One of the things that I have noticed very much over time, since I became a Christian, is how lonely it is to follow in the footsteps of my Saviour. I was never really serious in that walk from 1998 – 2011, but I noticed that the more conscientious I was, the more lonely I became, and God appeared so much more distant and silent. I even became increasingly estranged from fellow ‘believers’ in the Lord Jesus … 2015-2016 has been one of the loneliest periods of my life, and one that seems so estranged from God. I have prayed Psalm 55 many times because I, like the psalter, have been betrayed by those that I went ‘into the temple with’, so to speak. Like Elijah in the wilderness, wondering if anyone else is around, suffering like him, I have been feeling the pits of very lonely despair. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be liked for following Jesus when it’s more popular and addictive to chase Pokemon phantasms in the street.
Like the psalter in Psalm 77, I often wonder “Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love for ever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?“. It can be enough to wonder whether the journey is worth it. When I recently discussed this recently, a friend on social media mentioned that the great Christian writer AW Tozer had once written about this in chapter 39 (The Saint Must Walk Alone) of his book Man: The Dwelling Place of God.
‘Tis midnight, and on Olive’s brow
The star is dimmed that lately shone;
‘Tis midnight; in the garden now,
The suffering Saviour prays alone.
‘Tis midnight, and from all removed
The Saviour wrestles alone with fears,
E’en the disciple whom He loved
Heeds not his Master’s grief and tears …
The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone.
The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way. The man who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. A certain amount of social fellowship will of course be his as he mingles with religious persons in the regular activities of the church, but true spiritual fellowship will be hard to find. But he should not expect things to be otherwise. After all, he is a stranger and a pilgrim, and the journey he takes is not on his feet but in his heart. He walks with God in the garden of his own soul and who but God can walk there with him?
The truly spiritual man is indeed something of an oddity. He lives not for himself but to promote the interests of Another. He seeks to persuade people to give all to his Lord and asks no portion or share for himself. He delights not to be honoured but to see his Saviour glorified in the eyes of men. His joy is to see his Lord promoted and himself neglected. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk.
For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over-serious, so he is avoided and the gulf between him and society widens. He searches for friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart. It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God …
He is likely to feel that he is the least of all men and is sure to blame himself for his very loneliness. He wants to share his feelings with others and to open his heart to some like-minded soul who will understand him, but the spiritual climate around him does not encourage it, so he remains silent and tells his griefs to God alone …
The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful “adjustment” to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognises them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.
Tozer points out that all the saints of the Old Testament were lonely men who were foresaken by countrymen and even relatives (e.g. Enoch, Avraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, and others, particularly Jesus). Hebrews 11 alludes to this reality as well. The journey of godliness is so challenging that sometimes it seems impossible to go on walking it. But as Tozer rightly states, it takes us back to God so that we can trust Him so much more and be of more earthly use to those who need the grace of the gospel.
Jesus was ultimately the most lonely man on earth when He died on the cross with no friends to help Him and none to even witness His resurrection … And yet God the Father watched. If you, like me are feeling lonely in all this godly journey, then be assured that you’re not the only one asking the question,”How long, Yahweh? Will you forget me for ever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). You’re in good company.
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mould a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendour out-
God knows what He’s about
Here is a terrific video on this on YouTube by a young Canadian man who has a popular ministry, but feels alone and misunderstood. *