Courage in the Lonely Hour
Loneliness is one of life’s most painful experiences. Since God created us as relational beings, the absence of companionship can be very discouraging. At some point, all of us have probably dealt with feelings of isolation. But it’s especially difficult when we’re going through a trying situation and there is no one to help or encourage us.
Courage to endure loneliness
What we want at that moment is companionship, support, and comfort so that our emotional pain will go away. But sometimes the situation persists, and the isolation seems as if it will go on forever. At times like this, we need courage to endure.
Did you know that God can use your loneliness to achieve His purposes in your life? Sometimes He allows such situations because they are prime opportunities to develop godly character within us, train us to depend on Him, and bring us into a closer relationship with Him. When we’re all alone and others are unable or unwilling to help, He is the One who never leaves us.
Paul knew the pain of loneliness. After many years of faithful service to the Lord, the apostle found himself in a cold, dank Roman prison. His last letter to Timothy gives us a glimpse of his conditions, priorities, and attitude during the final days of his earthly life.
Although he had continually given himself in service to others, at the end of his life, Paul was lonely; only Luke was with him (2 Tim. 4:9-16). Demas, one of his former companions, had deserted him, and other coworkers had moved on to various places. And sadly, at his first defense before the Roman court, Paul says, “No one supported me, but all deserted me” (v. 16).
Be careful not to spiritualize Paul. When we make him out to be a “super saint,” we miss seeing the ways God worked in his life and fail to realize that He could accomplish the same things in us. Paul was a flesh-and-blood person with all the weaknesses of humanity. He struggled with feelings, frustrations, and difficulties, just as you and I do. Put yourself in his place, and feel the discomfort and isolation of his last days.
Paul experienced loneliness on so many levels. He missed the company of those he loved and felt the pain of being deserted by Demas. The constraints and discomforts of prison life added to his sense of isolation. He was no longer free to do what he loved most—to travel the world, spreading the gospel, starting churches, and discipling believers. And with each passing day, he knew his death was imminent.
The Lord’s provision in our loneliness
But prison life was not the only isolating situation Paul faced. When he was called before the Roman authorities to make his defense, no one supported him. Yet he tells us that he was not alone. The Lord stood with him and strengthened him so that he could fully accomplish God’s purposes (v. 17).
The assurance of Christ’s presence. Though the Romans ruled the world, the Ruler of the universe was standing beside Paul. One man plus Christ is more powerful than any earthly authority. When he faced the court, I am sure his courage grew as his thoughts raced to past situations when the Lord had been with him in danger and difficulty. I’d like to urge you to write down what God is doing in your life.
Paul had learned that times of weakness were God’s invitation to depend on Him.
Having a written account will remind you of His past faithfulness and encourage you to trust Him with your present situation.
Even though our personal experiences with God are invaluable, our greatest source of assurance is the Bible. Throughout its pages, the Lord tells His people that He is with them. Before Christ ascended to the Father, He promised His followers, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). In fact, believers have the Holy Spirit within them, and He will remain there forever (John 14:16-17). In times of weakness, loneliness, or fear, remember that the Lord is always with you—even if you can’t perceive Him.
The reality of God’s constant presence with us is a fact, but we are not always aware of Him, especially in lonely periods. Haven’t you sometimes wondered, If He’s with me, why can’t I sense Him? Why do I feel so alone? When His presence is undetectable, our courage to face isolation and difficulty weakens. At times like this, we need to depend on fact, not feelings. Rely on the truth that He will never leave or forsake those who have been saved (Heb. 13:5).
The provision of divine strength. The second way the Lord helped Paul face the Roman authorities alone was by strengthening him (v. 17). Years earlier Paul had written a letter to the Philippians telling them, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Now he was practicing what he preached. The powerful presence of the Lord gave him the boldness he needed to proclaim Christ in this threatening situation.
In his lifetime of walking with Christ, the apostle had learned that times of weakness were God’s invitation to depend on Him. When Paul was struggling with a “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Don’t let yourself feel hopeless in your loneliness. When you are emotionally, physically, or spiritually weak, you are in a prime position to witness firsthand the power of God working within you. He’ll give the strength and courage to endure whatever you are going through.
The fulfillment of God’s calling. One thing we can rely on is God’s faithfulness: He will always empower us to fulfill His purposes for our lives. Paul said that the Lord strengthened him “so that through [him] the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Tim 4:17). He knew this was where God wanted him to be—that his incarceration and trial were an integral part of fulfilling his calling.
In fact, before Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, the Lord clearly told him this was his destiny. When the Jews in Jerusalem were trying to kill him, Jesus stood by his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11). And during a storm on the way to Rome, an angel of God stood before him saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar” (Acts 27:24).
Since Paul’s desire was to do God’s will, we can be sure that he jumped at this chance to proclaim Christ to the Roman rulers of that day. He didn’t compromise or soften his message in order to save his own life. When a person has the conviction that he is doing the work God has called him to accomplish, he’s filled with zeal and bravery, which all the forces of evil cannot destroy.
This display of courage was not Paul’s first; his previous history of boldness had shaped his current response. Whenever we stand up for what we believe, God uses that as an opportunity to strengthen us for the next challenge—which may very well be more difficult and costly. Paul’s life was on the line, but he did not consider his life as dear to himself. His goal was to finish the ministry he’d received from the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:24).
The fear of death can cause us to lose courage, but the realization that God holds our days in His hand gives us the confidence to press on. The Lord has a course mapped out for each of us, and He guards our way as we seek to fulfill it. Although Paul was willing to die as a result of his testimony before the court, the Lord’s purposes for him were not yet complete; therefore, his life was spared (2 Tim 4:17).
To the casual observer, Paul’s ministry appeared to be over. After all, he was getting older and for the second time in his life, he was stuck in a Roman jail, unable to do what he’d done before. But God doesn’t count the value of our days as man does. In His eyes, ?a bedridden believer in a nursing home still has a purpose and a calling from Him. You can be sure that if you are breathing, the Lord still has plans for you.
A godly response to loneliness
Maintain an eternal focus. Throughout his prison ordeal, Paul was able to respond in a godly fashion because he never lost his eternal focus. His goal was to finish what the Lord had called him to do and receive the heavenly reward laid up for him (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Without this kind of eternal perspective, we are all likely to descend into self-pity or bitterness.
Keep reaching out. But Paul never became inwardly focused. Until his dying breath, he looked for ways to share the gospel of hope. His last letter is filled with concern for others and advice for his dear friend Timothy. The limitations imposed by his situation did not hinder him from serving and caring for other people.
Hold no grudges. Despite being abandoned, Paul did not hold a grudge. When no one supported him at his trial, he said, “May it not be counted against them” (v. 16). He wasn’t even bitter toward God because of his lonely situation. Although a prison hardly seemed a fitting end for such a faithful servant, Paul considered it the last phase of his assignment from the Lord. He courageously endured until God brought him safely into His heavenly kingdom.
Stay in the word. As Paul closed his letter, he requested little from Timothy: just a cloak and “the books, especially the parchments” (v. 13). The cloak was obviously for his physical comfort, but the reading material was for spiritual support. The parchments were probably copies of the Old Testament—though he didn’t have long to live, Paul wanted the Scriptures. They had guided his heart and mind for so many years, and he longed for their comfort and encouragement in the cold and lonely dungeon.
For all of us, there will be times when we feel alone or when others are unable or unwilling to help. But dwelling on our situation or others’ wrongs against us leads only to resentment and self-pity. However, if we seek the Lord and rely on the truth of His Word, we will discover the comfort and strength of His presence. Courage will enter our souls, empowering us to endure loneliness and finish the course God has set for us.
The article was selected from In Touch magazine.
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