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Lessons on Loneliness

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Psalms 88–89

Loneliness can be one of the most discouraging experiences of life. But Psalms 88 and 89 remind us that loneliness provides an opportunity for our faith to grow as it pushes us to turn to the Lord as our truest friend and trust 


Lessons on Loneliness

Psalm 88–89


Even though surrounded by admirers and counselors, one European leader admitted some time ago that in the most important moments of his life, he found himself going through them all alone. Albert Einstein once wrote that he found it strange to be known all around the world and yet to be so lonely.

Just a few years ago, the prime minister of England created a brand-new office in the government and then appointed a new minister to lead this office. The title? The Minister for Loneliness. This government official’s primary role is to come up with ways to tackle this pervasive problem felt by so many people. When this office was created by the British government, the prime minister said that for too many people loneliness is the sad reality of life.[1]

Now if you think this sad reality is only for unbelievers, you haven’t been reading the Psalms very carefully. Feelings of loneliness can just as easily invade the heart of the believer.

The psalmist David wrote that his heart was broken and he could not find anybody willing to cry with him or comfort him (Psalm 69:20). In more recent times, William Carey, known as the “Father of Modern Missions” and a faithful man who greatly impacted the country of India with the gospel, once wrote that he longed for a friend to whom he could unburden his soul.[2]

This sounds a lot like the next psalm in our Wisdom Journey—a psalm written by a lonely man.

The heading of Psalm 88 says it is to be sung according to “mahalath leannoth,” which refers to being downcast and discouraged. This tune must be a sad melody written in the minor key.

The composer is “Heman the Ezrahite.” He shows up earlier in 1 Kings 4:31 as a wise man. Over in 1 Chronicles 6, we see him leading one of the Israelite choirs in the temple.

In spite of all that, Heman is struggling here with loneliness. We are not sure why or what exactly happened in his life to lead him to this point, but he cries out to the Lord that he no longer has any companions (verse 8), that the Lord seems to have forgotten all about him (verse 14), and that even his closest friend is now avoiding him (verse 18).

This man is lonely.

One author wrote that loneliness can become a friend, so to speak, when it forces us to seek the friendship of God as much as we need the friendship of others.[3] And that’s exactly what Heman models for us here. In fact, he gives us two action steps for dealing with loneliness.

The first step is this: Empty your heart, before the Lord. Heman writes here in verse 1, “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.” In verse 9 he says, “Every day, I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.” And then again in verse 13, “But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”

I like the way President Abraham Lincoln put it as he served during the days of the American Civil War. He said there were many times when he was driven to his knees because he had nowhere else to go.

Well, Heman is effectively down on his knees. In fact, while he is down there praying, he reveals his frustration with God. He says in verse 8 that God is the one who caused his friends to leave him. In other words, “Lord, You’re behind all this.”

When you empty your heart before the Lord, you empty out everything. You pour out every last tear—even tears of frustration with God. I assure you, God is big enough to handle your frustrations. He knows them all already.

Empty it all out before the Lord. Cast all your anxieties—your cares, your frustrations, your pain—upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Empty your heart, before the Lord.

The second step is this: Embrace with your heart, the Lord. In other words, when you find yourself without friends, consider that an invitation from God to become His friend, like never before.

What Heman may not understand is that every time he goes to the Lord to complain about his lack of friends, he is going to the right place. We don’t know it from this psalm, but from other passages, we discover that Heman does not quit; he keeps leading Israel’s choir.

I love what Alexander McLaren wrote on this psalm, more than a hundred years ago: “God never [creates] solitude around a soul without desiring to fill it with Himself.”[4] David puts it this way in Psalm 62:5-7: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence . . . my hope is from him. . . . He only is my rock . . . my refuge is God.”

Psalm 89 is placed next in line—more than likely to provide some encouragement to the reader, following this sad tune by Heman. Several words are repeated throughout this psalm. Faithfulness, forever, steadfast love, and covenant together appear a total of twenty-seven times in Psalm 89.

The author is a man named Ethan, one of the wise men associated with the reign of King Solomon. He was also one of the choir directors in the land of Israel. Ethan gives us here a poetic history of the nation. As he does so, it seems that he is agonizing over the ultimate breakup of the monarchy.

Yet from the opening lines of this psalm, Ethan acknowledges the steadfast love of God. Verse 1 opens, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known, thy faithfulness to all generations” (KJV). I used to sing that when I was a child—a chorus well known by the church.

Here in verses 10-18 Ethan recalls the Lord’s faithfulness in showing His power against Israel’s enemies. He then moves on in verses 19-37 to review the faithfulness of the Lord to His covenant with David.

David is going to have a son to sit upon the throne forever. His son Solomon rebelled, and the throne eventually disappeared from the land—and it hasn’t come back today, by the way. But one day it will when the greater Son—the descendant of David, the Lord Jesus Christ—sits upon that throne in His coming kingdom.

What is the Lord doing during all these intervening centuries when He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to reveal His presence? Oh, He is at work behind the scenes, setting the stage for what He will accomplish next.

Where is the Lord during our own times of loneliness and longing? What is He doing? Oh, He is at work behind the scenes, inviting us to look to Him as our only rock and refuge.

Let me encourage you today not to judge God’s faithfulness on the basis of what you feel or see. He is at work behind the scenes—on your behalf—setting the table, so to speak, for what He is going to serve up next in your life.

Anchor your feelings—and your heart—to His faithfulness and the certainty of His Word. God has never made you a promise He will fail to keep.

Those lonely times when the movement of God cannot be detected—those are the times in life that serve as an invitation to turn to the only one who will never leave us or forsake us.

Missionary widow and author Elizabeth Elliott once wrote, “When you are lonely . . . use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him.”[5]

That sounds very much like David, who wrote in Psalm 61:1-2: “O God . . . I call to you when my heart is faint [when my heart is lonely]. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

[1] Ceylon Yeginsu, “U.K. Appoints a Minister of Loneliness,” New York Times, January 17, 2018,

[2] Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes (Thomas Nelson, 2000), 517.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alexander Maclaren, “The Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible: Psalms to Isaiah, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (S.S. Scranton Co., 1903), 227.

[5] Quoted in Morgan, 517.

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