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TEXT: Psalm 102:1-11
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes Everything #23: Loneliness
In most ways, the Psalms are like the rest of the Bible, but in one way, they're different. While most of the Bible speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. In the Law, Almighty God speaks to His people; in the Psalms, broken people speak to God. Sick people. Tired people. Poor people. Scared people. Guilty people. Angry people. Disillusioned people. Resentful people.
And lonely people.
We cannot be too thankful for the Psalms because, in times of distress, our feelings are so jumbled up we don't know what to say. Then we turn to the Psalms and find our voices. This is how I'm feeling and that's just what I wanted to say! Though fully inspired, the Psalms are unmistakably human, written by real people living real lives in the real world.
This means the Psalms are not always as devout as we think they should be. Not everyone is sweetly submitting to a benevolent Providence. Asaph is envious at the prosperity of the wicked; David feels forsaken by God; the exiles look forward to the day when Babylonian babies are smashed by looting soldiers!
It would be pretty to think we never feel this way, but we do. And God hears us, even giving us the words to express our rage and disappointment, frustration and impatience. We cannot be too thankful for the Psalms-especially the ones that are not typically taught in Sunday School!
The next time someone says, 'The Bible is unrealistic', tell him to read the Psalms. They mirror life as it really is.
Speaking of which, loneliness is one of the most common and serious problems in the world-and it's getting worse by the day. 40% of Americans describe themselves as either 'lonely' or 'very lonely' and 25% say they haven't got a friend in the world. If the numbers are right, one out of every four people you know can say with the Psalmist-
There is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me;
No one cares for my soul.
The obvious cure for loneliness is 'finding someone'. If a man is lonely, let him find a wife and we won't be any more. Millions of men know better. Sleeping next to a woman you're not close to only sharpens the pain of loneliness. Many women think having children will cure their loneliness, and for a short time it does. Babies and toddlers are so dependent on their mother-and so affectionate-they connect her and give her something to live for. But when they grow up, they make their own friends, and it's not long until the mother who was the child's whole life has become nothing but his maid and cook and ATM!
This is the world we live in, and in my opinion, it's going to get worse before it gets better. The one thing we're really good at-amazingly good at-is technology. At one time, men had to work side by side in the field; later, in the factory. But those jobs have been outsourced, for the most part, and now they work in cubicles or even at home in their underwear! Technology is isolating us.
And not just at work. What do younger people do in their spare time? They surf the net; they get on the X-Box; they stare at their phones. For crying out loud! What old timers called 'pillow talk' is now called, 'sexting'!
More and more people are living 'virtual lives', which is another way of saying, 'lonely lives'.
If the problem is made worse by today's way-of-life, we cannot be blamed for starting it. People in every time and place and culture have been haunted by it. Including the writer of Psalm 102.
In vv.1-2, he's praying his guts out to the Lord. In vv.3-5, he describes how much he's hurting. His-
Bones are burning, his heart is withered.
He is too upset to eat, and because he's not eating, he's skin and bones-
My bones cling to my skin.
He's trying to 'take it like a man', but he can't keep his groaning to himself.
Then, in vv.6-7, he tells us what's the matter with him-
I am like a pelican in the wilderness;
I am like an owl of the desert,
I lie awake,
And am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.
Pelicans are seafaring birds, but the Psalmist feels like one that's lost its way. Instead of skimming the ocean with the flock, it's all by itself in the desert. Unable to find its way back to the flock and the life it was created to live. An Old Testament scholar says-
It was certainly the most sombre, austere bird I ever saw. It gave one the blues merely to look at it. The Psalmist could find no more expressive type of solitude and melancholy by which to illustrate his own sad state.
If the lonely pelican is not enough, he next compares himself to an owl of the desert. Unlike most birds, owls, 'don't flock together'. They're hunters and they seek their prey alone. They love nothing more than ghost towns; the Arabs call them-
The mothers of ruins.
That is, while other birds sit on their eggs, owls perch in abandoned buildings. Another bleak picture.
Then he comes closer to home, and what promises to be a happier scene-a sparrow on the roof, enjoying the friendship of his kind. But no, the bird is on the housetop-
The Psalmist is a lonely man, and there are many like him in the Bible-David, Elijah, Job, Paul, and of course, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord's humanity is not made enough of in the Church. Fearing it might compromise His Deity, we downplay the fact that He is 'one of us', in all ways except for sin. This means He was subject to loneliness. Jesus didn't ask much of His friends, but the night before He was crucified, He asked three of them to watch and pray with Him. While He sweated great drops of blood, they slept like babies! Three times He had to rouse them from their beds, and if you read what He said, you know how frustrated He was by their failures-and how much they hurt Him!
Loneliness is a real problem, serious, and spread out over time and space. Nobody misses it entirely, and many acutely suffer it all their lives.
There is nothing distinctly 'Christian' about what I've said. Pretty much everybody knows it's true. Some wise and warmhearted people have tried to do something about it.
The best people just gravitate to the lonely. They're the first to welcome new neighbors and the first to make visitors at church feel at home. We should thank the Lord for these dear people, and-as Paul said-
Mark their ways and follow them.
Counselors give tips on how to meet people and how to make friends with them. Extremely lonely people sometimes seek and find help from professionals. These are good works and we shouldn't despise them.
But, as good as they are, they're only half measures. It takes more than coaching or therapy to free us from the gnawing pain of loneliness. What it takes is the Gospel.
The Gospel changes everything, and only it can free us from loneliness and put us into a real, deep, and lasting fellowship.
How does it do all this?
In the first place, the Gospel takes the problem seriously.
Why is there a 'Gospel' at all? Because, created by God for communion with Him and each other, we have fallen away and into sin and misery. One part of this 'misery' is 'loneliness'.
The Gospel says God sees your loneliness, He takes it seriously, and in Jesus Christ, He has done something about it. By becoming a Man, God took loneliness into Himself.
For the most part, lonely people are not taken seriously. They're either patronized or blamed, ignored, lied to or given up on. Their families tell them to 'Snap out of it! Stop feeling sorry for yourself! No wonder you're lonely!'
Pastors are often worse than families, beating people up with the Law, calling them ingrates and lazy and if only they'd try harder, they wouldn't feel so alone.
Mental health care givers don't do this, thankfully, but they often stop with pills--as though loneliness is all in my head-or thyroid! I'm not against Prozac, but don't tell me it cures loneliness! It may relieve some of the symptoms, but it doesn't cure the disease.
Only the Gospel takes the problem of loneliness with enough seriousness to really do something about it!
In the second place, the Gospel tells us-objectively-that we are not alone.
Well-meaning people can tell us this and that we're loved and cherished and they'll always be there for us us. But how do we know they're telling the truth? Even if they're sincere, they've got lives to live, too, and can we really ask them to build their whole lives around reassuring us? We can't do that, and neither can the people who love us.
We may feel alone and unloved, but the Gospel says and proves we're not! What is behind the Gospel? What impelled God to sacrifice His Son for our salvation? We don't have to guess-
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that, whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The Gospel says God loves us, that He has acted on His love, and that His acts cannot be un-acted! God's great love for us moved Him to join a human nature to His Divine nature-and never shuck it off! From the day He was conceived in the Virgin's womb, the Son of God has been as human as you and I are, and will always be human.
The only heart God has is a human heart, and it's a heart that knows the sting of loneliness! This lends poignancy to His words-
Lo, I am with you always.I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.
Jesus has kept His word by sending His Holy Spirit who used to be with us (in the Tabernacle and Temple) and now is in us. If our bodies are the Temple of God, we cannot be alone, and it is the Gospel that makes it so.
In the third place, the Gospel creates the Church.
The Church is the place we belong-even if we don't feel like it. It is our Family, even when everyone is not as brotherly as he ought to be. The Church is designed to relieve our loneliness, to give us a people, something to do, and a place to fit in.
Most of us need to be warmer and more welcoming than we are. But even if we're not, if you belong to God, you belong here. We're your people.
In the fourth place, the Gospel sands down the rough edges that contribute to our own loneliness.
Let's face facts: To have friends a man must show himself friendly. Some loneliness is of our own making. We're self-centered, stingy, demanding, thin-skinned, unforgiving, or too needy. By getting us out of ourselves, the Gospel unlocks the cages we have put ourselves in.
Finally, the Gospel relieves loneliness by telling us loneliness is doomed.
Like every other consequence of sin, it was taken to the cross with Jesus and destroyed by His Resurrection from the dead. Heaven will not be a vast network of cubicles! It will be a Dinner Party with Jesus at the head of the table, and every one of His people as honored guests.
Hang in there, lonely brother or sister. It'll get better.
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