Sermon for Sunday, October 10th, 2021 for First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC) meeting during Fall Outposts Retreat at Tuscarora Inn, Mt. Bethel PA.
[Psa 25:1-22 ESV] 1 Of David. To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. 3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. 6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! 8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. 12 Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. 13 His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. 14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. 15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. 18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. 19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. 20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. 21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. 22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.
[Psa 25:16 ESV] 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
After God had created Adam and placed him in the garden, He said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.”
Man was not made to be alone. While in context this refers to the marriage of Adam and Eve, of man and wife, no doubt it is true in a more general since as well. The nature of man is social. While some are more introverted than others, all do indeed need interaction and fellowship with others.
Without fellowship we suffer from loneliness. This is pain which often drags on like a dark depression. It is perhaps not as acute or as strong as the pain of betrayal or some other pains, but nevertheless the suffering is severe and often prolonged.
Loneliness can come upon people at any stage of their life. Two of the more common times of loneliness are when you’ve not met a spouse, and when your spouse is passed away. But there is also the seasonal loneliness; especially at Christmas. And there is the loneliness of college; away in a new place without any friends. There is also the loneliness of a city. Imagine living in New York City among millions of others, but not really knowing anyone. Or there is the situation where you are the only believer in a sea of unbelievers. Then there is also the housewife, feeling isolated. Even if she has children to take care of, she may have no one to talk to. Similarly there is the loneliness of the wife with a workaholic husband. There is the loneliness of the man who has lost his job. Then there is the loneliness of empty-nester parents. And also the loneliness children suffer when, for whatever reason, they’re unable to make friends. This feeling comes about at sundry times and various ways.
Loneliness has been an expanding issue with our increasingly distanced society. Long before the pandemic, children (and adults) shifted more and more of time away from personal interaction and more and more into virtual interaction. Swapping softball for video games.
Now “social distancing” has been pressed as a virtue, and participation in nearly every measurable way must be at an all time low.
Loneliness is one of the greatest plagues of our times.
It is not a struggle though that is unique to our times.
There are a number of examples of people suffering from loneliness in the Bible. Even great saints like David and Paul did suffer. One encouragement in this then is “You’re not alone.” “You’re not alone … in your loneliness.” Many do suffer. Including many biblical figures.
In our text from Psalm 25 we find David saying, “[Psa 25:16 ESV] 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
And Paul, writing from jail, in 2 Timothy 4:16 said, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”
Then also Apostle John was banished to Patmos.
And finally we have Jesus alone on the cross. All had deserted him. He was suffering from the physical pains of crucifixion but also the pain of betrayal and the pain of loneliness. Even God the Father did forsake him as Christ cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knew what it was to be entirely without another by his side.
But what of our condition? What are we to think about loneliness? And what are we to do about loneliness?
I want to look at two solutions to loneliness and then consider God’s purpose in loneliness.
While I call these “solutions,” this does not mean that it works immediately and indefinitely for everyone. But they are solutions which we find in the Scriptures. And so I, in preaching this, am not a self-help guru, giving you my own advice, but rather these are the teachings of the word of God. And we must realize that many of the world’s solutions to loneliness have a tendency to only dig you deeper into the pit.
So as we look to the Bible, first, there is fellowship with God. [REPEAT: Fellowship with God]
I. Fellowship with God
It may be that God is using the season of loneliness in your life to draw you closer to Him.
And when all have deserted you and there is seemingly no one to reach out to, there is always the Lord. Of course, He shouldn’t be last. He should be first. Even when we are in big families and have many friends, our first place for refuge and comfort should be the Lord.
We have the following Scripture verses on this subject of fellowship with God:
[Psa 27:10 ESV] 10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.
If you feel rejected everywhere, know that the Lord will take you in.
[1Pe 5:7 ESV] 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Cast all your anxieties on him, even loneliness if that may properly be considered an anxiety.
And then, having gone to the Lord know that He will never leave you nor forsake you. While people come and go, the Lord is always there.
[Heb 13:5 ESV] 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So you are to cultivate your relationship with God. Spend time with Him. In His word and in prayer. Especially when you are lonely, spend time with the Lord.
“To know God,’ says Elisabeth Elliot, “is to know we are not alone in the universe. Someone else is out there.” This is much like the titles of two Francis Schaeffer’s books, “The God Who is There,” and “He is There and He is Not Silent.”
Our God is Immanuel, God with us.
So there is fellowship with God. Then, second, there is fellowship with the church.
II. Fellowship with the Church
God is our father, the church is our family. We are called in the scriptures “members of his household (Ephesians 2:19).
You are all members of the household of God.
You were outside of the gates, but now you are in the house and have the whole church there with you to comfort you and provide fellowship. And, we should not be amiss to say … for you to comfort them and for you to provide them fellowship. It goes both ways in the church. There are times where we each will need someone else to talk with us in our deepest moments of despair, and then there are times when we each are called to talk to others (and listen to them) in their moments of despair.
So we have fellowship with the church. If you have no family — no blood relatives — you yet have the church. The church is your family. Especially the local church of which you are members, but also the universal church worldwide of all believers in Jesus Christ. We are one body.
On the subject of being a family as Christian, I think of Matthew 12:
[Mat 12:46-50 ESV] 46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus Christ welcomes us as family. And we are to welcome each other as family.
The church (and all of its members) is there for you in your time of need. But we must also keep in regularly fellowship with the church to stave off loneliness. There are lots of activities at church and lots of ways to get involved. And I truly believe the Lord designed the church to help us in our lonely times.
III. God’s purpose in Loneliness
But where is there loneliness at all? Can’t God just make it go away? He certainly could. But have you considered that He has a purpose in it? We saw already that he may (and probably is) drawing you closer to him.
Consider for a moment Paul’s situation. In prison multiple times for months or years at a stretch. The great apostle. He could have been out and about making disciple of the nations! Why did God keep Paul in chains when Paul was so greatly needed in planting churches throughout the world?
The Lord had a greater plan. What did Paul do in prison, that he did not do much of when he was free? He had the time to write! And he wrote many of the Epistles of the New Testament!
The Lord had a great plan in Paul’s loneliness. And through the Epistles of Paul the Gospel of Jesus Christ went out to the nations in far greater proportion than Paul could have done by himself!
So then, what of our situation? We’re not writing new books of the Bible. But the Lord yet works good out of our loneliness. We may be drawn closer to him or to the church. For those who are unmarried, they are free to focus on the Lord. The Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that the married man is concerned about world things, busy trying to please his wife. So singleness can be a gift so that one is free to do things which could not be done when married or with children.
So God has a purpose even in our loneliness. We may not always know what it is, but we are promised that “for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
We’ve looked then at some things we can do. But note in our sermon text, David prays TO GOD saying,
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.”
He prays for God to act. We should likewise, realizing that our own actions are insufficient to win the battle.
[Psa 127:1 ESV] Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
So let us pray fervently to God for Him to relieve us of our loneliness, through the means He provided, and blessing us with peace of mind and purpose as we live out his will for our lives. I pray this in Jesus Name, Amen.