Loneliness can be an embarrassing topic we don’t like to talk about or admit to. Yet all of us are familiar with it, to some degree, because loneliness is an inescapable consequence of the fall.
No surprise, readers request more content on loneliness. To that end, let me introduce Paul Matthies. Paul is a Christian, former missionary in Asia, and a current pastor in Texas. He’s also single and has openly shared his struggle with loneliness over the years. In the summer of 2006, while serving as a pastor at The Village Church, Matthies preached a four-part sermon series titled “Only the Lonely” (links available below). The series offers a much-needed biblical theology of loneliness and is filled with mature thoughts on the problem, and wise words of gospel hope, for those enduring its pain.
Recently I went through the four sermons and pulled out 20 quotes to share the flavor of the hope offered in these messages.
“Loneliness is a common human experience. All of us, whether single or married, whether for a short period of time or for an extended season, deal with loneliness. Why so? That leads into my second aim that loneliness is, at its root, a spiritual issue. But often we define loneliness in physical or emotional terms. We think loneliness can be defined by the absence of people, whether physically or emotionally. So, we think to ourselves, ‘What we need to do to fix our problem of loneliness is to have more people in our lives.’ And when that doesn’t work we think, ‘Well, we need more considerate people in our lives.’ And so, I talked about how we define loneliness as emotional or physical. But that doesn’t complete the picture because loneliness is also the presence of pain. Loneliness is not just the absence of people; it’s the presence of pain, the pain of separation from God and others. It began in the garden of Eden when Adam decided to choose the pleasures of sin and, in doing so, inherited the pain of loneliness.”
“We have a spiritual heart problem, and we don’t need medication. We need a new heart — and that takes a doctor.”
“The worst type of loneliness comes from our sin and disobedience. We do it to ourselves through the pleasures of sin. . . . The second type of loneliness is that loneliness that comes upon us through our circumstances. Not all loneliness is our fault. Sometimes we’re thrust into it. . . . The third type of loneliness comes upon us through our obedience and courage — the loneliness that comes from being Christ’s disciple.”
“In Philippians 3:10, Paul uses the phrase, ‘the fellowship of his sufferings.’ So many of us love to enter into the fellowship of God’s joy, but Scripture also calls us into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. And sometimes, we don’t need to avoid the pain or numb the pain; we need to look at that pain and ask God for a deeper joy.”
“We have a heart problem. We can invite more people into our lives, and we can invite more quality people into our lives, but the problem is that it doesn’t take care of the root pain of separation that’s happening there. We have a spiritual heart problem, and we don’t need medication. We need a new heart — and that takes a doctor. And so, we have a strong desire to be in intimate fellowship with God and others, but the problem is that we have, at our root, a sin problem that clouds our hearts.”
“At the root of your fellowship issue is not merely the absence of people in your life, or the absence of God in your life; it is the presence of sin in your hearts that separates you from God and other people. You have a heart problem, and that problem is painful (see 1 John 1:5–10).”
“Because Adam chose the pleasures of sin, humanity has inherited the pain of loneliness and the pain of separation from God and others. At its root, loneliness began in the garden of Eden, and we are all children of Eden.”
“If you are depressed and you take medication, you might realize that you have a chemical imbalance, and it’s biological, and it causes you loneliness. I’m not saying that, by mere repentance, that fixes the issue, but I am saying we can’t divorce our physical needs from spiritual realities. Every time we realize we have a fallen body, we must also acknowledge that the reason why we have a fallen body with a chemical imbalance is because we inherited the pain of the fall.”
“God uses all things for the good of those who love him, even our loneliness.”
“Loneliness, at its root, is a spiritual issue. We don’t need to merely hang out with more friends. We don’t need to merely learn how to speak love languages. We need help. We need a Savior. We need an advocate whose name is Christ Jesus. And our heart cry should not merely be, ‘I do bad things because I’m lonely, so someone come keep me company and make me feel better.’ Our deep heart cry should be, ‘I’m lonely because I’m a sinner in a dark and fallen world. God help me.’”
“We can say with Romans 8:28 that God uses all things for the good of those who love him, even our loneliness, because our loneliness leads us to our deepest spiritual need, who is Christ. And we can also say with 1 John 3:20 that, even when we feel condemned, God is greater than our hearts and that loneliness cannot separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39). We have a solution to our spiritual problem, and if we will submit to the Lord and accept his solution for our deepest spiritual problem, the atoning work of Christ on the cross, God can attack loneliness at its root and overcome the pain of separation in our lives that leads to separation from him, which leads to separation from other people.”
“If you’re lonely, have you ever thought about coming to God and offering it to him as a gift in worship? Try saying, ‘I’ve tried everything to fix it, and I can’t. I’ve tried filling it with the world. I’ve tried filling it with people. I’ve tried seeking you. I don’t know what to do with it. So, I’m just going to offer it up to you. Can you take this ugly thing and make it something beautiful?’”
“Loneliness is a wilderness, but through receiving it as a gift, accepting it from the hand of God, and offering it back to him with thanksgiving, it may become a pathway to holiness, to glory and to God himself” (Elisabeth Elliot).
“The wilderness is that season of our lives where God, through our loneliness, teaches us that his will is to do something in us, not merely do something for us. That is, by walking by faith and not by sight, he works in us a stronger faith, leading to a deeper worship that results in a greater joy.”
“If you’re lonely, offer it to God as a gift in worship.”
“Listening to the music our culture listens to, I realize all of us fluctuate between loneliness as our problem to loneliness as a solution to our problem. . . . We see loneliness as a problem at first, but then we think that maybe it’s a solution to our problems. And I’m here to tell you that we’re not the first people in the history of mankind to choose loneliness.”
“God doesn’t only come and sit with us; he also enables us to enjoy the pleasures of his presence. It’s not that he just comes with a message; he comes with a message of hope, a message of joy, and he says, ‘I’m going to never leave you, nor forsake you. And I’m going to give you new eyes and I’m going to give you great faith and I’m going to give you renewed purpose. I love you where you’re at, but I’m not going to leave you where you’re at. I am for you, not against you, and I’m going to give you what your heart’s greatest desire is. You thought you were hiding, but in reality, I was setting you up to meet with me. That’s what you need. You need an encounter with me.’ And it’s at that moment we discover the joy of the hiding place. It’s not a removal of our problems; it’s the gift of God’s presence with us. It’s not that we escape our great trials and tribulations; it’s the great joy of knowing that he calls us ‘friend.’”
“Loneliness is seeking to run from the presence of people and the pressures of life, and to withdraw from reality, but aloneness is experiencing the reality of God’s presence, running into the hiding place, not so you can just escape, but so you can enjoy God’s presence.”
“The hiding place can be viewed as that place or season in our lives when we run from people and circumstances, feel that the world is against us, and embrace loneliness only to encounter God, learn that he is for us, and therefore experience true aloneness.”
“Learn how to fight for community. God does want you to intentionally commune with him, but he also wants you in an intentional community. You can’t just stay with him forever. He’s not just calling you to be a monk. He’s also calling you to go out and make disciples and to get back into community.”
“Let me speak a very personal word to singles. For most of us, the greatest fear in the world is that we’re always going to be the bridesmaid and never be the bride, and the hope that this passage gives us is that God is worthy of worship regardless if we die alone and in obscurity (John 3:23–30). He can still make our joy full. He can still fill us with joy. Why? Because as long as Jesus is being lifted up, we have the great promise that he who is above all can still fill us with joy and, even though we may be forgotten, as long as the works of the Lord are not forgotten, our joy can be made full. And God is worthy of worship, even if we die in obscurity.”
“God is worthy of worship, even if we die in obscurity.”
“It was in that moment that I turned to God and gave him my loneliness that I began to sense God’s presence working in my life again. He started asking me questions like this: ‘If I asked you to move overseas, would you go? If you were to be single your entire life, would you still walk in purity? If no one ever liked a single word I asked you to speak, would you still preach? If your job remained difficult, would you still serve me? If I never fixed your problems, would you still worship me? If I never gave you a faithful friend again, would you still love your neighbor as you love yourself? If the gospel was offensive to every unbeliever you know, would you still share your faith?’ And the underlying question behind all that God was speaking into my heart was this: ‘Am I still worthy of worship?’”
“God approached Adam in the garden of Eden and said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18), not because Adam was lonely, but because he was making a statement about himself. He was saying, ‘It is not good for man to be alone, because one man cannot glorify me by himself.’ God creates an entire race of people to glorify him. . . . The panoply of gifts is essential if the church is to function as God intended. Image bearers are not lone rangers, and we see the great scriptural truth that God has not given us people to complete us, but to complement us as we seek to glorify him together in community.”
“Sometimes we call ‘loneliness’ what God’s word calls a longing for unhindered intimacy with him and others. And we start thinking that other people can provide us what only God can provide. And it amazes me how often I call ‘loneliness’ what is actually a groaning for redemption. And instead of trying to numb it, I should embrace it and try to realize that it’s God’s good gift to me to remind me that this world is not my home.”