Lone Learning

“Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side.”—Matthew 14:22 (NKJV)

There’s a deliberate purpose for everything the Lord ordains for us. Even the smallest and seemingly insignificant detail is tethered to something vitally important. Fully embracing this is a big deal, because a lot of our lives are spent wrestling with much of what He allows.

For example, loneliness.

Few things in life are more powerful than the sensation of being alone. We will go to great lengths to distract ourselves from it. Loneliness shouts to our soul in a way that can’t be ignored. Our human instinct is to drown it out with other things like entertainment, food, purchases, and some even turn to pain . . . anything to dull the din of being alone!

So, how can something so negative be ordained by someone as good as God?

We need to be clear about something at this point; the Lord doesn’t prescribe all forms of loneliness. Sometimes they’re the result of our own wrongdoing. In the course of following our own path, we can intentionally isolate, or act improperly to alienate others from us. Loneliness can be self-inflicted loneliness, but that isn’t what’s in view here. Instead, we’re considering those instances when God, in His providence, intentionally leads us into a place of being alone.

This is something I can strongly relate to. A little over ten years ago, I relocated my family from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to another state for a job offer. Before moving, I did everything you’re supposed to do—I prayed, went to God’s Word for confirmation, sought wise counsel, weighed all of the practical factors, etc. Then, a week after purchasing our new home, I found out my contact had been terminated, along with all of the verbal commitments he’d given me. The lead that led me to relocate suddenly evaporated.

But there I was! With the exception of my wife and kids, I was all alone. I was in a new house, in a new state, and my faith was in new spiritual territory. In all honesty, it was a time filled with fear, anger, and confusion . . . all the things you don’t want to admit you have deep inside you. Yet I learned something first-hand through that season: When God leads us to a place of pronounced loneliness, there’s always an important reason for it (more on that later).

I’m not alone. You can’t go very far in Scripture before you see this principle played out. Just about every key figure experienced a season of loneliness. Jacob at the Jabbok River, Joseph in the dungeon, Moses on the backside of the desert, Hannah in her bareness, David on the run from Saul, Daniel in the pagan courts of Babylon, John the Baptist in the wilderness, Paul in Arabia. All of these people walked through deep valleys of loneliness.

Not only that, but we find their character, the attributes we remember them for, came about in those very valleys!  There’s always a purpose for the “alone season.” It accomplishes something important and teaches us things we won’t otherwise learn.

Let’s take a closer look at an example involving Jesus and His disciples that plays out in two parts.

Part 1 occurs in Matthew 8:23-27, as Jesus travels with His disciples in a boat across the Galilean Sea. As they start across, a great storm strikes threatening to swamp the boat. Jesus is sleeping, so they wake Him up sensing their lives are in peril. He rises and rebukes the storm which comes to a dead calm, and His disciples are understandably amazed.

Now, remember this key point: Jesus was physically with them during this storm. 

Part 2 opens in Matthew 14:22 (the verse written above). This time, Jesus tells His disciples to basically do the same thing, to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Only now, He deliberately stays behind! He sends them over the sea alone, and yet another life-threatening storm hits them head-on!

If you’ve ever cried out, “Lord, where are you?” or if you’ve ever felt yourself helplessly gripped in the vice of loneliness, you can relate to what the disciples felt here. They were without their Master, alone in the midst of a cauldron of chaos that threatened to claim their lives at any moment.

But we see something amazing happening amidst the spray and swells. Mark’s account of this tells us the disciples battled against the headwinds of this storm for several hours (Mark 6:48). They could have caved in to their previous fears by doing an about face and fleeing from the storm, heading back the way they came. That, however, wasn’t what Jesus commanded them to do. He specifically told them to go over “to the other side” alone, knowing full well they’d experience the struggle of their lives. That’s exactly what they attempted to do, at the risk of perishing.

Why the trouble? Why didn’t Jesus just go along with them and take care of things like before?

Keep in mind, these same men would soon find themselves without the physical presence of Jesus. He wouldn’t always be there in person. They would need to learn how to keep rowing despite the opposing winds of this world. Obedient perseverance was something they needed to learn . . . and they wouldn’t unless the Lord allowed them to “go it alone.” This experience was training for the life that lay ahead.

By the way, there’s a powerful resolution to this story as Jesus miraculously comes to the disciples just as their strength is about to give out. It reminds us that no matter how alone and weak we may feel, the Lord will meet us in our persistent obedience at just the right moment!

There was a divine reason for their loneliness, and that’s what we need to trust and rest in when it’s our turn in the boat. Again, I speak from experience, because when I went through what I went through, the Lord did some of His deepest work in me . . . work that would not have gotten done otherwise. It forced me to rely less on other people, places, and things, and to learn first-hand that the Lord is all I need, because He was all I had.

Although we may not immediately see or understand it, there’s a lesson to be learned, there’s character to be formed, and there’s a spiritual muscle to be worked. And the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, knows it won’t happen unless we’re alone.

Trust and rest.

About the Author

Pastor Dan Hickling

Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.