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God's Cure for Loneliness

Psalm 142 presents the cycle of discouragement everyone goes through at some point in his life

Illustration: Here is a story of a preacher who after 18 years of ministry quit and went into the business world lonely, discouraged, and defeated. No, I don't know him and I've never met him, but he could be any number of people that I have met. He could be one or two of you; and if we put him back into the time of the Psalms he would fit perfectly, for he is the expression of the psalmist's words that we're going to study. Listen to his explanation of what happened to him after 18 years of serving God. He said:

I realized those years had made me look and feel 10 years older than I was. I had spent those years holding people's hands, smoothing out countless interpersonal battles, working through church struggles, preaching how many hundreds of sermons, baptizing people, marrying them, burying them. As the church grew, so did the traffic to my office. I was not surprised at this, nor was I unaware of my calling, the demands I had to face in serving. But in all that time I could not find a confidante, not even my wife. Because most of the human problems I dealt with were confidential, I could not find someone who could simply listen and pray with me. While I struggled to find new and fresh sermon material, time for my own relaxed devotional life disappeared. When the church reached 1200 members from the first 300, it was a sign of the great blessing of God upon my work. I accepted that and I thanked God for it, but at the same time I found myself even more lonely as the demands on my time tripled.

My family was grown up and away from me. When I saw my children graduate from high school and then college, I realized I hardly knew them. I knew then I had to do something, though I was a little late. I concluded I could not abide the lonely road any longer. As much as I sensed I was leaving an arena with its joys and triumphs as well as its sorrows and tensions, I knew I had to find some area of work where I could establish normal human relationships. Maybe I was just not cut out to be a leader after all.

Those are sad words. If I were preaching to preachers tonight, every one of their heads would be bobbing up and down. But the words are not much different than the words we have read in Psalm 142. They're the words of a lonely person who cries out for help. The 142nd Psalm is a beautiful presentation of the cycle of discouragement every person goes through at one time or another in his life.

You will notice as you look at the top of the psalm, the heading calls it a "maskil" psalm. Bible scholars are not exactly sure what that means. It is some kind of Hebrew annotation to describe how the psalm is to be applied in the Hebrew worship. If we had time, we would list for you the 14 psalms that have that heading over it. That is not the important thing in the superscription over the psalm. The important thing is the phrase which sets the psalm in its historical perspective, for right next to the word "maskil" is this phrase: "A prayer when David was in the cave."

It's interesting to try to figure out where this fits in the life of David, for if we can figure out where David is when he prays this prayer, we can understand what is going on in his life that triggers him saying these words. As you go back into history you discover that there are two caves in the life of David. First of all, in 1 Samuel 24 there's a reference to the cave of En Gedi. Though you may not recognize that name, I'm sure you'll know if I tell you that something special happened there. That was the cave where David cut off a piece of Saul's skirt without Saul knowing about it. But as we try to take the events of the psalm as David describes it and the events of what happened in the cave of En Gedi, they don't mix. They don't fit. And so most scholars do not believe this psalm comes out of that experience.

However, there is another cave that is mentioned in the life of David called the cave of Adullam. Turn to 1 Samuel 22, where there is mention of David's involvement with this cave. It will help us to put this psalm in its perspective and understand it better. The greater context of 1 Samuel 22 is that David is running away from Saul. Saul is trying to kill him. He's jealous. He's angry. He's mad. He sees David as his archrival. He's chased him all over the countryside, and he's after his head. Finally we read in 1 Samuel 22 (nasb):

So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's household heard of it, they went down there to him.

Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.

David is running from Saul. He now finds a place of refuge, and look at the description of the people who come to be his cohorts and his comforters"everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented." Four hundred strong of those people come to gather themselves around David as he's running away from Saul. In the midst of that experience, in the cave of Adullam, David writes the words that are given to us in the 142nd Psalm. It seems rather strange that he describes his loneliness until we understand the kind of people who are around him. But it isn't hard to figure out how the kind of people who are described in 1 Samuel 22 would make a man of David's caliber feel rather lonely when he was thrown in among them. They certainly weren't the kind of people he could confide in. They weren't any comfort to him. Here he is a refugee, a refugee from the wrath of the most powerful man in the land, and he's holed up with the four hundred men described in 1 Samuel 22.

David gives a detailed description of his loneliness in Psalm 142.

So now he sits down to write, and he writes the words we just read and describes how he feels. I'm so grateful that he has done that because it makes me feel better to read how David felt in that situation. He's descriptive. He goes into great detail to describe the emotional feelings of being alone. I've read tons of literature on loneliness in preparation for these messages. I haven't read anything that comes close to the beauty of David's description of what he felt. Let's trace through the experience of this man and his emotions.

The first thing he says in verse 3 is that he is disoriented. He says, "My spirit was overwhelmed within me." Like some fierce flood has rushed down upon him and he can barely stand up against its might. Literally the phrase means that his spirit is muffled upon him. When his way and his spirit is so wrapped up in trouble and gloom, his spirit is muffled within him, and it's a picturesque phrase of his spirit trying to reach out and express himself, but even that is muffled. And he's overwhelmed. He's lost his way. He can't figure out what to do. He's totally disoriented. His powers of judgment are gone, and there he is.

He goes on to say that not only is he disoriented, but he is deserted. Notice verse 4. "Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me." These lonely words, "No one cares for my soul." Total abandonment. Rejection. Isolation. Hunted by Saul, abandoned by his friends, and surrounded by the world, David was alone.

Disoriented and deserted, he goes on to say that the result of those two things in his life caused depression. He was depressed. Verse 6, "For I am brought very low." Literally it means to go into a valley experience emotionally, to be brought down to the lowest ebb of human life. He now turns his thoughts of disorientation and desertion inward and it begins to make an impact upon his own spirit. He is depressed. All of his hope is gone. All of his joy is gone. He can't think about anything positive in the future. He is at the lowest point in his life. In the language of today, he is bottomed out.

He has no hope for the future. Listen to his words of defeat in verse 6. "Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me." He's defeated. It's one thing to be depressed and to have some hope that some day things are going to get better. But David is down at his lowest point, and he sees no hope of it improving. He sees around him that all of those who are against him are stronger than he is. He realizes that he does not have the strength in his little band of men to go after those who are after him. He feels the walls closing in around him, and there is no way to escape. Defeat is just around the corner, and he describes it in terms of doom. He says, I am in prison and there is no way out.

Those are picturesque words, aren't they? What causes a man to feel like that? It might be that those emotions come upon a man who is serving God in a place of leadership and his position of servanthood isolates him from every other person because of his position. It may be that those kinds of emotions are felt by single people. How many of you who are single have come to say to me, "Pastor, amen. I know what you are talking about. I understand that. It is a lonely world." Maybe those emotions can be felt by a person who is growing old, who seems to be growing right out of his experience and memories and opportunities with those around him. These emotions are often felt by the suffering and sick. Sometimes surviving a spouse that you have lived with for many years brings those feelings of alienation from God.

Sometimes breaking up with somebody that you love causes these feelings. Young people, you know about that. Sometimes divorce brings those feelings. Sometimes being a stranger in a new country or in a new city triggers them. I've had the privilege of shaking hands with people at the door who have said to me, "Pastor, we just moved here," and they name some town of which I have never heard.

Sometimes those feelings come because we are separated from our parents and from our loved ones. We said to our parents this week as they headed back across the country. Though we didn't go into all of the things David expressed here, we felt a kind of sadness and loneliness.

We have felt all of these emotions David describes at one time or another, but perhaps not at that level. But I have good news for you. David doesn't just tell us what it felt like; he gives us a clue regarding how to deal with it. What I'm going to share with you in the next few moments is a formula that's found in this psalm, that is the best way to deal with depression and loneliness I have found in the Word of God. Some of what I may say is going to surprise you because it's honesty, and yet it is no more honest than the words of David. So listen carefully and don't forget to try what God tells you to do with this information.

I watched David in the midst of his lonely experience; I see him with all of these emotions being expressed, and I ask myself, What would he do?

David deals with his loneliness by verbalizing his emotions.

The first thing I notice is that he verbalized. That's step number one. Notice how carefully the Scripture records the fact that David cried unto the Lord. Verse 1: "I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord. I make supplication with my voice to the Lord." Verse 2: "I pour out my complaint before him. I declare my trouble before Him." Verse 3: "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me You knew my path. In the way where I walk they have hidden a trap for me." Verse 5: "I cried out to you, O Lord. I said, 'You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.'" Verse 7: "Bring my soul out of prison that I may give thanks to Your name."

Over and over again David says, I cried unto thee, I expressed how I felt unto thee. He verbalized his problem. Now, that may seem like a trite thing to say from a psalm, but let me tell you that the first step toward healing from a lonely heart is to express what you feel to the God in heaven who is your Maker. To be able to come honestly to God and say, "Lord, these are the feelings within me. I'm crying unto you. I'm opening my heart to you verbally. This is what I feel like. This is where I am." Our prayers are so denying. We come to God with our pious platitudes and we do all of our praying on the surface while deep down in here we're hurting desperately. Somehow the best friend we have in the world, the One who has created us and redeemed us, has never yet heard the cry of our heart out of the despair of our situation.

One of the things that David teaches me is thisit's all right to tell God what you feel. That's the start. That's how a friend should be free to talk with a friend.

Illustration: There's a little book of writings called Psalms of My Life. In it, the author tells us about an experience where he is away from home and away from his loved ones and he's staying in a motel, and he writes this little prayer, which is the prayer he prayed to God. I think he's captured what I'm talking about. This is what he wrote:

Dear God, I am alone tonight, all alone, a thousand miles from home. There's no one here who knows my name except the clerk, and he spelled it wrong. There's no one to eat dinner with, no one to laugh at my jokes, no one to listen to my gripes, no one to be happy with me about what happened today and to say "That's great." No one cares. There's just this lousy bed and the slush in the streets outside between the buildings. I feel sorry for myself, and I have plenty good reason to. Maybe I ought to say I'm on top of it, praise the Lord, things are great; but they're not. Tonight it's all gray slush.

We say, Should a man ever talk to his God like that? Don't you think God in heaven knows that's what you feel? Do you think it's a surprise to him? Don't you think your Father in heaven is a friend who is close enough to you and cares enough about you that he's willing for you to come and cry out of the despair and loneliness of your soul and verbalize what you feel?

Illustration: I remember the first time I had the courage to verbally and audibly tell God, "Lord, I really don't feel like talking to you today. I really don't. I want to feel that way and I know I should feel that way, but, Lord, in my spirit and in my heart I just don't feel like talking to you today." Since I've been here there have been a few Mondays like that. But you know, that's the beginning place. God can take you from where you are to where you need to be.

David deals with his loneliness by visualizing his emotions.

Now the second thing to do is this. You visualize. Listen to what David said. Verse 2, "I pour out my complaint before him. I declare my trouble before him." David didn't just describe how he felt, he painted God a picture. He said, "Lord, I'm going to lay this thing out for you. This is where I am. You see these sorrowful people you sent down here to help methe distressed, the debtors, the discontented. These are the folks that are And he paints the whole sordid mess for God. He just lays it out in front of him. Take a look at this, God. Look at this! I know how he feels. You should see some of the pictures I've painted God. You should see the picture I painted after I'd been here one week. It was a big canvas. David said, "I poured out my complaint before God." He let him see the whole thing. That was not only good for God, that was good for David.

The thing that David teaches us not only here but in his other writings is that it's all right to visualize your problem as long as you keep it in perspective. Do you remember when the people of Israel were at KBarnea and they all went over there to look at the Promised Land? The majority of the reporters came back and they painted a picture of the giants and all of the problems over in the land. What did they say? They said, "Hey, we're in trouble. Those people over there are big. I mean, they're like giants." What was the rest of it? We're like what? Grasshoppers. So the picture they painted was the picture of them and us in the same frame. Then Joshua and Caleb went, too, and they came back and got their paintbrushes out and painted the same thing. Did they forget the giants? No. They painted the giants. But they didn't paint us. They painted God. Didn't they? They painted the giants and God, and put them in the picture. You know what a difference that made? That's why they could vote for the project instead of against it, because in the frame where their picture was were the giants and God instead of the giants and us. You know that's what we do so often. We paint our problems and we put ourselves in the frame with them instead of with God. What a difference God makes in any painting.

Verbalize it. Visualize it.

David deals with his loneliness by recognizing that God already knows what David is telling him.

Now, here's step number three. Recognize, verse 3, that God already knows what you're telling him. That's so neat. Verse 3, "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me," notice this, "you knew my path." Sometimes we tell God all these things like we want him to find out. He already knows. Sometimes we come to him so tentatively. "Lord, I'm not sure I should tell you this" He already knows.

It's hard to tell somebody bad news. It's not nearly as hard to tell them if they already know. The Scripture teaches us over and over again that "he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold," Job 23:10. Psalm 37:23, "The steps of man are established by the Lord." When we come to visualize and to verbalize our problem of loneliness before God, we need to recognize that he already has seen this show before, and he understands. What comfort and encouragement that brings to our hearts. What courage it instills within us as we pray.

David deals with his loneliness by realizing God's provision.

Now notice fourthly, we realize our provision in God. We verbalize and we visualize and we recognize God knows. Now we're going to realize what we have in him. Verse 5 says: "I cried out to You, O Lord; I said, 'You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.'" You see, what's happened to David is he has started down here on the cycle. He's moved up and he's gradually come around the top. Now all of a sudden instead of seeing his problem in center stage, his problem has moved off to side stage; and God has been moved into the middle, and he sees God big and strong, and his problem begins to fade away. He sees God as his refuge and his portion, and everything starts to fall together and to fit.

Illustration: Someone has written about this matter of God being our portion in the land of the living; I think these words capture the whole thing. They put it this way, "Friend, there's no living in the land of the living like living on the living God." That's what David was saying. He saw his problem, but he then saw his God and he realized all that he had in him.

Illustration: Sort of like the picture we have back in Daniel. Do you remember when the Hebrew children were in the fiery furnace? The Scripture says they looked into that flame and they saw one in the midst of that flame like unto the Son of God. It is through a picture in Hebrews 13 that God tells us he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Illustration: It is another way of expressing what Isaiah the prophet expresses in Isaiah 43:13 that when we go through all of those hideous experiences like fires and waters and floods and difficulties that God goes through those experiences with us. Please, note that the Scripture says that he doesn't go into those experiences with us; he goes through those experiences with us. That means there's going to be an end to them. Annie Johnson Flint has captured this in her writing about Isaiah's promise. She writes:

When thou passes through the waters deep the waves may be and cold, but Jehovah is our refuge and his promise is our hold. For the Lord himself hath said it, he the faithful God and true. When thou comest to the waters, thou shalt not go down but through.

Seas of sorrow, seas of trial, bitterest anguish, fiercest pain, rolling surges of temptation sweeping over heart and brain, they shall never overflow us for we know his word if true. All his waves and all his billows he will lead us safely through.

Threatening breakers of destruction, doubts, insidious undertow shall not sink us, shall not drag us out to ocean depths of woe, for his promise shall sustain us. Praise the Lord whose word is true. We shall not go down or under, for he sayeth thou passest through.

What an encouragement. The God who is our refuge and our portion has promised to get us on the other side of the lonely, difficult experience. That was what was firing the soul of David when he came to the end of that prayer.

David deals with his loneliness by summarizing his victory.

Now, you see him working through all of this. You see him verbalizing and visualizing and recognizing and realizing. There's one last thing at the end of the psalm. He summarizes his victory. Read verse 7: "Bring my soul out of prison so that I may give thanks for your name." Now notice, "The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me."

You see where David has come in just a few verses of Scripture? From crying out unto God in his lonely despair to finally the confidence in God that everything is going to be all right and that no good thing will he withheld from them that walk uprightly. God is going to deal bountifully with him.

You know what's wrong with most of us? We try to get to verse 7 without walking through the other verses. We pull our belts in and stand up tall and say, "Oh, God will take care of me. I'll be all right. He's going to deal bountifully with me." This is instead of honestly coming to that after we've gone through the whole cycle. It's all right to do that. You see? I don't know if that makes you feel better, but it sure makes me feel like I'm on better ground when I see that's where David's been. If it's all right for him, it's all right for me.

Now, you don't want to stay in verses one and two or three or four. You need to get to verse seven, but you have to travel the road to verse seven. Some of you don't need this message. You've been in verses three and four and five all your life. I want to get you to verse seven. It may take a little while. But some of the rest of you are pious, spiritual people who think that you live in verse seven all the time, and it just isn't so. We are so proud and so and so determined we're going to do it our way, and God has his plan laid out for us.

Illustration: Theodore Kyler tells the story of a woman who was striving to find rest for her troubled soul. She was going through a bad time, and was in her summerhouse all by herself trying to sort things out in her mind. She had lost her husband. She was very much alone. She was trying to put her life back together.

She was sitting in the middle of the big, open room in her summerhouse. She noticed that a bird flew in the window. She watched what was happening absentmindedly. It was one of those big, rooms and had windows up along the top, and the bird flew in the window and then up at the top realized that it was trapped and confined, and was trying to get out. And it flew against every one of the windows trying to make it out through where the light was coming in, and nothing. It just banged against the window and sort of fell back and then would fly to the other side and bang against the window and fall back.

Every time there was a little crack or crevice that it looked like it was possible, the bird just tried to force its way out of that house. And she just sort of sat there watching all of this, taking it all in. She thought in her heart, Poor bird, why do you not come down lower and you would see this open door and fly out easily. But the bird kept wounding itself against the closed window trying to force its body through every crevice that it saw. And at last, its wings grew tired and it flew lower and lower in its exhaustion until it was on a level with the open door. And then seeing the way of escape, the little feathered creature suddenly found freedom, and soon its song was heard in the trees outside.

All of a sudden the light dawned upon this woman's mind. She said, I'm like that bird. I, through my pride and have been trying to fly so high to see the door up there, and God has been trying to humble me so I could see the door that was down here. Her heart was quieted and she realized, as the Psalmist did, that though her spirit was now overwhelmed with difficulty, God still had an open door through which she could find freedom if she would just stop her struggling and humbly wait for his direction.

I think that's the message God wants to get through to us tonight out of this psalm. It's not wrong to be in difficult straits. We all go through them. If we haven't, we will. We need to express where we are and tell God how we feel. We need to let him bring to us in the midst of that open confession of our weakness the strength that is available to us through his Word. Then we have to be willing to get down where the help is, swallow our pride and our and put all of the ideas that we have about our ability to handle every situation without God all behind us and say, "Lord, show me the door at whatever level, and I'll go through."

David Jeremiah is senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, California. His books include Before It's Too Late by Thomas Nelson Publishers and Overcoming Loneliness by Here's Life Publishers.

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Sermon Outline:


I. David gives a detailed description of his loneliness in Psalm 142

II. David deals with his loneliness by verbalizing his emotions

III. David deals with his loneliness by visualizing his emotions

IV. David deals with his loneliness by recognizing that God already knows what David is telling him

V. David deals with his loneliness by realizing God's provision

VI. David deals with his loneliness by summarizing his victory