Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In the pain of loneliness

Good morning my friends, if indeed I may call you that. Friends are a very precious source of many things in our lives, especially during hardships when we need much encouragement. I am sure that you appreciate every single friend that you have and probably thank God for them every day; as long as they do not turn out to be like Job's friends. We face many things in our lives where we need support and encouragement not accusation and condemnation. Imagine facing those times alone. The apostle Paul had to.

He was in his last days. He just passed the torch to Timothy in his last letter to Timothy and then we read this:

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. (2 Timothy 4:9-12)

This man who had surrounded himself by a great team of evangelists, prophets and teachers, who had been partnered with other great apostles like Silas, was now feeling all alone. The only one who was with him was Luke. It would be ironic if this Mark he was asking for was the same Mark who was at the center of Paul and Barnabas' dispute back in the beginning of it all. As I read this I get a sense of the emptiness he must have felt, facing this almost completely alone. On top of it he was facing other persecution besides his trial:

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (vv. 14-15)

It seemed that Paul would receive no rest in this world. Right up to the end he faced trials and persecution, only now he was facing it alone. Listen to the sense of complete abandonment he felt:

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (v. 16)

No one came to his support. Imagine, as you faced death, not a single person there to speak kind and encouraging words to you. Imagine no one there to remind you of the promises we have received. Imagine no one there to love you. However, as much as that must have hurt, Paul had a greater source of strength and encouragement. He started this journey with and because of Jesus, he was going to finish it with Jesus:

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. (v. 17)

Paul remembered the greater purpose even in his death, that the message of grace by faith would be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Jesus had always been his source of everything; love, joy, peace, contentment, hope. This is the reason Paul asked Timothy to bring something to him:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (v. 13)

The scrolls and parchments would be portions of the Holy Scriptures along with his notes. These would bring him much comfort in the same way that looking back through Bible passages with special meaning to us brings us comfort. Paul was chasing away the pain of loneliness by filling the emptiness with Jesus. Consider this verse and try to keep it in this context:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (v. 18)

I do not believe Paul was referring to any form of physical attack here but the kind of attack that perhaps we are more familiar with. These attacks would come in the form of seeds of fear, doubt, discouragement, a sense of lose. These attacks are hard to defend against so we need to turn to the one who will rescue us from them. Fear has to be the worse attack we can face. Out of fear come so many other things. This is the reason Jesus assured his disciples and thus all believers:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." (John 14:1-4)

This is the great promise that should calm any fear we may have. Later in the same passage Jesus is recorded as saying:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

This peace is what Paul was leaning upon so that he would not allow fear to trouble his heart. I do not know what you are facing right now but I promise you, even if everyone else abandons you, Jesus never will. Others may turn out to be like Job's friends and are no comfort to you at all and even make it worse. Others may just walk away from you when you need their support. Set them aside and lean more heavily upon Jesus, more than you ever have before. He will rescue you from your fear, doubt and worries. He will stand with you and give you strength. He will be there for your last breath. He will also be the first to greet you on the other side of the horizon. Don't let go of him; you can't afford to.

1 comment:

onassignment said...

Pastor Paul, I cannot explain why, but this passage of scripture and your explanation have touched my heart this morning. We often need to be reminded, that in spite of circumstances around us, there is an end in sight if we remain faithful. The only thing He has asked us to do is obey Him. He is in the details. We are not responsible for anything else but to live by His Word. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." "Our Lord is able to deliver us but if not....we will not bow down..." So as we move through the challenges of this life, a reminder to be faithful till the end, to feed upon what God has done for us and what He has for us at the end and to forgive all who may have injured or harmed us in some way, is appreciated. Blessings to you, Pastor. May He find us all faithful till He calls us Home.