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Does Your Biggest Fear Make the Top 10 List? Mine Didn’t.

I was surprised recently to discover that my biggest fear didn’t make the list of the ten most common fears in America. Making the list are fears of snakes, heights, open spaces, closed spaces, storms, dogs, needles, insects, and flying (in planes, that is). There’s even the fear of being judged, which keeps some from eating in a social setting. Mine isn’t even on an expanded list, but it should be. It’s the fear of loneliness.

I used to look at people who would eat alone in restaurants with pity because I was afraid of being one of them. I was afraid of not having friends. I was afraid to be by myself. On a New Year’s Eve in college, I even went to a “holidome” at a nearby Holiday Inn just to sit in the middle of a crowd bringing in the New Year, because I didn’t want to be alone.

My fear of loneliness drove me to seek popularity. I became a thespian. I played sports. I even became a pastor. Go figure. All of this was not entirely driven by my desire for companionship, but in part, I sought distractions to cover up my feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people” (Life Together, 76). I know that quote all too well, because I lived it. I pursued fellowship because I was running away from myself. My quest looked spiritual enough, but it was merely a diversion to calm my fear of loneliness.

What I have discovered over the years is that aloneness is not the same as loneliness, and a crowd is not the same as community. Bonhoeffer, who staunchly believed in Christian community, warned, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community” (ibid., 77). I had to learn that I will stand before God alone. I must answer God’s call alone. I must give an account to God alone. God desires to commune with me alone (as well as in community).

Jesus spent time with God alone. “Very early, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went to a solitary place where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). The discipline of solitude has taught me the value of aloneness, which I now see as a gift rather than a burden. A crowd doesn’t change loneliness. In fact, it accentuates it, because you feel desperately lonely in the midst of company.

But, as Bonhoeffer also warned, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (idem.). You are called into community where you bring yourself into relationships. You don’t just observe relationships, you enter into them.

The Apostle Paul described it this way: “In [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). Many married couples know that marriage doesn’t automatically remove loneliness. Healthy marriages are “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” A husband and wife can then be alone but not lonely. They can be together but still value times of being alone.

Bonhoeffer concluded by writing, “Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship” (idem.).

Powerful lessons to learn for those of us who have experienced the fear of loneliness. May you seek the One who will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and through His company may you learn to be rightly alone and rightly in relationships with others.

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

When Your Blessings have Flown the Coup

Do you live a blessed life? My guess is that if you’re healthy, gainfully employed, and not dealing with any major crisis right now, you feel blessed. But what if you’re not healthy, unemployed, and facing a capital crisis. Are you still living a blessed life?

I’ll be honest with you. When things are going well at home, church, and work, I feel blessed. But when I’m encountering pain, discouragement and difficulty, I feel like my blessings have flown the coup.

I wonder if Job felt that way. In the Old Testament book of Job, God gives account of Job’s blessings. He was a “blameless and upright man, who fear[ed] God and turn[ed] away from evil” (Job 1:8). He was wealthy and had seven sons—a direct display of God’s blessing.

But then it all went away—his wealth, his family (except his wife—no comment), and his health. Job’s “friends” shared the conventional wisdom of obedience-based blessings. If you are faithful to God, He will bless you with material possessions, health, and many sons to carry on your family name. If you are disobedient, then God will remove His blessing, and you will be left destitute until such time as you repent and seek God once again. So, Job, confess your sins, and maybe God will bless you yet again.

Sounds a lot like the health and wealth gospel preached today.

Job demonstrated that he was not suffering because of his sin against God. He suffered because of his obedience to God. And his obedience led him to even greater degrees of blessing. The entire point of the book of Job is that all of Job’s life was blessed. Job’s pain became a blessing because it forced him to deal with God face to face. He became an empty vessel that could no longer be filled with material blessings; it could only be filled with the blessing of God’s presence.

In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis wrote, “The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty” (296). Brian Jones put it this way in his excellent book, Finding Favor, “Pain shields us from living a Christian life in which we claim to know God but never actually encounter him” (98).

Maybe you’re in a season of pain right now, and you don’t feel very blessed. If so, may your pain have a higher purpose of stripping away the empty blessings of this world in order to gain the greatest blessing of all: the presence of Christ.

Struggle not alone in your journey. May those who walk with you provide far more solace than the friends of Job. And in return, may you come alongside others in their season of pain. Together we discover that counting our many blessings should begin and end with the blessing of actually encountering God.

“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11).

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

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