A Profile of Enduring Faith - Loneliness|
Sticking It Out Through Loneliness
(2 Timothy 4:9-21)
Pain of Loneliness
Few emotions that we're forced to face in this life are more painful than the pain of loneliness. Think about the single person enduring the pain of a broken romance, or military person serving overseas, or the widowed spouse whose table for two is now set for one, or the young couple whose empty arms ache for the child whose life was taken in an auto accident, or even the isolated inmate behind bars. These individuals understand the pain of loneliness at a very deep and tortuous level.
Isolated Stretch Called "Loneliness"
At different times in our lives, the race of enduring faith will likely take all of us down the isolated stretch of track called loneliness. In that portion of our race of faith we probably won't hear a whole lot of encouraging cheers, or feel the encouraging presence of others. What we may feel might be compared to what is known as "hitting the wall" on the last portion of a marathon race - the deep burning, forced breathing it takes to keep running, and keep enduring.
Second Timothy 4 records just such a time in Paul's life. Close your eyes for a moment and, in your imagination, come let's descend down a winding stone staircase into the torch lit innards of a Roman prison. The air is damp and cold and the cell is cramped and dark. It's here that we find the great Apostle, the great missionary, the great discipler of God's church - put in irons and feeling alone. He's in the homestretch of his life, and he feels the distress of loneliness.
When can loneliness affect you and me?
What can it do to us?
And how can we deal with it when it comes?
As we close out this study on building a strong, enduring faith those are the questions that this final portion of scripture in 2 Timothy 4 will answer.
I. When Can Loneliness Affect Us?
Contrary to what some of us may think, loneliness can assault us at almost any time and place. Now, very few, if any of us will be struck by it as Paul was - locked away in a dungeon - but his closing words here bring to mind at least four occasions where the chances are high that we'll be hit by loneliness.
Four Occasions of Loneliness
A. When we are separated from cherished friends.
Follow along with me as I read portions of verses 9, 10, 12, 19-20.
2 Timothy 4:9 - "Make every effort to come to me soon."
:10 - "for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica, Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia."
:12 - "But, Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus."
:19-20 - "Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. (:20) Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus."
No One Left But Faithful Luke
Paul doesn't come right out and say it, but you just know and can sense that he's feeling lonely as he writes about all those who have left and all those he wishes he could see. He does not know whether or not he'll ever see them again but I imagine he's trying not to dwell on the thought because it would only feed his sense of separation. Outside of the faithful Dr. Luke, no one is left. Look at the feeling of verse 11. Everyone is gone. And that's the kind of environment where loneliness can get to us.
"Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service" (2 Tim. 4:11, NASB).
B. When our memories bring nostalgic reminders.
Paul has sort of a bitter memory and it prompts the nostalgic reminder of God's goodness. Look at verses 16-17.
"At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them" (2 Tim. 4:16).
:17 "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" (NASB).
Those Were the Days
It's a "those were the days" type of moment as the apostle relives how God ministered to and strengthened him as only God can. Now don't get me wrong, nostalgic reminders are wonderful, but to those caught up in difficult times, they can have the bittersweet effect of magnifying lonely feelings. Paul awakes from his fond memory to the bleak surroundings of condemned men - and the loneliness is still there waiting for him.
C. When we are near certain times of year or special occasions.
Look at verse 21.
"Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren" (2 Tim. 4:21, NASB).
Why winter? It could have been that the apostle thought that his own execution and death would follow nature's own period of death - winter. It may have been that there was something about winter that triggered an unavoidable lonesomeness in him.
It is a well known fact that certain times of the year affect people differently. For example, Christmas is usually a time of joy and celebration, but for those plagued by loneliness, it can be a season of great sorrow and despair. And so Paul pleads, "Come before winter, Timothy, come and warm up my aching heart with your friendship and fellowship."
D. When we feel sidelined and forgotten.
This is something that affects everyone at some time or another, especially those who have known the joy of being involved and useful but for whatever reasons are no longer. It can happen so easily - a debilitating sickness, an unexpected change, even an expected one, and suddenly you've been set aside or forgotten.
I'm not alone when I say that Paul may very well have been going through this as he sat shelved away deep inside a Roman prison.
Those are only four of many types of situations when loneliness might grab hold of any of us.
II. What Can Loneliness Do To Us?
Fortunately as well as having some negative effects, loneliness can also work as a catalyst, bringing about some positive changes, two of which are reflected in Paul's comments to Timothy.
A. Loneliness can make us aware of the significance of others.
Look at verse 11.
"Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service" (2 Tim. 4:11, NASB).
Once Useless Mark
If you know very much about the apostle Paul, you know there was a time in his ministry when he felt that Mark was totally useless. Some time ago, Mark had volunteered to go on a missionary trip with Paul and Barnabas. But, things evidently got tough or Mark got homesick or something, and left Paul and Barnabus there on the road in need while he returned home.
That was a bitter experience for Paul. Later, when Barnabas suggested they take along John Mark along on another missionary trip, Paul totally rejected the idea. In fact, Paul felt so strongly about it that he and Barnabus parted company over the issue.
Now Useful Mark
What changed his mind about Mark? What made Mark, all of the sudden, so significant? No one knows for certain. Whatever had happened had certainly redeemed him in Paul's eyes. He is now useful to have around. The quitter has become a person who can be counted on. And loneliness can often make us aware of our need of and the significance of others.
B. Loneliness can force us to turn our concerns over to God.
Loneliness seems to bring us to a point of dependence on the Lord. Look again at verse 14 and 18.
"Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. The Lord will repay him according to his deeds."
:18 - "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly hingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim. 4:14&18, NASB).
When Paul was wronged, he trusts God to put things right.
When Paul was worried he trusted God to deliver him.
When Paul was uncertain, he trusted God to make him feel safe.
Motivation to Seek the Lord
Have you ever thought about the idea that the same feeling of aloneness that isolates us and makes us feel insignificant can also powerfully motivate us to seek the Lord? It can reawaken us to the simple practice we seem to forget in all our busyness - seeking God one day at a time.
III. How Can We Control Loneliness?
It would sure be nice if we could eliminate loneliness once and for all, wouldn't it? The best we can do is to control it by applying the kinds of methods we see Paul using here in this passage. Let me quickly list four things Paul practiced to combat loneliness:
A. Invest time with intimate friends.
Have you ever noticed that you can be lonely even in the midst of a crowd? I've been at pastor's conferences where I was lonely in the midst of hundreds of fellow ministers. But when that one key friend showed up it changed everything. It isn't the number of people that helps get rid of the feeling of loneliness, it's the quality of relationships that matters. Paul sought to surround himself with intimate friends like Timothy, Mark, and Luke. These were people he could connect with, confide in, and be comforted by so that his loneliness would be lifted. Do you have one or two intimate friends like that?
B. Take care of physical needs.
Another very practical thing Paul did was to take care of his physical needs. Lonely people tend to let themselves go by ceasing to care about their looks, their hygiene, and their diet. But, Paul didn't. Look at Paul's request in verse 13.
"When you come bring the cloak, which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13).
He seems to be taking what precautions he can to protect himself against the chill of that dungeon and the oncoming winter months. If he had let himself go it would have only brought on sickness of the body and of the mind.
This may seem a bit too practical, but how are you doing at regular exercise? How about caring about your appearance?
C. Stretch your mind with good books.
Next, we see that Paul fought off loneliness by stretching his mind with good books. Loneliness has a tendency to isolate your thoughts. We need to seek companionship by soaking up the insights of those who are wise. We need to let our hearts and minds be stretched.
D. Spend time in God's Word.
Look at the remainder of verse 13. …"when you come bring the…books, especially the parchments." What he is requesting are most likely the earliest form of the gospels and some copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was the Word of God that Paul wanted most of all when he lay in prison awaiting death. God's word brings life and it brings hope into our lives!
William Tyndale's Last Request
William Tyndale, who defied the Roman Catholic Church and had the courage to give the people the Bible in their own language, was sentenced to death and awaiting his punishment in a cold damp prison in winter, as he wrote these words to a friend: "Send me, for Jesus sake, a warmer cap, something to patch my leggings, a woolen shirt, and above all my Hebrew Bible." When they were up against severe challenges, the ones who've gone before us wanted more than anything else the Word of God to put strength and courage into their souls. How often and for how long are you studying, meditating on and memorizing the scriptures?
The next time you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, apply those four practical tips from Paul for controlling loneliness and let God put some strength and courage into your soul.
Invest time with friends
Take care of physical needs
Read inspirational books
Spend time in God's Word
Editor's Note: We hope you have enjoyed this series of essays about Profiles of Enduring Faith written by former pastor Kurt Krowel. If it has helped you as it has us, please share it with others. Also, please keep the author in your prayers. He needs God's guidance and love in his life at this time. Thank you.