Shortly before the Covid pandemic, observers of our culture were speaking of the “loneliness pandemic.” In the two years since we have been living with Covid, the other pandemic—the one of loneliness—has only intensified. No mask, vaccine, social distancing, or natural immunity will protect us from loneliness. Is there anything in the Christian faith that can help prevent loneliness? Is there anything in the Christian faith that can revive us when loneliness still comes?
One of the best tools a biblical counselor can use in any counseling endeavor are the classic hymns of the faith. They are full of rich wisdom. They express the anguish and the fear and also the devotion and the worship of the heart. Walking through the words of these hymns with a counselee is more than therapeutic, it is an act of worship that prepares the counselee for further actions and thoughts of worship and love for the Lord.
Consider this pandemic of loneliness. Have you ever felt lonely? Is there a difference between being lonely or being alone? There is, isn’t there. We can be lonely even when we are in a crowd of people, perhaps even surrounded by family and loved ones, but inwardly we are in deep pain and loneliness. Consider the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and some Bible lessons behind its words which might help. As you turn to that song in your hymnal, read the first stanza. What is it that Jesus is a friend? In the book of Proverbs we know Jesus is described as a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Jesus explains to the disciples that he demonstrates His friendship by laying down His life for us, or “all our sins and griefs to bear,” as the hymn puts it. (see John 15:13-16)
While the title might make us think it is about friendship (which is certainly what we all need whenever we feel lonely), the hymn moves quickly from friendship to another topic that we also need in times of loneliness: prayer. As you read through the hymn, list out as many specific phrases that encourage you to pray. You might list such phrases as, “can we find a friend so faithful, Who will all our sorrows share?” Or, “are we weak and heavy laden?” or “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer!”
These sorts of encouragements to pray are well founded in the Bible. Psalm 6:9 – The Lord has heard my supplication; The Lord will receive my prayer. The fact that God has heard my prayers in the past is very comforting to the lonely soul. We feel far from God, but we bring to mind that we were not always feeling like that. God has shown up and delivered us from worry, care, danger, and trial in the past. He hasn’t changed, even though my current feelings and experience might have changed.
So, singing this hymn puts us in mind to express our faith now, the same way we have in the past. As we read Jesus promising us in Mark 11:24 – Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
We read also in 1 John 5:14–15 – 14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
Confidence. The lonely person is not confident in much, except perhaps the fear that things may never get better. Yet singing “What a Friend We have in Jesus” gives us that holy confidence that we absolutely can pray to Jesus, and He hears us because He loves us. We are never truly alone when we belong to Jesus.
So, the biblical counselor can tell the lonely Christian who has walked through this hymn and these Scriptures with him, “Based on what you know of Jesus, (your friend Who laid down His life for you) AND What you know of prayer, 1. When would you not be able to pray? 2. When would you truly be lonely, and without a helper or companion? My dear friend, let us pray right now, shall we? Let us take advantage of this ‘privilege to carry everything to God in prayer,’ including your loneliness.”