[Jesus said], “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone
. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” John 16:32
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places
and prayed.” Luke 5:16
Kristopherson focused on it as he wrote “Sunday Morning Coming Down”: that familiar, palpable loneliness which in one way, place, or time or another everyone experiences. Just consider how much of your life, even in a large city, in a family, in a marriage, wherever, you spend alone. That in itself doesn’t make you a lonely person, but it does remind you of your distinct “separateness,” your own inner world; some shared with another or others, much private. And yet there are times when you do experience genuine loneliness, if only a glimpse, or in other cases, much, much more. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” starts off with a sense of physical loneliness, but its burden becomes the heaviest when the awareness of spiritual loneliness kicks in. In his song Kristopherson senses there is something he lost somewhere along the way. In a few longed for moments of his past, he remembers the drawing of his spirit in another direction, but other things always took preference in his choices.
It is spiritual loneliness that most haunts the atheist or agnostic, even as it compels the seeker. In the solely material universe of the atheist, a universe seen through his own presuppositions while ignoring certain glaring evidences, a universe without any external influence or power, without creator or designer, a sense of loneliness eventually engulfs him; deep within there is something, something crucial, something essential that is missing. He isn’t satisfied; he cannot find rest; he is incomplete. Augustine called this unsatisfied, restless, imperfection a God shaped vacuum within every person; a vacuum producing infinite restlessness until it finds rest in the One whose imprint is all over our DNA.
Sent by His Father, Jesus was unambiguous in proclaiming His identity and His mission. “I and the Father are One.” “No man can come to the Father except through me.” And in the Gospels He reveals a singular habit in His life: conversation and fellowship alone with His Father! A close friend of mine frequently ministers to career missionaries. One of the common elements he found in them was that their demanding schedule in meeting the needs of those they served precluded them from time alone with God; that is, consistent, significant, and contiguous time alone with the One who called them to be His missionaries in the first place. And since it was not a habit they had ever cut out and protected from the busyness that inundates us all, where to begin and how to use the time? Consider Jesus’ schedule as the needs of the people pressed in upon Him constantly, yet He always found time to get to “lonely places” for conversation and fellowship with His Father. We do not expect the atheist or the agnostic to pursue such a habit, or understand it; nor the seeker to be at such a point. But what of the professing and committed believer? What of the person who professes to be a life-long follower of Christ? If we claim to be imitators of Him, how do we continue to neglect such a prominent habit of His life in ours? Loneliness is not just an experience of the atheist or agnostic, believers know it as well. And it will invade our lives if we do not nurture the habit of time alone with our Father and Savior in places where we cannot be distracted; filling the God shaped vacuum!
There are places where the King James Bible remains superior to the best modern translations and where it conveys a hidden nugget of truth the up-to-date English vocabulary may miss. Thus Philippians 3:20 reads in the KJV, “For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “citizenship” may not at first glance lead us to the thought. While your life is still in this world, how much of your conversation is in heaven. In other words, when you converse and fellowship with the Father and the Lord alone in a “lonely place,” such may be a conversation in heaven. Jesus chose to make it happen regularly. You can as well, if you choose. We do not want the words of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” to be true of us when we can do something about it now: “And it took me back to somethin’, that I’d lost somehow somewhere along the way.”
“I need thy presence every passing hour; What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who like thyself my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.”
(3rd verse of Henry Lyte’s hymn, “Abide with Me”, 1847)
Read Sunday Morning Coming Down: Part 1
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