Robert Jeffress - Moving From Loneliness to Companionship - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". In a desperate moment, king David wrote this plea, "O God, turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted". David understood our plight, loneliness takes us to dark and desperate places. And so today, we're going to look at God's word to discover how to conquer the mountain of loneliness. My message is titled "Moving from Loneliness to Companionship," as we continue our series, "Invincible," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
I want you to imagine for a moment you've been asked to participate in an experiment. You've been asked to join another group of people and simply toss a ball back and forth in the circle of people that have been selected. Everyone is instructed that they need to pass the ball to everyone. Everyone should have an opportunity to catch or throw the ball. So you agree to participate in the experiment. What you don't know is, the rest of the group has been instructed never to allow you to have the ball. So you're there laughing with everybody as people toss it back and forth, you grab for it, it never comes your way. Eventually, how do you feel? Isolated, frustrated, perhaps a little angry, and you retreat from participation.
Now imagine that instead of talking about an experiment, we're talking about your life. No matter how much you try, the ball never seems to be thrown to you. Your friend requests on Facebook go unanswered. Nobody calls you, nobody texts you, though you constantly try to reach out. How would that make you feel? Chuck Swindoll tells about an advertisement, a true advertisement in a Kansas City newspaper, that said, "I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for $5". The person who placed that ad reported that within days he was inundated with dozens of phone calls of people taking him up on his offer. How much would you pay to have somebody listen to you without judgment or comment? How much would it be worth to you to go to a place where people knew who you were, they cared about you, they valued you?
Today, we're talking about a mountain, an obstacle, between us and the blessed life that God wants for us. It's a mountain that, frankly, everybody experiences, but nobody wants to talk about. It's the mountain of loneliness. And if you've ever felt lonely before, if you feel lonely right now, I think you're going to be encouraged by today's message, as we talk about how to move from loneliness to companionship. You know, the great irony of loneliness, especially in this age, is this, never before in world history have we been more connected to one another, and at the same time disconnected from one another. I mean, think about it. You can go out to DFW airport tomorrow, get on a plane, be in Memphis in an hour and a half. You can get on another plane and be in Madrid by evening time.
We're connected like never before geographically. We're connected technologically as well. I mean, you can issue a friend request of anybody on Facebook, you can express yourself, well, most of you can express yourself on Twitter if you want to, and let your views be made known to lots and lots of people. And yet feelings of loneliness and isolation have never been more acute. Reporting on findings from the pew research center and Cigna, the Wall Street journal wrote, quote, "Amid our huge unplanned experiment with social media, new research suggests that many American adolescents are becoming more anxious, depressed, and solitary". In particular, this article focused on teenage girls and their use of social media. And one teenage girl they interviewed was a young lady, named Genevieve, and Genevieve said, quote, "Honestly, sometimes I wish we were living in the olden days when kids hung out with friends and went on dates, but that isn't what my friends and I do".
Technology isn't the only culprit in feelings of isolation. Sometimes it's our workplace environment. In fact, national public radio, in commenting on this, said that workplace cultures contribute to increased loneliness, tensions with coworkers, disparities with life-work balance are the leading causes. Ellen Rankin, the author of the article for NPR, said, quote, "More than three and five Americans are lonely, with more and more people reporting feeling like they are left out, poorly understood, and lacking companionship".
Feelings of isolation aren't limited to the United States. A recent study in the United Kingdom noted that 800.000 people in England are chronically lonely, and many more experience some degree of loneliness. In fact, the study went on to link feelings of isolation with depression, cardiovascular disease, and even dementia. To make matters worse, in the wake of COVID-19 many mental health experts are very concerned about the lasting, irreversible consequences of what we've been through are going to have on people's psyche. It's going to be a continued problem that people grapple with with many years to come. The effect of having schools and businesses and churches closed, of social distancing, all have taken a toll, not only on our mental health, but on our physical health as well.
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, you and I were created by God for companionship, and every day we're deprived of that companionship, it's like being deprived of oxygen. We die a little more every day. You know, as I look at scripture, I find that there are five groups of people who are especially vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness. You might want to note those. First of all, the unmarried. The unmarried. Now, there are some people who have been given the gift of singleness. That's God's plan for them, and they are fulfilled that way. They would be miserable if they were married. But for most people, God's plan is for us to be joined together, physically, emotionally, spiritually, with another person. That was God's plan from the beginning, by the way. Remember in Genesis 2:18, after God had created man, he said, "It is not good for the man to be alone". This is the very first time God ever said something in his creation was not good. Everything else was pronounced good. The first not-good thing was for man to be alone, and he said, "Therefore, I will make a helper suitable him," literally opposite him, a compliment to him.
Now think about it. Was Adam really alone in the garden? No, first of all, he had a perfect relationship with God. A relationship that hadn't been tainted with sin. He enjoyed fellowship with God like you and I will never experience until we get heaven one day. But God said, "Adam, I enjoy hanging around you, but it's not enough. You need somebody else". Adam had lots of pets. He had a whole zoo filled with animals. That wasn't enough either. He said, "You need a mate. I will make a helper suitable for you". And that's true for you and me as well. There are many people who are unmarried that feel the pang of loneliness. A second group who feel lonely sometimes are the married. Don't yell out amen right now. But you know what I'm talking about. It's possible to feel lonely, even if you're married. The first couple, by the way, experienced that when sin entered the picture. Remember after they rebelled against God what happened? Genesis 3:7 says, "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked: and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings".
When they sinned, their first emotional response was fear, a fear of God, so they went and they isolated themselves from God. Sin drove a wedge between God and themselves. But then sin drove a wedge between Adam and Eve. Remember when God held Adam accountable for what had happened? What did Adam do? He blamed his wife. "That woman whom you gave me, she's the one," Adam said, "Who did this". So it's possible to be married and yet feel isolated from God, and isolated from your mate as well. A third group that sometimes feels lonely and there are a number of you who can identify with this, are the once-married. People who enjoyed a marriage relationship, but no longer have that relationship. It may be because of the death of your mate. Think about it. Unless you and your mate are a part of the rapture of the church, either you or your mate is going to die, and that's going to have a profound impact on your life. When death occurs, the fact is the links that joined two people together, shared interests, shared tastes, shared beliefs, shared jokes, those links are severed, and you feel all alone now.
The Bible says, 1 Corinthians 7:39, you're free to be remarried if you want to. Paul said, "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives: but if her husband is dead, she's free to be married to whom she wishes, as long as it's in the Lord," a Christian marriage. But even if you marry again, nobody is going to replace that first mate. There's going to be a void that's left in your life. Some people are now not married who were once married because of divorce. Divorce can also end the marriage relationship, leading to intense loneliness. Divorce was never part of God's plan. In Matthew 19:5-6, Jesus was answering questions about divorced to the pharisees, and he took them back to the beginning plan. He quotes Moses in Genesis 2, saying, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife: and the two shall become one flesh".
God's plan from the beginning was one man with one woman in a lifetime relationship, called marriage. Any deviation from that, whether it's homosexuality, adultery, unbiblical divorce, all of those were never part of God's plan. One man with one woman in a lifetime commitment, called marriage. Jesus said in verse six, "So they are therefore no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate". When you separate a marriage because of divorce, when you end that marriage, it's not just the destruction of your relationship. Divorce is the destruction of the two people inside that relationship. It is a tearing apart of the individuals inside that relationship. And that's why Malachi 3:10 says God hates divorce. Now don't misinterpret that. He doesn't hate divorced people. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, but he hates the process of divorce because of what it does to those involved in it.
There's a fourth group of people who are vulnerable to loneliness, the mature. That's a nice way of saying old people, the elderly. Those of us who have more miles behind us than probably in front of us, need to understand we're susceptible to loneliness, because the longer we live, the more and more people we know and love die. Have you discovered that to be true? You know, in a normal order of things, first your parents, whom you love and loved you, they're gone, then maybe your siblings are gone. Maybe you have more and more friends who go. Maybe your mate has gone to heaven. Maybe your mentors, the people who shaped your life, are gone. I woke up in the middle of the night last night and I realized I had been having an intense conversation with Dr. Criswell on the front row right here about our church, and it kind of made me realize how much I missed him. He was a great mentor to me, and Howard Hendricks and others who built in my life. They're not around any longer to talk to. The longer you live, the more people you end up losing, and that causes loneliness.
You know, Proverbs 16:31 says really, old age is something that should be celebrated. "A gray head is a crown of glory: it is found in the way of righteousness". We ought to celebrate the elderly, but in our youth-oriented culture, we tend to isolate them and make them feel obsolete. Final group of people who face the problem of loneliness would be the infirmed, those who are ill. You've heard the saying, misery loves company. That's really not true. People who are miserable, especially those who are in pain, like a wounded animal, many times retreat into their shell. I think Solomon had this in mind when he talked about the effects of old age in Ecclesiastes 12. Remember in verse one, he says, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days and the years draw near when you say, I have no delight in them".
What is he talking about? What are the evil years he's talking about? Physical breakdowns. Verse six, "Remember God before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed". This is all an image, a metaphor, of our body shutting down. "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to the God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, worthless, worthless, everything is vanity". Now at this point, I feel like stopping and saying, is there anything else I can say to cheer you up today? This is hardly the feel-good message perhaps you were expecting, but it's just true. People deal with loneliness. But here's the positive thing I can share with you. Loneliness doesn't have to be paralyzing. If you struggle with loneliness, you're not alone.
A.W. Tozer, the preacher and writer, observed most of the world's greatest souls had been lonely. That's true in every realm of life. In the artistic realm, Vincent Van Gogh, the painter, harper lee, the author of "To kill a mockingbird," they dealt with intense loneliness. It's true in the political realm of leadership. Frederick Douglass, Margaret Thatcher, all report times of loneliness in their lives. Or look in the world of explorations, great explorers like Ernest Shackleton and Richard bird all dealt with loneliness. Even in the religious realm, the great reformer, Martin Luther, the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, all suffered from feelings of isolation. And it's true of some of the greatest servants of God in the Bible as well.
I was looking this week just at some examples of loneliness in the Bible. In the Old Testament three come to mind. One is Moses. He suffered from the loneliness of leadership. Remember when he was age 40, he made a big mistake, killed that Egyptian soldier, spent the next 40 years in isolation in the wilderness? But then at age 80, he came back for his second act in life. He was going to be the leader of the Exodus. He was no longer alone. He was surrounded by millions of Hebrews as he led them out of Egypt. But that didn't cure his problem of loneliness. As he listened to their murmuring and their complaining, remember what he cried out to God in numbers 11:14? "I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it's become too burdensome for me". He felt alone, even though he was surrounded by millions of people.
If you're a leader of any kind, in your school, in your business, you know what it is to feel the pangs of loneliness. Somebody said, it's lonely at the top, but it certainly crowded at the bottom. But even being lonely at the top doesn't help if you're feeling isolated. Secondly, I think about king David. You know, many of his Psalms were written out of feelings of loneliness. First in his youth, he was out in the Judean wilderness as a shepherd, he suffered the loneliness of isolation. But then when he became king of Israel, he suffered the loneliness that came from betrayal. Just imagine having your own son lead a rebellion against you. That's what David experienced when Absalom attempted a coup d'etat, and it led to great anguish on the part of David. He experienced a loneliness that comes from sin. After his sin with Bathsheba, he wrote about that experience, Psalm 25:16-18. "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: bring me out of my distress. Look upon my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all of my sins".
And then I think of Jeremiah, the prophet. He's known as the weeping prophet. He experienced the loneliness that comes from standing for God. If you right now are somebody who has taken a stand for God in your school or at your workplace or in your neighborhood, don't expect everybody to applaud you. You'll experience loneliness, isolation for trying to live a godly life. That's what happened to Jeremiah. He preached a message that was not popular to his own people. He told the inhabitants of Judah that Babylon was going to overtake them because of their Godlessness. And what did they do? They threw him in a cistern, they left him for dead, because it was an unpopular message. Anytime you stand for God, it's going to be a lonely experience.
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah wrote about his loneliness. Verses one and two, "I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of his wrath. He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in light". But later he declared in that same chapter, verses 22 to 23, the words we use for the great hymn, "The Lord's lovingkindness indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning: great is your faithfulness". When I look at the New Testament, of course, my first thought when I think of somebody who experienced isolation was our Lord himself. Jesus felt the pang of being betrayed by his closest followers, by his friends, his disciples, even his own family turned their back on Jesus. But most painful of all, Jesus felt being abandoned by God. As he hung on the cross, he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Don't try to explain away that verse. Jesus meant what he said. He felt abandoned by God. Have you ever felt that way before, that God doesn't hear your cry to him? Jesus experienced that. That's the ultimate loneliness.