Jason Gaboury, a regional director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, wrote of a time when he was in his thirties and suffering deep loneliness. One day in New York City he sat down with Friar Ugo, a missionary who had served for forty years in Africa. As they talked, Jason said, "I could feel the primordial weight of loneliness pressing in on me. I knew the story of Genesis 2. Not good for man to be alone. So I thought, God, fix it! I wanted Friar Ugo to tell me how God was going to take the isolation away. Instead, he started talking about something else."
Ugo asked Jason, "Have you ever considered that the loneliness you're experiencing is an invitation to grow your friendship with God? Loneliness is part of the human condition. It is the experience of many around the corner who are living on the street. It is the experience of many around the world, separated from home, family, and land because of war or disease. And—it was often the experience of our Lord Himself."
Jason began studying the characters in the Bible, noticing how many of them met God in the midst of loneliness and isolation. "The stories reveal God's transforming presence and power in the lives of individuals and communities," Jason wrote. "They meet God in the midst of loneliness and are changed."
Perhaps you're not where you want to be. You're reading this in a hospital bed, or in a prison or halfway house, or in a distant city far from family. Maybe you've had to move out of the home you loved or away from the town where you grew up. You might be reading this is a dormitory room, feeling lonelier than you've ever felt in your life.
We're not always in our ideal place, but the location means nothing to God for He is everywhere. He is always everywhere. He is not bound by state or situation, nor by location. As we read in Rob Morgan's book, Always Near, "We must remind ourselves that God is in the room. He is here, in this place. You can relax in His presence and let debilitating stress drain from your nerves. You can cast your cares on Him who travels beside you."
Our Lord is accessible. The Bible says we "have access by faith into this grace in which we stand…. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father…. We have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him." (Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18, 3:12).
Instead of focusing on where you are, focus on accessing God's presence and knowing He is there with you. This reality sustained Joseph through the changing locations of his life. He knew God was with him whether at home with his father and brothers, in the pit facing betrayal and death, in the prison coping with extremes of hot and cold, or in the palace as the object of respect.
God of the Pit—in the Loneliest of Places
The Lord is with us in the loneliest places in the world. For Joseph, that was a literal pit. In Genesis 37, Joseph, seventeen, was on a mission to find his brothers in Israel's northern regions. Like a detective following clues, he tracked his brothers into a remote region where they were herding their sheep. His father, Jacob, wanted news of their welfare. But when the brothers saw him, they conspired against him, seized him, stripped off his colorful robe, and threw him in a pit—a deserted well or cistern. The worst was yet to come. Joseph was hauled out and sold into slavery. Psalm 105 says, "They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons…. The word of the Lord tested him" (verses 18-19). Genesis 42:21 says he was in anguish of soul and pleaded with his brothers, but they would not listen.
Yet God was present with him in the pit, and He was providentially present. That is, He was allowing all this to happen for a distinct set of reasons. Going back to Psalm 105, let me quote the entire passage: "He sent a man before them—Joseph—who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of the people let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possession, to bind his princes at his pleasure and teach his elders wisdom" (verses 17-22).
God sent him to Egypt where, in time, Joseph taught the elders of the nation.
If you feel you've fallen into a pit and no one knows—a pit of loneliness or isolation—remember, God is present with you, and He is providentially present. He knows how to use your extremity as His opportunity, and you have full access to His grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.
God of the Prison—in the Worst of Places
The Lord is also the God of the prison; He is with us in the worst of places. Even today, Egyptian prisons are infamous for their inhumanity. One ex-inmate told of being hung by his hands, of being beaten, and of being kept in isolation. His primary diet was rice mixed with insects. What do you suppose Joseph endured in an Egyptian prison nearly three thousand years ago? He was a handsome, idealistic teenager falsely charged with sexually assaulting a prominent Egyptian woman. Yet the Bible records these remarkable words: "[Notes: Joseph] was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison…. The Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper" (Genesis 39:20-23).
If this weren't so clearly stated in the Bible, I wouldn't make a point of it. But there it is! Even in the worst places, God is with us, He shows us mercy, He gives us favor, and He makes us prosper.
It's normal to be afraid of the future, to imagine all the worst-case scenarios that could befall us or our loved ones. But the Lord is already present in the future—He transcends time. He will never lead you anywhere that His presence cannot be with you to show you mercy, give you favor, and make you prosper. That's why the Bible says, "Never forget the nearness of your Lord. Don't worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs" (Philippians 4:5-6, Phillips).
God of the Palace—in the Best of Places
Let me hasten on to the palace. I can't imagine how they treated Joseph when he was suddenly summoned from the prison to the palace to see Pharaoh. The Bible says, "They brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh" (Genesis 41:14). I expect he also had a good bath and a great deal of sudden pampering to make him presentable to stand before the most powerful person in Egypt.
Somehow Joseph kept calm, gave God the credit for his ability to interpret dreams, warned Pharaoh of the coming years of feast and famine, and suggested an economic and agricultural strategy for saving the land. Pharaoh instantly named this thirty-year-old Hebrew former prisoner as the Prime Minister of Egypt, and Joseph devoted the rest of his life to public service in the highest levels of the world's most powerful kingdom.
Sometimes God blesses us with a degree of external success, perhaps even a certain amount of recognition and wealth. Joseph handled his success wisely, and when his father died and his brothers were anxious and guilt-ridden, Joseph told them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now, therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones" (Genesis 50:19-21).
Compared to much of the world, our homes are like palaces. If God has provided for your needs and given you a nice home or an adequate salary, remember—His presence is what really matters. Whether in the pit, the prison, or the palace, God is near you, with you, accessible day and night.
Learn to practice His presence wherever you are.
Dr. David Jeremiah is among the best known Christian leaders in the world. He serves as senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California and is the founder and host of Turning Point. Turning Point's 30-minute radio program is heard on more than 2,200 radio stations daily. A New York Times bestselling author and Gold Medallion winner, he has written more than fifty books.