The lonely Christian can derive hope from recognizing the body of Christ all around us, across the street and across the world.
A church can be one of the loneliest places in the world. Frantically over-scheduled families and disconnected singles are two enormous barriers to overcome if the church will live like the family it’s supposed to be.
It is sad and ironic that a place that is supposed to be warm, inviting, and sheltering can seem cold, distant, and harsh to an outsider. Even sadder, this is how church can feel to many members.
So, is it wrong to be a lonely Christian?
In, but not of
I visited New York City for the first time in fall 2016. As a classic introvert, the idea of encountering the largest metropolis in the US filled me with some anxiety. How would I adapt to the crowded madness of Manhattan? How would I react to the subway, the teeming streets? Times Square?
Quite well, as it turned out.
New York ended up being one of my favorite vacations. I loved the energy and vitality, the aromas of international cuisine and chattering of unknown languages. In the midst of the flowing crowds, I felt oddly at peace, safe, and untouched.
And yet, I was disconnected. I was in, but not part of, New York City.
We Christians can sometimes feel the same way in our churches. Amidst the energy and vitality of worship, as the Holy Spirit moves the body to praise and revere God, it’s easy to become isolated in our fears and uncertainties. Doctrinal and stylistic differences can widen the gaps even further. Unconfessed sin can push us adrift, out into a sea of separation.
That may be exactly where our enemy wants us.
Predators seek the isolated, the unprotected. A single target loses the benefit of the group’s combined strength. The greatest exodus in our churches may not be in waves of division but believers removed from the body, one by one.
Remedy 1: True riches await us
Despite the soaring cost of secondary education, a college degree is still a good investment. People with four-year degrees earn, on average, substantially more during their lives than those without.
And yet the college life typically shows little sign of future prosperity. Bare dorm rooms. Books bought with scraped-together cash. Subsistence on instant noodles and weak coffee. Most college students have to sacrifice greatly to earn a degree.
Christians represent every level of the socio-economic spectrum. But even the wealthiest believer’s assets cannot compare with the riches in heaven’s storehouse. Whatever sacrifices we make for the sake of God’s kingdom now will appear there in the form of the most valuable treasure of all: people.
It’s true we may never achieve wealth in this life. We may even have to give up our high status to follow Christ. But those few years spent with little will always be worth an eternity spent with our precious fellow brothers and sisters, for whom we gave and sacrificed whatever was required.
Thomas brooks reminds us our truest riches have names, faces, and souls.
Remedy 2: Some gave all
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – Deitrich Bonhoeffer
When the poor single mom gives all to Jesus, a call to sacrifice for others’ sake may seem like a heavenly reward for the life she already lives. But for a wealthy CEO, a movie star, an athlete headed for a hall of fame?
“All” has one meaning, but infinite applications.
Jesus told his disciples it’s easier to squeeze a thousand-pound animal through a millimeter-wide hole than for a rich man to squeeze his possession-laden soul through heaven’s gates. And yet for God, saving a rich person is like falling into a swimming pool.
Rich people can be saved, in the same way poor people can: by the power of Christ. Their faith is proof that God can overcome any obstacle we erect against him. Their endurance is our motivation to cling to Christ, laying whatever price he asks at his feet.
We may have to clear some space first, though. The wealthy believer ahead of us has left much more.
Remedy 3: Valuate properly
A minimalist movement has caught on in the west. Decades of consumerism have some people reversING course. Instead of paying for another year at the self-storage facility they are selling as much as they can and buying “tiny houses.”
One young tech professional boasts that he can carry everything he owns in the world in one bag and on his back. He can be ready to move to a new town, state, or nation in under 20 minutes. He rents furnished apartments and possesses a mere week’s worth of clothing changes. His laptop computer and smartphone compose his full business equipment list.
This is an extreme example. But it illustrates what Brooks writes about the poor saint who can “board and bed with his treasure.” The Christian carries her most prized possession in her heart. The promise of her inheritance is sealed upon her spirit. She walks, works, and rests with her “all in all.”
A destitute believer in Jesus is wealthier than any winner of life’s lottery.
Remedy 4: You are not alone, lonely Christian
The percentage of American citizens claiming to be Christians simply cannot be a true figure. The large number is incongruous with those who are either ignorant of or flatly deny cardinal Christian doctrines. Given the likelihood of those in our churches who profess with their mouths without believing in their hearts, I suspect the number is actually far smaller than any of us dare to guess.
This is not a tragedy. It is a wake-up call. Artificially inflating our numbers is not a godly response to creeping secularism. It’s better to accept the fact that the true, faithful Church is more like the remnant, the “little flock” of which Brooks speaks.
All the churches across the world that remain true to Christ together compose a mightier company than any exaggerated statistic. This is because our power lies not in numbers but in the Holy Spirit. He who sustains us when our meagerness and losses tempt us toward doubt. He supplies all our true needs according to his riches in glory.
When the cost of what you have forsaken for Christ weighs upon you, remember the other saints who bear the same struggle. Follow their gaze as they look toward their great reward.
Remedy 5: Don’t envy the wealthy
Former NFL star Deion Sanders famously leveraged one season with the San Francisco 49ers and a Super Bowl ring to land a $35 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys. And the ink on that deal was barely dry when depression began to creep in.
Sanders, who played in a baseball World Series and would win another Super Bowl with the Cowboys, admitted to a suicide attempt during his career with the Cincinnati Reds.
Sanders eventually awoke from the stupor of his depression to find hope and peace. And he certainly isn’t lacking today in his post-football career. Yet he is an example of a person who achieved all his dreams in life only to wish for death.
It is possible to be discontent with much and content with little. The point isn’t to measure the amount of our assets, but the sincerity of our faith. The apostle Paul learned he could live in any situation through Christ who gave him strength. Thomas Brooks teaches us we can do the same.
Remedy 6: The great reversal is coming
Joseph said to the one who bore Pharaoh’s cup: “Remember me in the kingdom.” But the cupbearer forgot Joseph.
The repentant thief said to the one who bore the cup of the Father’s wrath: “Remember me in the kingdom.” He did. And He will remember you, too.
It took Pharaoh himself to order Joseph out of prison. But our Lord will remember us himself. He will one day lift us out of the mire of this world and seat us upon the rock of his eternal redemption in heaven. This is an iron-clad promise. It is based on Christ’s work for you, not on yours for him.
As meager and lowly as you feel, God will exalt you in his kingdom. He will seat you beside him and will feed you from the rich bounty of his banquet table. He will not withhold the best wine at the end.
Jesus will return. You will be united with your universal, eternal family. All will be right. You will never be a lonely Christian again.