We Started the Who Cares? Mission this month – getting people to fill in the What hurts the most? survey card.
Last week we got you to fill it in – we were shocked that loneliness came out top by a country mile. More shocked in a FB chat with someone who wasn’t there who also shared they were feeling lonely. God got our attention!
On one hand followers of Christ experience the same causes of loneliness that not yet followers do. It’s just we have better answers!
This morning we are going to look at what loneliness is, four cause of loneliness that even the Apostle Paul experienced and four solutions he applied that we can too
Loneliness is defined as “separation anxiety caused by feeling disconnected” or in simpler terms – an unwelcome emotion caused by feeling alone and isolated. You don’t have to be on your own to feel lonely. I can remember a painful New Years Eve parties feeling lonely, but surrounded by friends who were all couples. You can have 568 Facebook friends and be lonely as the viral poem video says. You can be in a crowd of 100,000 people and be lonely.
It’s not a sin to be lonely – as we will see in a moment the Apostle Paul wrote about feeling lonely in 2 Tim 4. It’s what you do with it.
Do things to get love and attention that are unhelpful or sinful – affair, pornography, use a prostitute
Spend money to fill the void
So let’s look at near the end of Paul’s ministry when he is in a dungeon in Rome, awaiting his fate. 2 Tim 4:6-22
Here’s four causes of loneliness
1) Stage of life change v6
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure”
Paul was in the last season of his life, for him in a dungeon awaiting trial in Rome. He is asking Timothy to come visit him.
Transitions between seasons of life often bring seasons of loneliness. Moving school can be lonely, moving home, area or country can be lonely. Starting or finishing college or university can be lonely. The death of a loved one can be lonely.
Transitional times when you have left one reality to start another can be lonely. Looking back I was loneliest when we moved to Milton Keynes when I was 14 and when I finished uni and went from being with friends nearly 24/7 to back home where I had few friends.
That’s why church family is so important – we often talk about the power of the second family. Just like Ruth who told he mother in law – Your God will be my God and your people will be my people. That’s why as a Church we love top gather the nations together as family – so that people thousands of miles from family get to be part of family. It was heart-warming to be thanked by Amanda’s mum for the way we looked after Amanda when she had her Appendix out.
2) Separation v9
The second cause of loneliness is similar to the first – separation. Being separated from family and friends can cause deep loneliness. Paul in this passage only had Luke with him (who was busying getting the stories for Acts!). Demas has deserted him, going all worldly, but others have gone on in good ways to get on with the mission Crescens, Titus and Tychicus. So Paul wants Timothy to come quickly and to bring Mark with him.
Today we can Skype – made me laugh hearing two 10yr olds coming out of school saying Skype me! Skype’s for connecting with Kees & Sarah in China, Gert & Dorien in Holland! We can email, text, facetime, hangout on Google! We can get on a train or a plane and be thousands of miles away to connect with people in a few hours. In Paul’s days it would have taken months. Twice Paul asks Timothy to come v9 and v13 -do you best to get here before winter with my coat! Time is running out and he really wants to see Timothy and Mark and enjoy companionship.
Who could you call? Who could you Skype? Who could you visit? I sometimes go on crazy trips with Maurice to visit church planters in Europe – on their own, lonely, battling it out. He often says they go a couple of months from a visit.
3) Opposition v14
Paul faced opposition – here from Alexander the metalworker. It’s probably the same guy that Paul kicked out of the church in 1 Tim 1:20 and even the same one in Acts 19:33 where the Ephesian idol makers were loosing business because people were turning to Christ.
being opposed, resisted, misunderstood is a lonely place to be. Jesus told us we are blessed when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of false things about you. We are blessed, but that doesn’t necessarily take away the loneliness.
The temptation is to draw yourself into a shell and put up the walls. But that only makes one lonelier.
So we have transitions between seasons of life, separation, opposition all as reasons for loneliness – here’s a fourth
4) Rejection v16
This is the one that probably causes the most pain. It’s when you have been betrayed, forsaken or just left in your time of need by those closest to you. Speaking of his first trial before Nero “At my first defence, no-one came to support, but everyone deserted me.” You can hear the pain – when the going got tough, they left me. Nobody spoke up for him.
Rejection is one of the hardest things to handle – as a child on the school playground, as a teenager at a party or as a spouse in marriage. That is why divorce is so painful and God hates it – it’s an abandoning and foresaken – I know some of you have faced it and even facing it now.
God created us in his image for relationship, fellowship and friendship and that’s why we need acceptance, love and communication.
People try to deal with loneliness in so many ways
- Withdrawing and getting depressed
- Being a workaholic
- Being a shopaholic, trying to buy stuff to feel better
- Eat stuff to feel better
- Having an affair so they get the 18month gooeyness of love back rather than making love a verb
- Others turn to self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.
- a fantasy world of internet, books or TV.
Those are all poor substitutes and take us further into loneliness and away from the Lord’s will.
And five ways to combat loneliness
1) Come to Jesus
Paul was a follower of Christ. He’d staked his life on the fact God loved him and Jesus had proved it by dying for his sin. He had entered a relationship with Jesus when God had got his attention on the Damascus Road, turning his life upside down. he knew what it was to know that God says “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”.
The first answer to that nagging hole in our hearts is to recognise that it is a God shaped hole that is filled by knowing Jesus and your Lord and saviour.
When we put into practice Rm 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.”, when we do that we are reconciled to God – our rejection of Him is dealt with we become sons and friends. then we can know a peace that transcends all understanding. And we know that sense in our hearts that though we may be rejected by others, God will never leave us or forsake us.
2) Use your time well v7-8,13
As Paul neared the end of his life, he knew he had lived well, that he had used his time as a Christian well. He’d fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith and he knew he was going to be rewarded a crown of righteousness.
Paul talks of reward a lot – in 2 Cor 3 he talks of the second judgement. First judgement – we are saved because our names in the Lamb’s book of life. Then God looks at the stuff we have done in the faith – whether we have built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and his grace with gold, silver, costly stones or straw, wood or hay. What is burned up is gone – we are in eternal life, but that’s it. What is quality gets to be rewarded. So Paul used his time well, motivated by grace, controlled by love as we saw last week to serve God and gain the crown!
So in v13 he asks Timothy to bring his cloak and his scrolls, especially the parchments. He doesn’t want to sit around and mope. He’s stuck in jail, he can’t plant any more churches or visit them, but he can write to them and he can lead his guards to Christ – Phil 1:12 “Now I want you to know that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel as a result, it has become clear to the whole palace guard that I am in chains for Christ”
Sometimes life hands you lemon – well make some lemonade. Make the most of the time you have. Use your time well, make the most of a bad situation. Resist the temptation to mope, to do nothing. Loneliness can be so paralyzing – so easy to stop taking care of yourself, stop exercising and so on.
I remember in my early 20s being really lonely and my pastor rebuking me “Stop having a self pity party” and then helping me make a weekly plan to make the most of my time!
What Paul did in writing to the churches while in prison has been multiplied millionfold – so if you are lonely, use your time well.
3) Minimise your pain v16
“At my first defence, no-one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.”
The next thing to deal with loneliness is to play it down. Stop exaggerating it and rehearsing it over and over “I’m so lonely, I’m so lonely” Don’t let it make you bitter and don’t let resentment settle in. Paul said may it not be held against them. He forgave and stayed free from bitterness – that’s a horrible self imposed prison that will only exacerbate your sense of isolation.
4) Enjoy God’s presence v17
Paul went on to say that the Lord stood at his side and gave him strength. The truth is the Christian is never alone. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and have His presence with us at all times. You cannot flee from his presence – no mountain top, no valley, not even the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus has not left as orphans, we are sons and the father has said Never will I leave you,. never will I forsake you.
Use times of aloneness to enjoy God’s presence – pray and listen, think on a Psalm, meditate on a Scripture, seek the Lord, enjoy Him, sing to Him
If you want to overcome loneliness – get saved if you aren’t yet, use your time wisely, minimise your pain, enjoy God’s presence and one last one…
5) Look out! v17
Look out for others. So Paul was strengthened by the Lord so that “Through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” Paul was lonely, in a cold dungeon, facing a trial before Nero, but he didn’t forget the main thing, the goal he was pressed on heavenwards for – making Christ known, winning people, building them in the faith and then sending them on to do the same. His thoughts and prayers were always for his young churches. Paul’s concerns was always for others.
If you are feeling lonely this morning, instead of focusing inwards on yourself, focus outward on other people. Look outward to the needs of others – God’s grace is on that!
Instead of crying out to God – Oh God, I’m so lonely – start saying God help me be a friend to someone today.
If you are not yet a Christian – that’s a first step to battling loneliness.
The things we do, say and think that are wrong separate us from God who is holy- that just increases the hole in our hearts. but God loves you and this morning wants to draw you to Himself.
Will you turn towards him, recognise that Jesus is the only way, truth and life to know God and put your trust in him?
Pray now something like this:
Lord I have this aching sense of loneliness, a hole in my heart, because I don’t know you. I’m turning from the stuff I have done, said and thought that’s wrong and turning to you Jesus. Thank you for dying for me and rising again. Jesus apply that to me, be my Lord and friend no and forever more, Amen
If you are in a loneliness self-pity party, it’s time to stop and use your time more wisely
Thanks to Rev Stephen Sizer for the outline