Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Human connections are necessary. Though stated in the context of needing a mate comparable unto himself, God nevertheless said of man it wasn’t good for him to be alone (Genesis 2.18). Thus, God provided Adam with Eve. Elsewhere, the wise man of God reminds us of the advantages of having companions:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12 NASB)
Hence, even if being around many people wearies our soul, we admit it’s a blessing to have those precious few upon whom we can depend to be there for us when we emerge from our solitude.
Jesus had His close companions. We don’t doubt He loved all those men He chose to be His apostles, but He singled out Peter, James, and John to be His “inner circle.” They were His confidants. It was to these three alone He shared His true glory (Matthew 17.1ff). Peter, James, and John also went further into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus as He prayed (Mark 14.32-35). In addition, John refers to himself throughout the Gospel he was inspired to pen as “the disciple whom the Lord loved” (John 21.20). This same passage also shows us that John leaned against the Lord during the last Passover (Can you imagine?).
God never intended us to face life alone. As mentioned previously, God provided the foundation for the family in the very beginning. The family has often been called the “bedrock of society.” Aristotle wrote in Politics that humans organized themselves first in families that birthed villages which, in turn, gave rise to the polis (i.e. city-state). As we live in a world into which sin was welcomed, we understand people bound to us, even by ties of blood, may betray or abandon us. We see, then, the wisdom of God in giving to us the church.
It’s a sad paradox in a world of virtual, perpetual interconnectedness people feel lonelier than ever. The HRSA reveals that loneliness and social isolation is as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! 1 Just type in the words “loneliness epidemic” in a search engine and see what pops up. This isn’t a problem just for our seasoned citizens either. 2 There’s no excuse for the child of God to be lonely, however. Christ instituted the church to be God’s Household on earth (Ephesians 2.19). If we assemble as we ought, we will be stirred to love and the performance of good works (Hebrews 10.24-25). Furthermore, we encourage and build up one another in the church (1 Thessalonians 5.11; Ephesians 4.15-16).
Yes, we’re currently facing a global epidemic not physical in nature. It’s a disease of the heart perpetuated by loneliness, which focuses one’s attention inward on troubles and wants. God didn’t create you to be alone. Dismiss the foolish notion that the church is for the weak and embrace the strength it supplies the lonely heart. You’ll never find an app that can do for you what the church can.
1 “The ‘Loneliness Epidemic.’” Health Resources & Services Administration, HRSA.gov, 10 Jan. 2019, www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic.
2 Howe, Neil. “Millennials And The Loneliness Epidemic.” Forbes, Forbes Media LLC, 3 May 2019, 13:21, www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/05/03/millennials-and-the-loneliness-epidemic/#77096a8f7676.
It’s common in the age we live in to get stuck on the “daily grind.” We wake up, drink coffee, get dressed, go to work or school, come home at the end of the day, and start all over again in the morning. It’s repetitive and the days can seem to blend together. On top of this monotony, you have your own problems to solve. We’ve got our own responsibilities to keep up with. For some it’s family and for others it’s homework or any number of other duties. This can cause anxiety or depression. Those thoughts that are familiar to so many can creep into our minds. Thoughts like, “why am I even doing this? What’s the point?” Our shoulders are tired with the burden of life. There’s too much going on and we may just want to shut down or sleep to escape the day. The weight is heavy.
So try something. Wake up! When our minds are full of our problems and our responsibilities and everything that’s wrong with our lives and our circumstance, we miss something precious. We miss out on the lives of everybody else that also share this planet. Solve your problems and shake the daily grind by branching out. Strive to achieve selflessness by loving others and showing compassion. Solve your problems by trying to help others with theirs. If I personally have my own problems as a young adult, I know that there are others with problems much bigger than mine. Their shoulders are killing them and they’ve been carrying the weight longer than me.
There are people all around you struggling with the same things or worse. The next time you Tweet, begin to create a Facebook status, or blog, are you about to be another problem for someone else? Or are you about to ease their aching shoulders?
…Of concerns over the future–decisions to make, the specter of tomorrow, growing old, retirement?
…Of sin–fighting temptation and not always winning, beating one thing and then finding another cropping up in its place, and the guilt it brings?
…Of disappointment–both of what I inflict and what is inflicted upon me?
…Of fear–when it comes to my spouse, my children, my parents, my brethren, our nation?
…Of doubt–whether in the process of prayer, struggles with asking God “why?,” or especially doubting myself?
…Of neglect–leaving undone things central to my purpose as a Christian due to apathy, distraction, misplaced priorities, and the like?
...Of failure–trying and not succeeding, not trying hard enough, not knowing what or how to try, and of simply falling short?
…Of betrayal–whether through gossip, lying, broken promises, insincerity, or treachery?
…Of insecurity–that can result from any of these and other struggles?
We don’t always have days when we wonder these things, but they come around often enough that they can prey on our minds. Sometimes, we face these questions due to our shortcomings. Other times, it’s because of the failings of others. Both can lead to despair.
The wonderful news is that we can be free of them all. There is a day coming when none of these will weigh us down ever again. I love the encouragement of the Hebrews’ writer, who urges, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:1-3).
Whether we are struggling due to our sinfulness or if it is any other weight, we’re encouraged to hang on and hang in there. When the struggle might be the greatest, that’s when we’ve got to turn and fix our focus on Jesus. Watch how He won! See what He did! Remember that He helps make it possible for us to fight and win.
If you are in the valley of despair right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up! Look to Jesus. Hang on! The end is in sight. Through Him, we will overcome!
If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4. Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me. It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine. There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy. Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21). He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship. Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15). Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16). Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air. Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18). These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!
This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:
You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us. He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4. Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Shortly before Joab turns the tide of Absalom’s rebellion by killing him, David, the rebel’s father, had reached a low ebb in his reign. David and his faithful followers had been on the run from Absalom for some time, hiding and trying to escape rout and death. Worry was a regular exercise for David during this time (2 Sam. 15:14), as was weeping (2 Sam. 15:30) and weariness (2 Sam. 16:14). Just before the fateful day of his son’s death, David and his loyal followers fled for their lives and survived thanks to the crafty counsel of Hushai. The state of the people, at this point, is described in 1 Samuel 17:29: “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” They were at the end of their rope, worn and frazzled by their very real problems.
Have you wrestled with worry, weeping, and weariness lately? Can you relate? Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and overmatched by things going on in your life. As we read this account, there are several reasons to hope.
THEY WERE NOT ALONE. 2 Samuel 17:22 notes that it was “David and all the people who were with him” who arose and crossed the Jordan to go to Mahanaim. Each struggled, anxious and uncertain, but how comforting that they were able to go together. The Christian should never have to go it alone. There are those around us who to help bear our burdens (Gal. 6:2). From the beginning of the church, this has been the case. Acts 2:44 says, “All who had believed were together.” While each of us may be struggling with individual problems, struggling is part of the human condition (Job 14:1). In God’s wisdom, He has made the church a place where we can help and support each other (1 Th. 5:11).
THEY WERE BENEFICIARIES OF KINDNESS. What happens when they get to Mahanaim? Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai are waiting for them. That had to be encouraging by itself. But look what they had with them—“beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans, lentils, parched seeds, honey, curds, sheep, and cheese of the herd” (28-29a). Those three men saw their brethren were suffering, hurting, and needy. So what did they do? I have seen this in the church more times than I can remember. A brother or sister was in financial, emotional, or spiritual need, and their brethren showered them with kindness and love. So many of God’s people take to heart Paul’s exhortation, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted…” (Eph. 4:32a). See 1 Corinthians 13:4, Colossians 3:12-15, and 1 Peter 3:8, and you see the heart of so many of our fellow-Christians. How helpful when we are in the wilderness!
THEY WERE SOON VICTORIOUS. David draws up a battle plan in 2 Samuel 18:1, and before long the threat was quelled. There were still plenty of challenges that lay directly ahead, but they had doubtless learned a valuable lesson in the wilderness. Their victory did not mean that they were exempt from further problems, but they had experienced God’s deliverance. What a powerful lesson for us! Yes, we will continue to struggle so long as we are pilgrims on this earth (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11), but there is a victorious “day of visitation” on the horizon (1 Pet. 2:12).
Are you “in the wilderness”? Hang in there! Focus on the people God has put in your life, be attuned to their kindness and encouragement, and remember the great victory God has promised you.
According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, “The Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ, is the region that circles the Earth, near the equator, where the trade winds of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres come together” (via http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov). The ITCZ (“itch”) is a major weather player, affecting rainfall, storms, and wind currents across the world along the equator but also extending north and south as the position of the earth to the sun changes seasonally. Another feature of the ITCZ is the dead calm it can cause at sea, a weather event sailors long ago named “the doldrums.” A sailing ship that gets caught in that area of the world can be stuck there for days due to windless conditions. It is said to be from an Old English word that gives us the modern word “dull” (via online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com).
Have you ever heard someone say that they were stuck in the doldrums? They mean they feel a prolonged sense of sadness and depression. Sometimes, this can occur and the sufferer does not even know exactly why. Since we live in an imperfect world, times like these are inevitable. People disappoint us, discouragement paralyzes us, sadness overwhelms us, and anxiety overtakes us. What can be done if we find ourselves “stuck in the doldrums”?
Smile. A dose of determined joy and deliberate happiness may be necessary. Proverbs 15:13-15 says, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness. All the days of the afflicted are evil, but he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast.”
Serve. Distracting yourself from the doldrums may remedy them. There is no better way to accomplish this than by seeing someone in need and helping them. As Christians, we have been called to “through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
Supplicate. No earthly power may be able to put wind in your sails, but the power of God in heaven never fails. We should ask, when in our doldrums, have I spoken to God about it? Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). Supplication is a noun meaning “to make known one’s particular need” (Zodhiates, δέησις).
Hang in there! The winds will resume and push you forward. Just be alert when they begin to blow so you can leave those doldrums behind you!