A Shepherd's Heart

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by GBC Ministry

Today I came across an entry from an online devotional I receive that reminded me that, despite the seemingly joyous nature of the holiday season, this time of year often results in great loneliness and disappointment for many people, sometimes resulting in great despair, even attempts at suicide.  The joy they had expected the “season” to provide was superficial and short-lived.  The happiness they anticipated would come with the “holidays” turned out to be empty and fleeting.  As Christians, we should be aware of this, and prepared to minister to anyone the Lord may bring into our life who is being overcome by such feelings of hopelessness.


We must also remember that loneliness is not limited to unbelievers, those without eternal hope.  Believers can succumb to this horrible affliction as well.  David wrote “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.” (Psalm 142:4)  You can feel David’s great sadness as you read his words.  Being or feeling alone and abandoned is one of the most debilitating conditions anyone can suffer.


There are times, of course, when the feeling of loneliness is caused by unconfessed sin.  Such was the case when David had committed his sins of adultery and murder: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.  For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me” (Psalm 32:3-4).  Sin separates the sinner, believer and unbeliever alike, from God and His peace and comfort.  Holiness cannot fellowship with unholiness so though outwardly the sinner may maintain an appearance of “peace,” inside he is “roaring” with guilt and condemnation “day and night.”  The solution, the only solution, is sincere repentance: “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.  I said, I will confess my sin.  Selah” (Psalm 32:5).    David had the joy of his salvation restored when he humbled himself before God and confessed and forsook his sins.  As believers we can rest in the assurance that the Lord will be just as gracious with us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).


When the source of our loneliness is not unconfessed sin, our Lord is always near to comfort, strengthen and guide us if we will but ask Him in faith.  Following his sad complaint above, David was assured by the Spirit once his sins were addressed and cleansed that “The righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142:7).  In other words, deliverance from sin results in renewed and even expanded blessed fellowship, i.e., the end of loneliness.


In reflecting on these thoughts, I was reminded of a case of loneliness which was actually the result of faithfulness that greatly encouraged me: Joseph and Mary.  These two chosen vessels of the Lord willingly bore the undeserved shame of sinners associated with the virgin birth, and the separation and loneliness it engendered.  Though divine in origin and purpose, men could not possibly understand the true nature of Mary’s pregnancy.  To them this child appeared to be the fruit of the most dishonorable of sins.  And unregenerate man’s opinion never changed.  Joseph and Mary (and the Lord) bore this stigma throughout their lives.


What loneliness Joseph and Mary must have felt on the night of Jesus’ birth.  Arriving in a large city among multitudes of strangers, they found no place for proper rest.  Rather, they were relegated to the stable next to an already full inn when one might have expected that common courtesy would have provoked someone to show more compassion for the pregnant Mary.    But God chose to set them apart and leave them alone according to His purpose.  It was alone that they shared the birth experience, contemplating its wonder and mystery.  In the flesh, I’m sure they must have wondered “What will be next?”  They were poor, social outcasts, and far from their own home.  Though surrounded by many people, they were quite alone.


So what did God do?  He sent them companions in the faith to encourage them: shepherds to whom He had delivered the truth of this blessed event miraculously through His heavenly messengers.  Having received the truth from the angelic throng, these faithful men immediately set off to see the Christ whose birth had been revealed to them.  When they arrived at the stable, they worshipped the Christ child, sharing the wonder with Joseph and Mary.  Then, I’m sure with great joy and excitement, they shared with Joseph and Mary their story of the angels’ appearance out of “nowhere,” and the message they had received.  Thus was Joseph and Mary’s faith encouraged, and God’s faithfulness reaffirmed.  It was then they knew that they were not truly alone.  Others were sharing in both their wonderment and their joy.


What a visit that must have been.  While the scriptures say nothing about Joseph’s reactions, it tells us that Mary was blessed beyond words.  She could only keep the testimony she had heard in her heart, pondering the truth, waiting for the Spirit to make full sense of it and enrich her life with its blessing.  And not only were Joseph and Mary encouraged, but the shepherds’ joy increased as they saw for themselves that the things they had been told were true.  And, according to God’s eternal purpose, their joy expanded into bold and effective witness.  They shared with all who would hear them the wonders of their experience and the truth of the babe in the manger.  With the zeal and conviction of their love for God, they witnessed to all with ears to hear the fact that the Christ, the promised Messiah, was among them.


Let me make this lesson personal.  When we are sick or needy or simply alone, what a blessing it is to receive an unsolicited, God-sent visit from friends.  When we are discouraged, what an encouragement it is to hear the testimony of someone who has been newly revived by a “visit” of God’s Spirit to their own soul.  And when weak and in despair, what joy is ours when our brethren come to our need to supply the comfort and strength we lack in ourself.  When lonely, what glory to experience the fulfillment of the promise that “The righteous shall compass me about;….”  What wonderful deliverance it is when our loneliness flees in the face of sincere, unfettered fellowship with God through the ministrations of His children.


But while these thoughts should greatly encourage as well as provoke all true believers, we have an even better hope than what these imply, for our Lord was once left truly alone so that we might never be.  As our sins were laid on Him, and He faced the cross we deserved, “then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56).  But worse than that He suffered the unimaginable: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).  Yes, Jesus died all alone, without comfort of any kind, so that we will never be forsaken, never be without the comfort of God.  Our Savior understands our needs, feels our infirmities, and is always near to help is in our time of need.  “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).   So, as believers, we will never be truly alone for our Lord has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).   And because He is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11), His promise can never be broken.


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