By Sean Tong, 27 Apr 2020
BZZZZZZ … the alarm beside my bed rips away the last remnants of sleep as I groggily get up. It’s Sunday. Is it Sunday? It is Sunday. But it’s not quite Sunday. If it’s Sunday, why am I not getting up earlier to get down to 91 to do setup with Dan or Ben or Matt or Andrew or Steve? Strange. Oh yes, we’re in lockdown.
I fix myself a brew and settle to some breakfast before making another coffee (it makes it feel a bit more like Sunday if I have a coffee before church) and do the little bit of setup I need to do before church. It’s not the usual setup. It’s not with anyone. It doesn’t feature the banter or encouraging conversation. It simply involves tapping my phone to cast it to the Chromecast, logging on to the Church by the Bay livestream and switching the TV on. Alone.
Then Jon Lindsay appears on the screen! And suddenly it starts to feel a bit more like normal. But then we sing. Which is wonderful, of course, and it’s great to hear encouraging words sung about the Lord Jesus. And yet … ‘let’s stand to sing’. Do I stand? Do I sit and listen? Do I sing? Do I stand and sing? There’s no one with me to sing with, to stand with, to sing to. Suddenly an envy at all the households with families in them creeps in, knowing that they are enjoying some degree of fellowship together. A curious mix of encouragement and disappointment at the same time. Before long though Gerry has me focused in God’s Word and, sometimes, I may even smile (just occasionally) at one of his jokes.
Maybe you’re living on your own too. Even if you are living with your family or spouse you may be feeling this sense of loneliness and longing too. In a way it’s good that you are. It’s right that you are. This isn’t how church is meant to be. We are meant to be a gathering, especially on the Lord’s Day. This is biblical and commanded of us. The writer to the Hebrews encourages this: 'Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.' (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The whole biblical narrative is about this. God, in his mercy and great love, is gathering a people to himself. We see the glorious culmination of this in Revelation when in the new creation God’s people ‘will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’ (Revelation 21:3). It’s good and right that we should feel sad that we can’t gather in person during this time.
And yet, how great is that we can still meet at the same time, over the internet! I can still see and hear Gerry as he preaches. I can see who’s leading, praying and reading. I urge you, brother and sister in Christ, during this time to make the most of the Church by the Bay livestream on a Sunday. And if you are living with other believers, make the most of it! Fellowship together, sing hymns together (loudly!) and pray together.
Not only that, we can still meet with our C3 groups on a Wednesday night. I’ve felt the pain here too. It’s not quite the same in having that time before the study face to face, chatting, encouraging one another and just generally enjoying each other’s company. Oh, and I really miss Eric’s homemade ginger biscuits! But we can still study God’s Word together over Zoom. Yes, it’s not the same. Yet, how great it is during this time where we might be feelings the pangs of loneliness that we can still see, chat with and encourage each other to live for Christ. And last night in our group we even had the great joy of welcoming a new person to the group.
Another way to combat loneliness is to serve. The writer to the Hebrews also encourages us to ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and good works’ (Hebrews 10:24). This is something we can still do in this time of lockdown. We live in an age where our ability to communicate is incredibly diverse and instant. There are endless modes of communication open to us: letter writing, phone calling, Skyping, Zooming, texting, instant messaging, WhatsApping …you get the point. Why not take the time to pick up the phone and call someone? They may be feeling lonely as you may be. Talk to them, find out what they’re going through and how you can encourage and pray for them. Or mix it up a bit. Write a letter. I received a wonderful piece of mail from the Tailyours. They sent me a picture from Jonah and Joel of what we had looked at in God’s Word from the previous Sunday. They told me that they were missing me. In the absence of meeting with others it was a wonderful reminder that we are a gathering of God’s people here in Morecambe.
In Psalm 25, David writes to God asking him to ‘turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.’ (Psalm 25:16). In our loneliness we can also, of course, turn to God’s Word. And remember this is the book. A book like no other. This book is our company. It is in this book that we can learn about and know Christ and God our Father in heaven. We have a friend in Jesus. To our sinful ears that can sometimes sound trite and child-like. But it’s true. We can truly meet him in God’s Word. During this time why not spend some of it investing in your relationship with him. Read his Word. And then share what you have read and learned about him with others.
We were looking at the importance of Christ’s resurrection in C3 on Wednesday night. To us who are believers it means that we are in him, the risen Lord Jesus. We share with him everything that he has. This includes being God’s children. And just as a human child can go to their human father, we can talk to our Father in heaven as we pray to him. We can become complacent with prayer, treating it (even if we don’t acknowledge that we are doing so) as just another thing we do. But we truly are talking to our God and he truly listens to us. It is part of our relationship with him. Mike Reeves, in his excellent book 'Enjoy Your Prayer Life', captures this relational aspect of prayer: 'Praying is enjoying – and pleading for – the friendship and friendly assistance of God.' 
You are not alone. You can talk to your heavenly Father. In this time of social distancing and gathering online, make the most of prayer. Talk to your heavenly Father. And when you do feel lonely remember these words of Christ: ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20).
 Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, (Leyland, Lancs.: 10Publishing, 2014), 23.
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