Last week, we learned how we were created with the need for relationships – with God and with one another. No matter what relationship it may be – with God, coworkers, spouses, class mates, friends, children, neighbors, etc. understanding is critically important for us to possess.
This morning, we’re continuing on the theme of relationships as we begin to understand more fully one of the best known promises of God. Before we can fully appreciate this promise for the amazing blessing that it is, we must first must be aware of what we lack without it.
Perhaps one of the worst and most painful feelings in the world is loneliness. Having been created by God for healthy relationships, being lonely is like slowly suffocating. It kills from the inside out and the one suffering this agony often shows no outward symptoms at all. They just silently and quietly suffer sometimes even with a smile on their face.
In fact, the most painful moments experienced with loneliness isn’t when we have no one around us, but when we are surrounded by people who make us feel alone. It’s when you encounter that person that you used to be so close to who now wants nothing to do with you. Rejection and loneliness are very close and dark companions.
If loneliness is a spike, rejection is the sledgehammer driving it to deeply pierce our souls.
Loneliness and rejection are often the end results of not being understood. In fact, the times when we often feel the loneliest are when we are surrounded by people who simply do not understand us. They laugh and scoff out of ignorance of what we are going through; disregarding and discounting us.
Perhaps even your faith has made you feel this way at times even when surrounded by others.
Elijah felt just this way. In fact, he had a pretty well-rehearsed lament about it. Three times he complained that he was the only one left faithful to God. After his amazing show down with the prophets of Baal, God assured Elijah that there were actually still 7,000 faithful to Him. Though this may have been true, Elijah’s reality from his perspective was that he was all alone literally fleeing for his life from Jezebel.
Paul wrote to remind us about this fact:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Even in our darkest moments when we feel as if though we have no one on this earth or no purpose for our lives, Jesus can empathize with us. We see pictures of Jesus being a strong and attractive man full of compassion that attracts everyone to Him. We read about thousands of people following Him. It’s easy to think that there is no way that He could possibly relate to feeling that way.
Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, however, a bit of a different picture:
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus may have been surrounded by people, but they were people who simply needed something from Him. Even His closest friends, the twelve disciples, often frustrated Him because they didn’t understand Him. Even in Jesus’ darkest moment, just before His death, His three best friends were not there for Him and they all abandoned Him when things got really tough.
Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Can you imagine being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over of all the universe and lowering yourself to become a man? Jesus would often go to lonely places not because He wanted solitude away from people, but because He was homesick and wanted to spend time alone with His Heavenly Father away from the needs, expectations, and criticism of people.
Without this well known promise of God, we lack so much! Loneliness can easily overwhelm and overtake us at any given moment.
Embracing this promise of God, however, radically changes and transforms the existence of loneliness and rejection. This promise of God is what enabled Jesus to be able to experience the bitterness of loneliness and rejection and confidently overcome them. It’s a simple one that is easy to remember, but just as easy to forget. This promise of God?
“I will be with you”
Sure, you may feel lonely from time to time, but you have a truth that surpasses that emotion. This truth is more than just a cushy, comfort thought. This truth is reality for everyone. Though God is ever-present, not all choose to turn to Him or acknowledge this truth. To anyone who commits themselves to following Jesus, however, this promise manifests itself in a powerful way.
To God’s own people of Jerusalem, He says:
1 Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled!
2 She obeys no one,
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
she does not draw near to her God.
As James, the brother of Jesus writes:
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
When we choose to draw near to God, our loneliness is driven away and our lives marked by the Presence and Power of God. Even when we stand alone, we are not truly alone. When we choose to step away from the crowd to follow our Maker’s purposes for us – reaching our full potential for which we were created for – amazing things happen!
Just because God is with you does not mean that everything will go well, but they will end well. Just because God is with you does not mean that you won’t face troubles and adversity, but you will obtain victory over them.
In Gerar, after the people drove Isaac out of their land, the leader went out and met with him.
27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”
28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you
The reason that Joseph went from favor to the pit to slavery to head of household to prison to second in command over the greatest nation on the earth at that time was that simple and consistent phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph.” Out of this awareness of God’s presence, Joseph was able to assure his family who had treated him so poorly:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
What drives every bit of loneliness out of our lives and replaces it with confidence, assurance, comfort, and peace is this simple act: knowing and being known. When someone truly understands us – our true selves, when we can just be ourselves and be accepted as such, there is no place for loneliness. Nothing in the world compares to the acceptance and embrace of knowing and being known by others.
Jesus fully knows you – every thought, every word, every act, every feeling, every success, every failure, and He accepts and loves you perfectly, just as you are. Of course, He wants to lead you to become an even better person, but He accepts you just as you are – fully knowing everything about you.
Jesus wants you to fully know Him. It is His joy to share revelation with us – the secret things in the Kingdom of God.
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
Jesus loves living life together with us. In fact, He wants to be with us in such an intimate and personal way that He chose to fill us with the very Presence that Moses demanded be with him. Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit within our lives so that the ancient promise to be with us would be fully manifest – that it would be our daily reality.
In fact, after Jesus died on the cross and rose again to life:
17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Again, Jesus reiterates this promise – to be with us always.
What does it look like when God is with us, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit – the very Presence of God?
Well, we all know of how God was with Daniel – even when he stood alone among mankind. We know of how he was exalted in the service of his enemy – King Nebuchadnezzar – after his people were stolen away in exile. We know of how he was delivered from the lion’s den after being thrown there for praying to God alone. We know of his God-given gift to interpret dreams and even the mysterious writing on the wall. You may also be familiar with this account, which we’ll end with:
13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[a] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” God with us!
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
You may be going through some tough stuff in life right now. You may feel a bit like Daniel – thrown into confusion, opposed forcefully, stolen from, mistreated, misunderstood, and being thrown fully into the flames of life. If you draw near to God in the midst of this challenging season of life, you will come out of this season without even the smell of fire on you.
The choice, however, is ours. God loves us perfectly, but love is not love if there is not a choice. God is very present and very ready to do the impossible on your behalf. He simply waits for us to draw near to Him – to enter into His presence and to ask that He fill us with it.