3. A Sense of Alone

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 3 :  A Sense of Alone

Acts  1:9   After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

How we take for granted what we read in the Bible! This has got to be one of the most amazing things recorded in the New Testament. There were the disciples, one minute standing with Jesus and the next moment, they are alone – apart from two angels who question them. Well we won’t say much more about this episode here for you can see it in the general series on Acts. The point we make here is that suddenly this most charismatic of figures who had been the centre of their lives for three years was now gone. Yes, that had happened once already at the crucifixion but now it has happened again in a completely different way. He has just gone up and departed from sight. At least before they had a body; now they have nothing but memories. Yet the two angels declare that he will return again one day, although they do not specify when.

Now I want to link this in with some teaching that Jesus gave which we find in Luke 18.  In Luke 17 we find Jesus speaking about the Last Days and again he indicates there will be an uncertainty about the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ even though he does give us many indications or signs to watch for. And then at the beginning of chapter 18 we find, Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1)  Of course people often take this out of context but when we see the context, we see that Jesus is saying, however long you have to wait for my return, remain faithful to what I’ve taught you and seek my Father in prayer and if you want things changed, keep on praying, and he does this via this parable about a widow. What is interesting is that at the end of that parable we find, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)

Again, when you see this in context, you will see its significance. Jesus has spoken about the uncertain Last Days and he has taught about the need to remain faithful in your relationship with the Lord and keep on bringing your needs to Him in prayer and when he gets to it, we can now see that what he is saying is, regardless of the days, regardless of whether you get your prayers answered, regardless of how difficult it is (this we imply in the light of the general teaching of the difficulty of those days), remain true, remain faithful to God.

Now this lays down a foundational principle for us that has wide application. Basically it says, whatever is happening – however difficult the days, however trying the circumstances, however aggravating people appear to be, and however silent God appears to remain – remain true and faithful.

Remember this is a series about motivations, about how we see people react in Scripture and what Scripture teaches us about people’s motivations. What this now tells us, and it should be born in mind throughout the series, is that if everything is taken away from us (Jesus has just left the disciples), if we suddenly find ourselves bereft by loss of loved ones or by peace being removed and us being left with upsetting circumstances, and if there seems nothing to indicate guidance and direction, even if all these things are true, we are still called to remain faithful to the Lord.

Put it another way. If everyone in our family is an unbeliever, or if everyone around us seems to desert the Lord – for Jesus did say in such times the love of most (for Him) will grow cold – even if that is true, we must still remain true. If I am the only Christian in my street, or my class or in my place of work, I am still called to remain true to Him, I am still called to be filled with His love and goodness, and still called to be filled with truth and honesty and integrity. If everyone around me is abandoning moral integrity, I will not steal, I will not commit adultery and I will not covet what belongs to others, and I will still worship the Lord!   When all restraints are removed in society and everyone else abandons church and worshipping the Lord on a Sunday, I will remain true. When everyone else becomes jaundiced and jaded and cynical, I will remain thankful and joyful and true to God.

Do you see this? We don’t really need to worry about motivations, we just have to determine to remain true whatever happens, because Jesus is watching and Jesus looks to see who will be faithful when he comes back. In a day of declining faith in the materialistic West of the twenty-first century, remember that faith isn’t declining everywhere. We may feel like Elijah and moan to the Lord that we are the only one left (see 1Kings 19:14) but the truth is, like then, that there are many others who remain faithful and true.

Joshua found himself in a time of compromise and had to declare to the people, But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24;15) i.e. you serve your idols if you will in your folly, but me and my family will remain true to the Lord. Stamp that last sentence on your heart.

Those words bring to mind the words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:16-18) That is commitment! Whatever you do to us, we will remain true to the Lord and put our future entirely in His hands. Hallelujah! May that be our response also!

42. Two

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 42 :  The Strength of Two

Eccles 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I find there are times when I am challenged by my casual approach to Scripture. When I first looked at these verses, I thought, “Whatever made Solomon jump to thinking about companionship?” and it wasn’t until I looked again at the context that I realised that these verses flow on in small section that starts, Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone” (v.7,8) and yesterday we considered the frustration  of that man as he worked with no one to hand it on to. But now Solomon thinks on and essentially declares, “It’s not good to be alone.”

He lists the benefits of not being alone. First two working together can achieve far more than two individuals working alone. Second, if one stumbles and falls, it is good to have another alongside to help you up. Third, when it’s cold at night, it is good to have one to warm you. Fourth, when you come under attack it is good to have another alongside you to stand against the attacker with you.

Yes, these are the obvious benefits of not walking through life alone. It may refer to friendship, it may refer to having a partner in business or it may refer to having a spouse. There are many circumstances in life where two together are better than being alone, yet sadly in our day, I believe loneliness is growing. With the fragmentation of families there are individuals separated off from the group and that makes the loneliness even harder. In a permissive age there are those who have been encouraged to express their difference but who have found that doing that has isolated them from many others. I was part of a conversation only yesterday that was talking about tattoos which have become very common, and yet despite that, they still act – in many people’s eyes at least – as a brand that separates out and declares that this is a certain sort of person who is wanting! So many things in modern life, it seems, separate and divide and cause loneliness.

Possibly one of the most obvious ways in our modern society is what used to be called ‘courting’. How alien that concept seems to have become in a world where it seems it is common to not even wait for the third date to end up in bed. Yet sexual intimacy has proved to be elusive for many. Sex isn’t necessarily intimate; it can be purely exploitive, and we feel used. The excitement of once-forbidden fruit lasts only a while and then the couple realise they are miles apart; there is inner loneliness, even though there is outer closeness.

The advice I used to give to young people, and still do if they are willing to listen, is develop your relationship in three slow stages. First of all get to know each other by just being with each other, talking and sharing and finding out about each other, i.e. build the social aspect of the relationship first. Second, if the couple are Christians (and if they’re not I have no hope for their long-term relationship, and if one is and the other isn’t, generally, don’t walk this path together) then develop your spiritual relationships together – read the Bible together, pray together, go to church and worship together, and seek God’s will together and serve God together. Then, and only then, if these two facets of your relationship together indicate you are compatible, you talk about life-long commitment and only when you are committed for life, do you develop the physical side of your relationship.

Our modern society is full of young people who are essentially lonely, even though they go to clubs together, bed together and whatever else together. I have been there and I have seen it and that is how it is for so many young people who are desperate for closeness, desperate for real intimacy, desperate for trust and desperate to find real love, which is all about commitment as well as feelings, and yet the way that the world proclaims is not bringing home the goods!

I said as an aside earlier, and you may not have liked it, that I have no hope for a long term relationship without God. Yes, there are married couples who have lived it out for decades without God, but increasingly that is becoming a rarity with the pressures of modern life. Solomon’s enigmatic final phrase hints at the truth: A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” What is the third strand? God, of course!  With God genuinely in your relationship you have a real fighting chance of have a good life together ahead.

But why do Christians get divorced, I hear you ask, before I finish. Consider Jesus’ words: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Mt 19:18).  If we have allowed ourselves to get into a place where we have been hardened (and it may only be one in the partnership) so that we are no longer open to hear God’s counsel, either directly or through a counsellor/leader, then yes we will end up divorcing, but that is a path where we have hardened God out of our experience, which is why just now I spoke of having God genuinely in your relationship. These are serious matters in these days of anguish and loneliness.