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Alone or Lonely

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In the Church of God, there are brethren who are isolated, whether one individual or just one family in a particular country or area within a nation. For all practical purposes and humanly speaking, such isolated brethren are alone and separated from other spiritual family members. The words of Matthew 18:20 Matthew 18:20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the middle of them.
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;“Where two or three are gathered together in My name”—would be a welcome event to these folks. They might call it a crowd! It reminds me of what American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once quipped: “One chair for solitude, two chairs for company and three for society.”

As one member of the Council, I can assure those reading this publication that the collective Council body takes the time and necessary means to address the needs of one remote individual as much as our large congregations and larger international associations. In doing so, we have the privilege of practicing being like God (Ephesians 5:1 Ephesians 5:1Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;
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). God has always cared for the individual who is humanly alone and cut off from others for the moment.

In considering our intentions as to how we make decisions in the Council, it made me ponder how those on the other end of our concern make their decisions to develop and sustain a proper spiritual perspective. Beyond those who are physically isolated, all of us can feel spiritually and emotionally isolated at times even in the largest of congregations due to personal conditions on the ground.

Two Separate Spheres of Existence

I came to the conclusion that being alone and being lonely are two separate spheres of existence. Being alone is physical isolation from anyone. Loneliness or being lonely is an emotional and spiritual sense that no one is there to fill your personal needs. Loneliness at its extreme manifestations might scream inside you, “Nobody cares and nobody even knows I exist!” It’s apparent that being lonely is the natural human reflex of physical or emotional isolation. But God has created a different kind of reflex within His new spiritual creation—the Body of Christ—with expectations that we use it and truly believe in it.

Pondering the challenge of our isolated members made me reflect on a statement by C.S. Lewis, a British author, theologian and lecturer. He said, “We read to know we are not alone.” That’s why God inspired the story of His covenant relationship with people of faith down through the ages. We call that story the Bible. It is a divinely crafted, dual-edged instrument that is both a mirror to our souls and a window to look out beyond ourselves and see what God is performing in us as His chosen work (Ephesians 2:10 Ephesians 2:10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
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). More than naught, it reminds us as spiritual pilgrims existing in this present evil age, so foreign to His ways, that the walk set before us (Ephesians 4:1 Ephesians 4:1I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called,
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, 5:2) is often a solo journey, whether in temporary sprints or life-long marathons of solitude.

Think about Noah, the only person who found favor in God’s sight in an entire world gone astray. Consider the lonesome journey of Abram leaving the city-state of Ur nearly 4,000 years ago with no compass in hand other than the promise of God. In a figurative sense, his exit from his people can be compared to one car leaving town as the only car on its side of the road, while a traffic jam was going on the other way, urgently entering the city. Think for a moment about how alone David felt in the valley as he faced a giant while everyone else was up on the rim of the valley. Just imagine how Daniel felt alone in the lions’ den with no company but hungry predators. Suppose what it was like for Peter to be walking on water while everyone else stared from the safety of the boat.

Now let’s consider the ultimate experience of being alone—Jesus left alone on a stake to die. It was there on Golgotha that one of His final comments gives us a sense of the defining difference between physical solitude and spiritual isolation. He said, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46 Luke 23:46And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
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). His firm understanding and the knowledge of God’s personal presence in His life—even in the midst of human isolation and emotional abandonment—is the key to understanding the difference between being alone and loneliness in our lives today.

Let’s Open the Window Further

Let’s open that window on God’s Word a little wider for a moment and look out and up to what God has done for those that have gone before us. Again, remember: We read to know we are not alone. But you have got to read and look up and out. Let’s remember how Elisha responded to the fearful words of “What shall we do?” uttered by his servant. He firmly reminded him, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And then Elisha prayed, “Lord, I pray open his eyes that he may see.” God miraculously responded and revealed a mountain flooded with fiery chariots and horses prepared to protect His purpose towards His servants (2 Kings 6:14-17 2 Kings 6:14-17 [14] Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. [15] And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? [16] And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. [17] And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
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). Alone? Yes. Lonely? No!

Consider how Stephen, when seemingly all alone with a violent crowd around him, was granted a vision to gaze into heaven and saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:45 Acts 7:45Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, to the days of David;
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). Alone? Yes. Lonely? No! Once again let’s consider how God opens windows to display His companionship to those in physical solitude. Consider John the apostle, last of the original witnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Near the end of his life, he was in prison on the island of Patmos. He needed encouragement, and the Church needed encouragement that their life’s choice to be a follower of Jesus Christ was not in vain. The windows of heaven were once again opened in the Revelation of God through Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1 Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John:
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). John and the Church were shown that there is companionship above that is actively involved in our lives here below. Revelation 1 and 4 open up the picture of the throne room of the living Christ (1:7-18) surrounded by living creatures and 24 elders who are aware and involved in carrying out God’s will toward His new creation, the Body of Christ. Was John isolated and alone? Yes. Did he have company above? Absolutely.

But, What About the Common Man?

You might be saying: “So far, so good, but these are pretty big names in the Bible! What else would I expect?” Let’s focus on the common person, the one without a famous name, like you and me. The book of Hebrews answers your question. It was written around A.D. 65 to Christians who were alone and set apart from their ethnic and former religious community due to their decision to follow Jesus Christ. Not only that, but the entire populace was feeling isolated by the Roman legions who were targeting Jerusalem for its impending destruction. Alone? We can only imagine! It is here that God inspires the words to the common man, no matter where they are and no matter what situation they’re in. It is in Hebrews that God reminds the Body of Christ: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 12:22-24 Hebrews 12:22-24 [22] But you are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, [23] To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, [24] And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things that that of Abel.
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). What a crowd! What companionship! Alone? Yes. Lonely? Let the window of God’s Word be our answer.

Two Incredible Statements Just for You

Jesus left us two incredible statements at the end of His earthly ministry. One was a promise, and the other was a declaration. He did so to help us overcome any despair by reminding us that we are never alone. His promise to believers is recorded in John 14:16-18 John 14:16-18 [16] And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; [17] Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you. [18] I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
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: “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that he may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but you know Him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans.” Secondly, He declared, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 Matthew 28:20Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
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). Alone? Never!

To those who are in a lone spot today, isolated from others, the choice remains yours as to whether you choose the natural reflex of loneliness or the spiritual reflex of embracing the reality that you are surrounded by God’s presence, attention and comfort. For those of us in congregations who have the blessing of fellowship with others of like faith, we have a responsibility toward our scattered and isolated brethren around the world. Let us never underestimate the challenge set before them as to whether to be simply alone or lonely. They would love to be in your world. Simply put, it’s not easy. We have the choice to pray for them and to mention them to God. Frankly, it is our spiritual responsibility! Remember how Elisha prayed that his servant’s eyes would be open? Remember how Jesus committed His Spirit to God? Think about how Paul, after leaving the church in Ephesus and knowing he would never see them again, offered a blessing: “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32 Acts 20:32And now, brothers, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
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). Commending people to God is not a cop-out. It’s most incredible and beautiful gift we can offer others separated by time, distance and circumstances. The word in Greek literally means to “entrust, to place with someone, commit”—to place our beloved, scattered brethren in the company of the One who is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful and ever-present. What an incredible privilege! What an incredible opportunity! It’s a true exercise of agape(godly love) that is outflowing and outgoing away from ourselves to those in need.

To those scattered abroad, home alone and humanly isolated, I know I speak for the entire Council of Elders, administration and brethren in saying: We salute you and know your challenge. We do care. Thank you for your faithfulness to Him who has been faithful to all of us. It is to Him that we commend you.

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