With Me?

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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Ps 23:4 NIV)

But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. (Jer 20:11 NIV)

The LORD promised Joshua, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Josh 1:5 NIV) And then God told Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Josh 1:6, 7). Joshua’s strength and courage were to be firmly based on the assurance that God would be with him, would never leave him nor forsake him. And Joshua could be certain of that because he’d seen how it was between God and Moses. Joshua would have no delusions of ease or lack of conflict in this promise of God’s presence, he had seen indeed how it was with Moses, that Moses faced great adversity as God’s man, felt isolation and frustration in dealing with uncooperative and recalcitrant people. God wasn’t promising Joshua a trouble free life or a life without conflict, he was guaranteeing a victorious life, a life of overcoming adversity and conflict, because God would be his companion. The assurance was that God would be with him in conflict, not that God would insulate him from it. And so Joshua truly could conduct himself with courage and confidence, never to be bluffed out by any setback or difficulty.

God’s promise to Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is echoed in Jesus’ words of farewell to his disciples, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:20b NIV) Jesus’ promise of an abiding presence with his disciples, like the promise given to Joshua, is a promise of joint victory over hardship, not an exemption from it. The certainty of Jesus presence is to embolden his followers to behave as he did, knowing that they may also be called on to suffer as he did, and knowing that as he has overcome and sat down with the Father, so shall those who endure with him and overcome with him share in his glory (Rev. 3:21).


Never Alone?

An old song asked the question, “Have you ever been lonely, have you ever been blue?” Surely every thinking feeling person has felt lonely and blue. Three thousand years ago the Psalmist appealed to God, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” (Ps 25:16-17 NIV) Truly, loneliness and depression are appropriately described as anguish and affliction, inflicting deep suffering on those who experience them. It is natural to crave deliverance from loneliness and a troubled heart, and going to one who is greater, who understands and has answers, is the way to find relief.

In fact, God is pictured in the Psalms as providing a solution to loneliness, both spiritually and practically. God’s concern for the lonely is shown in the description of God as a father and builder of families. “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sunscorched land.” (Ps 68:56 NIV). The Psalmist found that God himself is a spiritual companion, a father, that anyone can find comfort with when human companionship is missing. Besides this spiritual consolation though, the Psalmist said that “God sets the lonely in families.” One of the ways that God does this is through the “family of believers,” people who share faith in God and so share companionship and family obligations with one another. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10 NIV) God’s people are to be a family for each other, and so are to help one another overcome loneliness. This is a great asset for winning the struggle with loneliness and depression. God sets the lonely in families by providing a new kind of family for them, a family bound by common faith and goals rather than by genetics, a growing family that is never to abandon the needy or troubled, but is to join together in doing good.

Not that either loneliness or a troubled heart are always bad. Sometimes loneliness for a time can be a benefit, a useful deprivation that lends focus and clarity to our thinking. Jesus knew the value of temporary solitude and loneliness for communing with the Father, as in Luke 5:16, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Prolonged loneliness can be debilitating, but short periods of loneliness can also be a blessing, if used as an opportunity for reflection, for introspection, for prayer. Likewise prolonged depression is devastating but a troubled heart may be helpful if it helps a person recognize a need for change or provokes a needed action. The needed action in many cases might be putting confidence in God who has provided spiritual and practical relief from prolonged loneliness or depression. That relief is found in knowing the assurances of his promises, and being in the family of believers that he has produced for the support of all who have ever been lonely or blue.

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