of sins, God receiving us into his Kingdom. God the Father is making us a part of the little flock that He calls His own. This is the great message of the scriptures, and we are thankful for it.

I thought about this the other day when I read something about Chuck Colson, which I have read many times. Chuck had not been a very good person. He had been connected with bad things in politics and had to go to prison. But before he went, he visited his friend Tom Phillips, Chairman of the Board at Raytheon. Tom was a Christian who had been converted at a Billy Graham Crusade. The seed of the Holy Spirit was planted in Colson’s heart that night. As he was left the home of Mr. Philips, the wealthy man handed him a copy of Mere Christianity, which would turn Colson’s life around. Colson became a part of the little flock, and out of that conversion came the outreach program, Prison Fellowship.

Are you a part of the little flock, which shares so freely with everybody what Jesus Christ alone can do in bringing us into the Kingdom of heaven? Without Him we are lost; but with him, we are His forever.

Wealth – Blessing or Curse

It is possible for people to become wealthy in our society. Wealth means one thing to one person and another to someone else. One person may say it takes millions to be considered very wealthy. Someone else might say a person is wealthy if they have their house paid for, a good job, and some money in the bank. For the purpose of this sermon, I want you to set a figure in your mind, as a Christian, of what it would take to be considered wealthy.

People can become wealthy in a number of ways. One way is to inherit wealth. For instance, a farmer has some land, but never thought of it being worth a lot of money. However, when his grandfather bought the land, it cost $200 an acre. Today that same land is worth $2,000 – $4,000 an acre. So that farmer has acquired a great deal of net worth.

Others have a life goal to work hard and acquire money, then sit around, eat, drink, and be merry later in life. This is what the person in our text was thinking when he talked with Jesus. He wanted to watch his money pile up. Most people would point an envious finger at a wealthy man and say, “There is a very successful person; he has a lot of money.” But Jesus warns him to “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. For man’s life does not exist in the abundance of his possessions.”

In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus talks about a man who had a lot of money and was well respected in the community, but had no concerns about a Savior. He is teaching us that when money becomes a basis for security, it is a curse. Money was this man’s god and his security. He thought it would buy him everything he could possibly need. But the day would come when money would not be enough. He could look at his financial reports and think, “I am all set!” Then, suddenly one day, he dies. We see it all the time in the newspaper Ð a prestigious man in the community dies.

When I was a young man, I had trouble with this whole issue of wealth. I wanted to be rich. I watched rich people and dreamed of living their lifestyle with a huge house, a new car every year, a country club membership, and the ability to play golf in the finest of golf courses. I wanted to be able to go to Fenway Park in Boston and watch the Red Sox play, especially when the Yankees were in town. I dreamed of sending my children, if they were academically able, to an Ivy League school with financial support provided by their father.

But through my daily devotions God went to work on me during the latter part of my high school years. I debated whether I should continue in the desire for money or go into the ministry where I wouldn’t make a lot of money. What should I do?

Jesus’ words broke through: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

I have never had a lot of money. However, I have led a happy and blessed life with my security resting in Jesus Christ as my Savior.

We think of how wonderful life would be to have all the money we’d like. Yet, those who work hard to acquire much money often cannot give their bodies the care they require, and consequently they suffer a heart attack. Their personalities often become gruff because they must work all the time, and they speak unkind words to their loved ones. They develop a poor sense of values as they rob themselves of precious time with their family, friends, and, above all, with Jesus. That is what Jesus was trying to spell out to the people. Money can be a curse.

Which counsel then should we follow Ð the world’s or Christ’s? Those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior must pray about their relationship with money. It was difficult for me to admit I had a problem with money, but Jesus is able to guide and construct our attitudes in knowing when enough is enough. He will give us sufficient blessings to prevent money from being a curse.

God knows the power of money. He wants us to enjoy it, but not let it destroy us.

I’d like to close this sermon by telling you about a man in the Bible named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had accumulated a lot of money, but the people hated him, for he had been unfair to them. One day Jesus was visiting Jericho, Zacchaeus’ hometown. Since he was short, Zacchaeus climbed up into a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus as he passed by. Jesus went over to the sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down. I want to go to your house today.”

The crowd began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a Ôsinner (a man who just lives for money).'” But when they arrived at his home, Jesus and Zacchaeus talked for a long time. Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus about his heart and probably said something like this: You have a very nice house here. But some day it will no longer be standing. You treat the people unfairly by charging them too much tax. This world is coming to an end. Store up riches in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

In the morning, Zacchaeus said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Then Zacchaeus went out and told the people the same thing, and they asked, “What has happened to you, Zacchaeus?”

Zacchaeus replied, “Jesus has directed me. If I have wronged you, I want to make recompense. Money can be a curse.”

Jesus then said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:1-9).

Jesus doesn’t enter our homes today like he did with Zacchaeus. However, if you have a Bible, open it Ð especially to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Ð and Jesus will be in your home. If you let him, he will guide you and direct you. You will learn that he wants you to be a happy and fulfilled person. He wants us to have sufficient money, however, he does not want money to be our God. He does not want it to rob us of those things that are precious to him and are precious to our family. So listen to him carefully, and remember this that money can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.