How can I overcome loneliness? Part 4

16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” 2 Timothy 4:16-17 

In 2 Timothy 4, we have been looking at some of the most basic causes and cures for loneliness based on the apostle Paul’s communication with a young pastor named Timothy. So far, we have learned that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8), separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21), and opposition from others (2 Timothy 4:14). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13), recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a), and releasing the hurt (2 Timothy 4:16) to God. 

The last basic cause for loneliness is probably the most serious one that can cause the most pain. It is REJECTION (2 Timothy 4:16a). Rejection is when you feel as though you have been betrayed and abandoned in your time of need by those closest to you. Paul felt this way. He felt deserted. He says of his trial before Nero, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” (2 Timothy 4:16a).

Paul’s first defense evidently refers, not to his first Roman imprisonment, about which Timothy would have already known, but to a preliminary hearing leading up to his present trial. At such trials it was common to hear advocates for the accused, but in Paul’s case no one came to his support, but everyone deserted him. The widespread desertion of the apostle may be explained by the fact that, unlike the period of his first imprisonment, it had now become dangerous to be a Christian in Rome. As early as A.D. 59-60 Roman Jews had informed Paul ‘that people everywhere are talking against this sect’ (Acts 28:22). But the situation had gotten far worse after the fire of Rome in July of A.D. 64. Nero made the Christians scapegoats, and many were tortured and died. The intensity of the anti-Christian pressure must have eased somewhat by A.D. 67, but the thought of identifying themselves with the fearless and outspoken apostle must have been more than the Roman Christians and even Paul’s companions could face. In fact, Paul was understanding toward their unfaithfulness, and he expressed the hope that it not be held against them (cf. Christ’s words on the cross, Luke 23:34).” 1

You can almost hear the pain in Paul’s voice: “When things got tough, everybody left me. When the trial got heated up, nobody was there to support me.” No one spoke up in his defense; everybody abandoned him.

Has that ever happened to you? You were going through a very difficult circumstance, and no one was there to support you? You were perfectly healthy, but your friends treated you like you had the plague? You felt abandoned and forsaken. God says that every human being has an emotional need for acceptance, and when that need is violated, it is a serious sin which can cause deep emotional pain.

Let’s understand that it is not just non-Christians who may reject us. Christians can also reject one another. And this can be the most painful form of rejection of all because we have higher expectations of other believers in Jesus. After all, we are both children of God and we are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34-35), right?

But Christians are just as capable of rejecting one another as a non-Christian is, maybe even more. Even though believers have more resources than a non-Christian to live in unity (e.g., the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s Word, etc.), they also have an adversary, the Devil, who seeks to devour them and destroy (I Peter 5:8) the unity Christ prayed for (John 17:20-23), provided (Ephesians 2:14-18), and commands Christians to preserve (Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-32). Satan knows that when Christians live together in unity, they reflect the image of God in a very powerful way. This is why he seeks to divide believers, so the image of God is distorted, and God is not glorified, and non-Christians are not as likely to be drawn to Christ.

If you are struggling to forgive someone who has rejected you, I recommend going back to our previous article (Part 3) where you can prayerfully read and apply that forgiveness exercise to your situation.

After forgiving those who have rejected us, we can then focus on the fourth and final way to deal with loneliness: EMPATHIZE WITH OTHER PEOPLES’ NEEDS (2 Timothy 4:17b). Instead of focusing inward on our own needs, focus outward on other people. Instead of looking inwardly at ourselves, we are to look out to other people. Begin helping other lonely people. That is what Paul did: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” (2 Timothy 4:17). Paul’s aim at his trial was to preach the gospel so “all” his unsaved listeners might hear it and be saved.

Paul was lonely at the end of his life, yet he never forgot his life’s goal – to help other people by sharing the good news of Jesus with the loneliest people in the world – those who do not know Christ. We need to stop building walls between us and others and start building bridges. We need to stop complaining, “God, I am lonely,” and start praying, “God, help me be a friend to somebody today who needs You today. Help me build a bridge instead of a wall.”

Love is the antidote to loneliness. Instead of waiting to be loved, we need to give love, and then love will be given back to us abundantly. The greatest expression of love we can give to a non-Christian is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her.

What does God have to say to you about your loneliness? First, He would say, “I understand. I really do understand.” The Son of God knows what it is like to be lonely. In Christ’s darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified on the cross, His followers fell asleep (Matthew 26:40-45).When the soldiers came and took Him to trial, all His disciples fled the scene (Matthew 26:56b). Soon after that, Peter publicly denied knowing Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75). When Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself as He hung on the cross, His own Father in heaven abandoned Him (Matthew 27:46). Why?

Because God is holy and perfect and demands that sin be punished. So, when your sins and my sins, and the entire sins of the world were placed on God the Son, Jesus was separated from His Father for the first and only time. Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b). Why did Jesus say those words? So that you and I would never have to. God rejected Jesus so He would never reject us after we believe in Christ (John 6:37-40; 10:28-29). God turned His back on His Son, so that He would never have to turn His back on us.  

Do you have Jesus in your life? If not, listen to what Jesus said to a woman who tried to overcome her loneliness through her romantic relationships with men: 10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water… 14 whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10, 14).

When we come to Christ on His terms and believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life, we never have to be lonely again. Because the moment we believe in Jesus, He digs a spiritual well in our hearts that gushes up into everlasting life, and never becomes dry. Christ lives in us forever through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). We will never be alone again because He promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Then He can help us to overcome our loneliness as we connect to Him through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. As we stay connected to Jesus and other Christians, Christ can empower us to reach out in love to lonely people around us who need Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have felt alone and unloved. I did not know how to connect with other people. Nor did I have any love to give to them. Thank You so much for coming to me today to show me that You love me and want a personal relationship with me. Right now, as best I know how, I believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through Your Holy Spirit. Please teach me how to know You more intimately and how to make You known to others. I look forward to meeting with You as often as I can. In Your precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A. Duane, Litfin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 436.

How much you matter to God – Part 2

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him.” Luke 19:5a

We are looking at Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus to discover how much we matter to God. When we begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes, God can make the greatest changes in our lives.

Last time we saw that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man living in the city of Jericho who was probably quite miserable. His misery was connected to his appearance and his actions. He was a “short” or small man who probably received a lot of teasing all his life for the way he looked (Luke 19:3). He was also a “chief tax collector” which meant he got rich by stealing from people (Luke 19:2). So he was not liked by others because of his profession. It is likely that Zacchaeus did not even like himself because of his guilty conscience. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful and dishonest. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life. Most likely he felt all alone and unwanted.

Can you identify with Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your actions? Do you feel all alone and unwanted? Or do you know someone who does? If so, then I think you will be very interested in what happens next in this account of Zacchaeus. We are going to look at three profound truths the next few days which can change our lives forever.

The first truth is NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS NOTICES ME (Luke 19:4-5a). When you transition to a new phase in life – graduate from high school and go to college, start a new job, move to a new community, or retire – you may feel lonely and insignificant, like no one notices you. But know this, Jesus Christ notices you.

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus had come to the city of Jericho he did two things that no wealthy Middle Eastern man would do. “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:4). One, he “ran” through a crowd, and two, he “climbed” a tree. These were things that little boys do in crowds, not wealthy well-known government officials. But Zacchaeus wanted to get ahead of the crowd and he found “a sycamore tree” where he hoped that Jesus would pass by and then he climbed up in that tree. 

His desperation caused him to do something a bit below his dignity. But Zacchaeus was willing to endure some public scorn to see the one everyone had been talking about.” 1

Luke may have been presenting Zacchaeus’ actions as a commentary on Jesus’ words that unless people become like little children they cannot enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:17).” 2 Constable also draws attention to this when he writes, “It is interesting that Zacchaeus did some childlike things, namely, running to see Jesus and climbing a tree, unusual activities for an adult government official. Jesus had formerly commended the tax collector in His parable for childlike faith (18:13). He had also taught the importance of childlike faith (cf. 18:16-17).” 3

Another commentator notes, “The crowd as [a] physical barrier and Zacchaeus’ strange position up in a tree can serve as spatial symbols of his isolation from his community.” 4

What Zacchaeus did was shocking, but what Jesus did was even more shocking. Jesus walks straight through the city past thousands of people packed in that crowd, and He walks right up to that tree and He stops. “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him” (Luke 19:5a). In a packed out crowd, Jesus notices Zacchaeus. Christ looks up into that tree and fixes his gaze on this miserable man.  

I can just imagine Zacchaeus’ heart starting to pound or more probably, feel like it was going to explode! Adrenaline was flowing through his body. His throat was all constricted. Zacchaeus may have turned around to see if someone was behind him up in the tree because he can’t believe Jesus would stop this parade just to look up at him. Then Zacchaeus realizes, “Jesus is looking at me! Out of all the people in Jericho, He is looking at me! Why did He stop here? Why did He look up? Why is the Son of God looking directly at me!” At that point in time I imagine Zacchaeus was in shock. 

Why did Jesus do this? Why did Jesus stop right at that tree and look up? Because He knew Zacchaeus’ heart and He knew exactly where Zacchaeus was. Luke presents Jesus as the Savior who has come into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus was isolated and lost. Jesus knew this. So He took action.

And you know what? God knows exactly where you are today. You may be up in a tree. You may be out on a limb. You may be in a dark hole. You may think God has forgotten you and that He is thousands of miles away from you. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you (Psalm 17:8). There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never! He has seen every breath you have ever taken and every thought you have ever had. He has heard every word you have ever said and seen everything you have ever done – good or bad (cf. Psalm 139:1-18). And He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love.

It is may be difficult for us to imagine that God pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eyes on us. Jesus said, “… But God never overlooks a single [sparrow]. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head!” (Luke 12:6-7  MSG). For some of us, it is not very difficult to number all the hairs on our heads! God loves us with a love we have never imagined. He has always paid attention to us. He has never taken His eyes off of us.

When our daughters were much younger shooting baskets behind our house, they would constantly say, “Watch me Daddy! Watch me!” All of us have a deep need to be noticed. We want to be seen. So we say, “Watch me Daddy!”

Adults do this all the time. We are constantly saying, “Watch me! Watch me!” We don’t say it that openly. We do it by the kind of clothes or makeup we wear; by the way we fix up our houses or decorate our lawns. We may also do this by the way we talk or style our hair. We try to accomplish big things so people will pay attention to us. Deep down inside we are saying, “Watch me! Pay attention to me!” We do this because we have a deep need to be noticed. And only God can meet this need all the time.

Most of us – even those of us who have been Christians for a long time, have not fathomed how awesome the love of God is. It is like an ant trying to figure out a human being. Our brain is not big enough to figure out how much God loves us or how much He pays attention to us. God is teaching us that NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS CHRIST NOTICES ME. May God the Holy Spirit massage this truth into the depths of our souls so we can stop striving to get attention and rest in the loving gaze of our heavenly Father.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for this wonderful encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus did nothing to deserve Jesus’ loving gaze. If anything, he deserved a look of judgment and wrath. But instead, the Lord Jesus gave Zacchaeus something he had probably never received before – a look of compassion and understanding. Yet are any of us really any different than Zacchaeus? We also have a deep need to be noticed and understood. We too have felt ignored and unwanted. Perhaps our sin and shame has left us isolated and all alone. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for noticing every detail in our lives. Thank You for never taking Your loving eyes off of us. Others may have ignored or neglected us, but You have always noticed us. Our value comes from Your constant loving gaze which could never be earned. Thank You for knowing where we are and what we need. We love You, Lord Jesus. Please help us keep our eyes on You. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. John A. Martin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 506.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pp. 271-272.

4. Ibid., cites Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. 1: The Gospel according to Luke, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pg. 123.

How Can I overcome my fears? Part 2

“When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” John 20:20

We are learning from Jesus’ interaction with His ten disciples in the evening of His resurrection day how to overcome our fears. Last time we discovered that we must rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19). Today we will see that our fears can be overcome when we REDIRECT OUR FOCUS TO THE EVIDENCE OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION TO CONVINCE OUR DOUBTING HEARTS (John 20:20).

We see in Luke’s account that the disciples themselves did not believe the testimony of others that Christ had risen from the dead. When the women reported it, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Even when some of the disciples saw Christ themselves they were “slow of heart to believe “ (Luke 24:25). Indeed, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples, 37 they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?’ ” (Luke 24:37-38). Their fears were mixed with doubts.

But how could they doubt the Lord was risen? The Old Testament had predicted His resurrection (Psalm 16:10; 22:21b; cf. Acts 2:30-32), and Jesus had proclaimed it several times prior to His death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; John 2:19, 21; 10:18). It is possible they were looking for Jesus to establish a literal kingdom on earth. So even though Christ had told them He was about to die and be raised from the dead, they did not hear Him because they were so convinced He was going to usher in a political kingdom. Then when Jesus died they were dumbfounded. The crucifixion left them confused because of their own preconceived ideas. Now they didn’t know what to believe. Doubt and fear overwhelmed the disciples.

Consequently, they were not shouting the gospel from the housetops; they were sitting silently behind locked doors. When believers doubt and fear, they are incapable of speaking up for the Lord. This explains why the church has failed to obey Christ’s command to preach the gospel to everyone since the time of Christ (Mark 16:15). It is centered around the church’s doubts and fears.

How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ doubts and fears? Does He rebuke them? Does He shame them for allowing their doubts and fears to overtake them? After all they had abandoned Him in His hour of suffering (Matthew 26:56). No. After graciously speaking “peace be with you” (John 20:19), Christ convinces them of His resurrection through a personal display of His wounds. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20a). The disciples had no concept of the nature of a resurrection body and supposed that they were seeing a “spirit” or ghost (Luke 24:37). 1  

Christ reassured them by displaying His hands which had been pierced by the nails and His side which had been pierced by the spear (John 19:34). Although Jesus now possessed a transformed glorified body, the presence of the wounds showed that He did not have a different body, but the same body.

Those scars had not been removed from his resurrection body. One day, then, all believers will see them. They will serve as eternal reminders of the cost of our redemption, and they will forever give us reason to praise him. Jesus will be the only scarred person in eternity, a perpetual reminder of the price paid for our redemption.” 2

In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus invited the disciples to touch Him showing that His resurrection body was a material body. He also asked for food to demonstrate that He was not a disembodied spirit appearing in human form. They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb and He ate it in their presence. There was no mistaking Him! It was really Jesus!

The results were something Jesus promised three nights before (John 16:22): 3  “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20b). Their fear turned into faith which was expressed through their testimony of joy. The disciples were overjoyed as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection penetrated their minds. 4

Although the disciples were afraid and filled with doubt, Jesus dealt gently with their struggles. His presence brought them peace and the personal display of His wounds convinced them He was their risen Lord.

Are you troubled or doubting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? Have you tried to shut Jesus out of your life because you are afraid or you doubt His love for you? Jesus can pass through our locked doors and give us peace. He can provide the evidence we need to overcome our doubts and fears.

The scars on Jesus’ hands and side are proof that He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead. He truly does love us and His scars serve as eternal reminders of this. I can think of no greater power to remove our fears than the perfect love of Jesus Christ. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18).

Therefore, we can boldly proclaim the love of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of His death and resurrection. Eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion. Christ gave them the evidence they needed to overcome their doubts and fears. And He can do the same for you and me. Are you willing to let Him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I must confess that I struggle with doubts and fears at times just like the ten disciples did the evening after You rose from the dead. It is easier for me to admit this struggle now after seeing how gracious You were with Your disciples that night. You did not condemn them nor scold them for having their doubts and fears. Instead, You met them where they were at (behind locked doors) and You gave them what they needed (a display of Your wounds) so they would know that it was their risen Lord. I am convinced that You still come to people when they are afraid or doubting today. And You come to them not to condemn them or scold them, but to give them the evidence that they need to know that You love them. For the disciples they needed evidence that it was really You Who rose from the dead. And the scars on Your hands and side, will serve as eternal reminders of the great cost of our salvation, and they will forever give us cause to praise You throughout eternity! Thank You, my Lord and my God, for giving us the evidence we needed to convince our doubting and fearful hearts. Please enable us to boldly proclaim Your death and resurrection to a very broken and lost world that needs to know You love them far more than what they do or don’t do. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 505.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1828.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 565.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 365.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.