Robert Jeffress - Living With Loneliness - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Long before the coronavirus forced millions of people to isolate in their homes, loneliness had already risen to epidemic levels in our culture. Even when surrounded by thousands of people, we can feel alienated and desperately lonely. So, if you're feeling disconnected today, you picked a perfect time to join us. Today, we're looking at the biblical cure for a lonely heart. My message is titled "Living with loneliness" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Billy Graham claims that more people suffer from loneliness than from any other problem. Author Paul Tournier says, "Loneliness is the most devastating problem of our time". Admiral Richard Byrd, who was the first man to fly over the north pole, wrote in his diary at one point, "This morning I had to admit to myself that I was lonely. Try as I may, I can't take my loneliness casually. It is too big. I must not dwell on it, otherwise I am undone". Tonight, we're beginning a brand new series I've entitled "Our Problems and God's Answers". And over these next weeks of the summer, we're going to look at some of the most common problems that we face in our human existence. And most importantly, we're going to discover what God's word says is the cure to those problems. And tonight, we're going to talk about living with loneliness.
Psychologists tell us that they are really two types of loneliness, and I bet you've experienced both. First of all, there is a loneliness that is the result of isolation. It comes when we find ourselves separated from people we love, either because of distance, because of a defection, or even because of death. Sometimes the loneliness we feel is a loneliness of spirit. It is that sensation that we're all alone, even when we're in a crowded room, in a church, or even in a marriage Frederick Robertson wrote of this type of loneliness when he said, "There are times when hands touch ours, but only send an icy chill of unsympathizing indifference to the heart. When eyes gaze into ours but with a glazed look, which cannot read into the bottom of our souls".
Whenever we think of loneliness, either because of distance or because of our own spirit, we think of it as a condition over which we have no control, but there is some loneliness we experience that is actually the result of our own choice. A loneliness is a choice for many of us. It is an attitude that says, I can make it on my own, I really don't need other people. Why is it that some people would actually choose loneliness over companionship? I think of an elderly man I knew in one of the churches I served in, he discovered that he had cancer. He was told that he needed to have a very serious operation, but he chose to tell none of his family members, none of his friends. Instead he packed up all of his belongings, he went to another state for the operation. Told no one about it, just said, "I'm taking a trip," even though the surgery could have resulted in an invalid condition or even in death.
Why is it that somebody would choose to do that? Why would people choose to be lonely? On your outline tonight, I've mentioned six reasons that some people choose loneliness over companionship. The first reason is a poor self-image. Some people choose to be lonely because of a poor self-image. I'm reminded of something comedian, Woody Allen, said one time. He said, "I would never want to be a part of a club that would choose me as a member". Some people feel like that. They feel like they are not worthy to be included. They think, why would anybody be interested in me? I don't have enough money, I'm not educated, I don't have enough social standing. And the person who can't accept himself has difficulty reaching out because he's fearful of rejection. What if I reach out to this other person or this group of people and they reject me?
Quite frankly, all of us can look back in the past to times that we have been rejected by others. Maybe it was on the playground as children when we were the last to be chosen for a team, or maybe it was the rejection we experienced in high school of a special boy or girl from whom we had an attraction. It might've been the failure to make a certain sorority or fraternity when we were in college, or being turned down for a job as a young adult. We all can look back to experiences in which we'd been rejected, and we tend to think, why would I want to put myself through that again? And what is the cure for a poor self-image? It's to see ourself from God's perspective. First of all, it means remembering that, because of Christ, we are people of value.
Jot down Ephesians 2:10. The Word of God says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works". You know that that word workmanship, poiema, in Greek is the word we get poem from. You are God's poem. You are God's artistic creation. You are an expression of his creativity. And just remembering that, remembering that your physical, your emotional makeup were all designed by God can go a long way in curing a poor self-image. Secondly, when you are suffering from a poor self-image and think that nobody would be interested in you, remember that you are the recipient of God's interest and friendship.
Think about this, the Creator of the universe is so interested in you, he loves you so much, he desires a relationship with you so much, that he sent Christ to die for you. That's the whole reason for the incarnation. The reason Jesus came to die for you is God values you, he wants a relationship with you. In John 15:13, Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends". Jesus Christ laid down his life for you because he wants your friendship. On the other end of the spectrum, a second reason that sometimes we choose loneliness over companionship is pride. That is, we really don't think we need other people. We consider ourselves to be self-sufficient.
Paul had a word to the Corinthians about some of them who felt self-sufficient. He writes in 1 Corinthians 12:20, "But now there are many members, but one body. For the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, or the head to the feet, I have no need of you. On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body would seem to be weaker are necessary: and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on those we restore more abundant honor". Now look at verse 26. "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it: if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it". Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. God created you and me in such a way that we need one another in the body of Christ. As Hemingway said, or John Dunn said, "No man is an island unto himself," no Christian is an island unto himself. We desperately need what comes from one another.
A third reason some people choose loneliness over companionship is an inability to accept other people's faults. An inability to accept other people's faults. When I was growing up, one of my family's rituals was on Friday night. Most Friday nights, we'd go to the movie. We enjoyed going to the movie as a family. We'd buy our tickets, buy our refreshments. We would all sit together, everyone except my younger brother. My younger brother could not stand the sound that came from our munching our popcorn or slurping our drinks or unwrapping the candy wrappers, and so he would go sit all by himself. Go over to the side of the front of the movie theater, sit all by himself.
Now he was successful in escaping the annoying sounds that we were making, but the price he paid was isolation. And that's what happens when we can't accept other people's faults. If we can't accept other people's faults, we find ourselves being isolated from people. We would do well to remember Psalm 103:14. Talking about God, says, "For he himself knows our frame: he understands that we are but dust". You know, God sometimes understands our limitations even better than we do. God understands us. He knows we are but dust. We would do well to remember that about other people as well. Everybody has their own faults and imperfections, and we shouldn't allow those to keep us from companionship.
Number four, some people choose loneliness over companionship out of selfishness. That is, they say, I'm just too busy for close relationships. I just don't have the time for it. I just don't have the energy for it. The truth is, good relationships do cost us something. They cost time, emotional energy, and effort. And some people, quite frankly, out of selfishness are unwilling to make that investment. The next time you feel too busy to invest in the lives of other people, remember the words Philippians 2:3-4. Paul admonished us, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each one of you regard himself as more important than himself: do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but look out for the interests of others".
A fifth reason some people choose loneliness is an unwillingness to forgive other people. Friendships can be painful at times. I imagine you can probably look back in your past and think of a time somebody who was close to you burned you. Maybe it's a friend who betrayed you, a friend who divulged a confidence, a friend who cheated you out of some money, a friend who refused to invite you to their party or criticized you behind your back. And perhaps after that hurtful experience, you thought, I am never going to allow myself to be hurt again. I'm going to choose isolation over companionship. The result can be a very lonely existence.
I remember many years ago, I had a friend in a particular church I was serving. And one day out of the blue, I received a letter from my friend. It was a two-page typewritten letter in which he listed everything about me that bothered him. And I mean, it was item after item after item after item. And finally at the end of the letter, he said, "Please don't take this personally". And signed it. I mean, I was flabbergasted. I had never received a letter like that before or since. And it just seemed to come out of left field. First I was dumbstruck, and then I really began to get angry as I thought about it. And my first response was, who needs that guy? And I decided to go it alone.
But after a few days, God brought to mind Matthew 5:23-24, in which Jesus said, "If you are therefore presenting your offering at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering before the altar, and go your way: first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering". And so I swallowed my pride. I went to see my friend to find out what was behind the letter. You know what he said? He said, "I'm sorry, I was just having a bad day". And because he was having a bad day, and because I was willing to let him off the hook, a choice friendship was salvaged. Proverbs 19:11. Proverbs 19:11 says, "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression". If you're going to have close relationships, you have to be willing to overlook the offenses of other people.
Number six, some people choose loneliness simply because they have a failure to understand the value of friendship. Ladies and gentlemen, friendships are not a luxury. They are absolutely necessary to our physical, our emotional, and our spiritual wellbeing.
A number of years ago, I came across this article in "Modern Maturity". You may be wondering what I was doing reading "Modern Maturity". I don't remember what I was doing, but the article struck me because it was entitled, "You May Live Longer If You're Sociable," and it detailed the value of companionship. And it talked about a study that had been done. It said in one of the most comprehensive studies of senior adults ever taken in the United States, more than 20 years of interviews begun with 1.700 rural elderly people, researchers have determined that participation in formal social networks, that is, in the church and community groups, is even more important predictor of mortality than one's health. Dr. Richard Hetzler, professor of sociology, says, "Regardless of health problems, people who had formal social networks in 1966, when the study began, were more likely to remain independent and survive".
In his landmark study of the physical and social changes involved in the aging process, the professor found four factors that most influence whether a person lived or died during the research period. Age, sex, health, and formal social networks, with the latter being foremost. Having friendships, relationships, is vital to your physical wellbeing, but it's also crucial for your emotional and spiritual wellbeing. And no one understood that perhaps any better than Solomon. Think about king Solomon. He had it all, wealth, power, prestige, sexual gratification, 700 wives, 300 concubines, but his life was void of true intimacy, true companionship. Without it, he said, life is meaningless.
Turn over to Ecclesiastes 4 for just a moment, where Solomon talks about the futility of life without friends, without intimate relationships. He says in Ecclesiastes 4, beginning with verse 7, "Then I looked again at vanity under the sun". And then he tells a story about somebody he knew. "There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor brother, yet there was no end to all of his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, and for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure? This too is vanity. It is a grievous task". That realization of life without intimacy led him to these familiar verses that he begins in verse 9, in which he talks about the value of friendship, the value of companionship.
Look at it with me. He says in verse 9, "For two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there's not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. And a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart". Would you jot down on your outlines four benefits of friendship, of companionship? First of all, friendships offer us assistance in times of crisis. Assistance in times of crisis.
A popular Swedish motto says, "Shared joy is a double joy. Shared sorrow is only half a sorrow". I think that's what Solomon had in mind here when he talked about the primary benefit of companionship. He says, "For in a friendship, if either one of them falls, the one will lift up his companion". Have you noticed in any relationship you're in, whether it's a marriage or a friendship, it's rare that both people in that relationship are down at the same time? Usually one is up, the other is down, or the other is up and the other one is down. If there are two down at the same time, they really can't help one another.
I went waste 2 1/2 hours on memorial day to see that new Indiana Jones movie, and gosh, it was boring. But anyway, there was a scene in it. I said, "Well, here's one sermon illustration I can get out of it". But there was a scene in it in which Indiana Jones and his companion were mired in quicksand, and they were going down at the same time. They were absolutely helpless to assist one another. It took somebody who was up on the outside to throw them a lifeline, in this case, a snake, in order to help lift both of them up out of the pit. Well, that's exactly what Solomon is talking about. In a friendship, one can help the other one when one is up and the other one is down.
You know, by the way, in a marriage or in a friendship, don't allow that incongruity in your feelings, your emotional state, be a source of irritation. You know, some people say, you know, to their friend or their mate, "Why are you so depressed? Why can't you be more like me"? Or, you know, on the other hand, if they're sad and depressed, they say to somebody who's up, "Well, why are you so up? If you were more sensitive, you'd empathize with my feelings". Well, the fact is, God has us in different states at different times, so that we can be of assistance to one another. That's what a friend does, he provides assistance. If one falls down, the other will lift up his companion.
Secondly, friendship offers us support when we feel alone. That's what he's talking about in verse 11. "Furthermore, if two lie down together, they keep warm. How can one be warm alone"? I think what he's talking about really is those cold times that we experience in our life. As one writer said, there are certain cold times, chilling times, we all experience when we feel alone. It might be a move to a new city, or the beginning of a new job, or the death of a loved one, and it's in those cold times of life, but a friend offers us the warmth that we need.
I think of the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi. Remember Ruth had lost her husband, and her mother-in-law Naomi was also a widow, and Naomi encouraged her daughter-in-law to go back to her home country and to go back to her mother and to find a husband, but Ruth begged Naomi not to leave her. And in one of the most beautiful passages of scripture, Ruth 1:16 Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you: for where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God".