Opportunites for the Overwhelmed

“Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:1–2)

The Psalms are filled with comforting promises and convicting precepts.  The more adversity and affliction we face, the greater the need for the Psalms.  We have opportunity to see that truly no temptations have overtaken us except those which are common to man (1 Corinthians 10.13).  If God was faithful when David was overwhelmed, then He will be faithful when we are overwhelmed.  We need refuge and relief.

Life presents plenty of opportunities for you to feel overwhelmed.

We are overwhelmed by the difficulties of this life. 

David faced plenty of these difficulties.  Think of the overwhelming feelings when his son, Absalom, rebelled against him and was killed.  David was moved deeply.  Overwhelmed, he cried bitterly, “O my son Absalom – my son, my son Absalom – if only I had died in your place!  O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18.33).  Physical pain is also overwhelming.  If it is constant, it will wear you down and leave you feeling overwhelmed with depression.  I’ve had other times in my life when I’ve been caught in a lie or some other embarrassing situation.  Even though God forgives, I’ll think back on those times and cringe.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our past regrets, we are overwhelmed.  My relationship with Jesus Christ gives me victory over these over difficulties in life, but I often find myself just settling for getting by day to day.  I just sort of become resigned to feeling overwhelmed.  The goal is to grow closer to God when I am overwhelmed.  The difficulties of life tend to leave us overwhelmed; it becomes a way of life.

We are overwhelmed by the battles in our inner lives. 

My sin is always before me.  God convinces me to confess it and move on toward the mark set before me.  However, often the pangs of conviction leave me in deep anguish.  If I did not understand the mercy and hope God offers, I truly would have destroyed myself long ago.  I look at the inward condition of my soul at times and say, “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7.24)  Add to this that I feel God is so far away.  Sometimes “my soul refuses to be comforted” (Psalm 77.2) and my spirit is overwhelmed (77.3).  Perhaps the Lord has cast me off forever (77.7).  Has his mercy ceased forever when it comes to me (77.8)?  Has He forgotten to be gracious to me (77.9)?  His anger toward me has stopped the flow of His tender compassion and mercy.  Of course, nothing is further from the truth, but it doesn’t change the way we feel.  Life presents external and internal opportunities for us to feel overwhelmed.

We are overwhelmed by the finality of death. 

I live under the constant prospect of death.  Of course, all of us do.  But I’m reminded of it daily.  My body has changed.  Cancer has crept in and made me aware of just how brief life truly is.  I struggle with the ability to maintain my schedule.  I feel overwhelmed.  There are times and seasons when I say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain …I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1.21-24).  Death holds no sting for the believer.  I welcome it in some respects.  It cannot come soon enough when my heart is overwhelmed!  However, deep depression and loneliness makes death dreadful.  Ungodly and ungrateful people die like animals; they have no understanding of eternity.  But we know the terrors of death’s finality.  Our hearts are severely pained within us.  The terrors of death fall upon us.  Fearfulness and trembling come and horror overwhelms.

The Lord presents plenty of opportunities for you escape being overwhelmed.

Prayer stabilizes life like nothing else can. 

When God sees that we are finally looking to Him alone for our strength and comfort, He is pleased.  We look to the Creator not His creation for these things.  No one else can help me.  No one else knows me.  The person I think will help me will eventually abandon me.  I fall …he falls.  We all perish together (see Isaiah 31.3; reminds me of “Ring Around the Rosie”).  But before the throne of God’s grace, I find Him answering before I call …hearing and acting before I speak (Isaiah 65.24).

Prayer will prolong my physical life in order to accomplish the will of God.  Prayer will deliver me from my rebellious spirit.  Prayer will stabilize my chaotic inner life.  “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jam 5.16).

God delivers us through prayer so that we might glorify Him.  He turns grief to joy in a season of prayer.  He gives peace through prayer.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)

Prayer leads me to the Rock higher than I. 

Jesus Christ is the Rock.  He is sufficient to meet our every need.  If we really were convinced of that, we would pray.  We pray, “Lord God lead me to the Rock!”  The Rock upon which we have a secure foundation …the rock that crushes guilt, composes our thoughts, dissipates temptation …pours forth grace to go through affliction and wind up closer to God than we ever have been!  “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!”

I am sure that some readers cannot really relate to what I am writing, but the storms of life are coming.  You misunderstand Christianity if you think that you will always be in safe harbors and of sound mind and body just because you trust in Jesus Christ.  All of us are dying.  Life is very brief.  The best way to prepare for the inevitable is cling to the Rock higher than you.  The terror of judgment awaits us all.  The believer is judged for his life-work.  What is enduring and eternal?  What is vaporous and temporal?  Jesus Christ will declare it from His Bema Seat.

Other readers are overwhelmed by acute personal turmoil.  Realize that your natural tendency is to go to the creation rather than the Creator.  No pastor …no mother and father …no friend will stand in the place of God.  God is always faithful, and God will never fail you!  Overwhelming times present themselves to drive you to the Savior.  If you lived a constantly prosperous life, you would not see your need.  You would neglect the Lord Jesus.  As you mature in your relationship with Christ, you will recognize the purpose of affliction and be grateful for it.  There is great opportunity for the overwhelmed and great glory for the God of the overwhelmed.

Methodological Election

We begin working through 2 John tomorrow morning.  We’ve just finished a series in John’s greater epistle.  The first two verses put me on an aside topic that I don’t really care to preach about tomorrow because it has nothing to do with my text.  2 John 1–2 says, “The Elder, to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.”

It is interesting to study what commentators think about this salutation.  I agree with those who believe that John wrote to an actual lady and her children.  One commentator spoke of her name being “Electa” (kind of a transliteration of the Greek word).  That would be a moniker worthy of a staunch Calvinist woman for sure!

Many struggle with the concept of election.  You will need to determine what you believe about this doctrine as a Christian.  I will say that whether you believe in individual, corporate, or some other modified understanding of election, it will not affect a whole lot when it comes to your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  That said, I will tell you what I beleive to be true about this doctrine.  Notice, I said what I believe – in the sense that I’m not sure.  Here are two verses that govern my understanding of election:

Ephesians 1:3–4 (NKJV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…

If you take your highlighter and mark every time the phrase “in Christ” appears in Ephesians 1, you should find a total of 14 references (counting pronouns and one use of the Beloved One as a title for Jesus Christ).  This is a significant literary feature often overlooked.  What does this emphasis teach us about the doctrine of election?

I would argue that the only possible worthy individual that could ever be chosen by God is Jesus Christ, the Elect One.  Isaiah refers to Him in this way:

Isaiah 42:1 (NKJV) — 1 “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.

If we are in Christ, it is because we have believed or depended upon God’s chosen Beloved One alone for eternal life.  Being in Christ, we find ourselves incredibly blessed (Ephesians 1.3-4).  We are adopted (5-6).  We have redemption (7-10).  We have an inheritance (11-12).  We are sealed (13-14).  All because we are in Christ.

I believe that I am elect or chosen by God because I am in Christ.  I don’t believe God predetermined that some individuals are elect and others are passed over as sons of perdition.  Many of my friends disagree with me.  That’s fine.  I will wait to hear the verdict from the Lord when I see Him.

However, my personal understanding is that God elected His Son, Jesus Christ.  He alone is worthy of such a choice.  We are the chosen or elect only if we are in Christ.  Our only basis for a standing before God is in Christ – this is the method the Father has chosen.  Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord may have this standing:

Romans 10:13 (NKJV) — 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

God knows those who will and those who won’t come to Jesus Christ.  He offers saving grace to every man, but only some will trust in the Lord Jesus.  I have certain theological presuppositions that govern what I believe about election and predestination.  I’ve done my best to build a good biblical case.  In the end I trust in God’s plan in election and predestination.  I really think there are difficulties for all three main positions of election:  individual, corporate, or my modified understanding which might be deemed methodological.  It’s up to you to choose!

Aliens and Pilgrims

Chapel – September 20

For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.” (1 Chronicle 29.15)

The more clarity we gain with regard to our temporary residence here on earth, the more dependent upon God we will become.  1 Chronicles relays the story of one sun setting in David while the other rises in Solomon (Matthew Henry).  David understood just how temporary life was when he made preparations for building and furnishing the temple he would never build or see.

Verses 2-3 tells us about all the materials he amassed for the temple’s construction.  Then he affirms that his affection or love for the house of his God drove him to give over and above all the items he prepared.  He gave his own special treasure of gold and silver.  The people followed David’s example and gave as well.  But David did not become self-satisfied with this effort.  He did not think God owed him anything.  He recognized that all he did was done for the glory of God.  The power to reign, defeat his enemies, and amass wealth was evidence of the grace of God.  And in this 15th verse of 1 Chronicles 29, David acknowledged how short life on earth truly is.  He worked hard while the opportunities to serve God were still within reach.  There are two observations here in this verse which are very helpful for us today.

First, we must recognize our status on earth:  we are aliens and pilgrims.  Once we understand our status, then we must allow this fact to change the way we live this life.

We are aliens and pilgrims.

This world is not our home.  There is no hope without the living hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  We have reserved for us an incorruptible, undefiled inheritance in Heaven.  It will never fade away.  (1 Peter 1.3-4)

We are traveling through this world on our way to an abiding place in our Father’s house.  The people we travel with are often strangers to us.  We often connect with them only when necessary.  We don’t know how long we’re going to stay here.  If we have a nice place to sleep and food to eat, we’re thankful.  However, it should not cause us much concern as to whatever state we are in …we remain content to wait for eternal pleasures forevermore.

Many of our brothers and sisters died in faith before us.  They did not have the promises fulfilled that we have.  Yet they recognized that they were aliens and pilgrims on earth.  We seek a homeland just as they did (Hebrews 11.13-14).

Do you feel out of place here?  Do you recognize that our days on earth are as a shadow?  That they are without hope?  Generations have clipped by quickly.  People have lived in homes for more than 50 years only to die and leave them for another …or for the wrecking ball.  No one in previous generations found a continuing city on earth.  Many of these ancient cities are gone.

The psalmist reflected, “My days are like a shadow that lengthens, and I wither away like grass.” (Psalm 102.11)  “Our days have passed away in Your wrath; we finish our years like a sigh.” (Psalm 90.9)  “For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4.14)  No matter how great life is, it ends.  No matter how good a person is, they will not live forever.  Once we realize that we are, in fact, aliens and pilgrims, we will change the way we live…

We must act like aliens and pilgrims.

Peter said, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among [unbelievers].”  See 1 Peter 2.11.  Well, I beg of you to do the same…

  1. Be self-controlled when it comes to the things of this world.  We are pleased when God provides us with wonderful blessings in this life.  It’s not wrong to take a nice vacation, buy a nice home, or drive a nice car.  We are thankful God provides these things for us.  But life doesn’t come to an end if we don’t have these things.  “The time is short …so be as those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it.  For the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7.29-30).  Be self-controlled when it comes to the things of this world.  Be grateful for them but don’t view them as the goal of your fulfillment.
  2. Be purposeful in your journey toward a Heavenly Country.  Redeem the time …don’t waste it!  You might have a long life …you might have a short life.  Purpose to make it the best life for the glory of God!  If you move forward spiritually, don’t settle.  Forget past victory and press forward to the mark of your high calling in Christ Jesus.  Never be weary in well-doing.  You will reap if you don’t faint!
  3. Be careful to depend upon God’s strength and wisdom.  God’s grace is available for the asking today.  Depend upon Him.  If you are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, He will take you to full assurance in the life to come.  Don’t draw back; put your hand to the plow and move forward!  We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
  4. Be steadfast in fixing your eyes on Jesus and the glory which awaits you.  Don’t go to the right or left.  Don’t get off the narrow way.  You can stay on it if you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith!  You can stop fighting for ground when you reach the Father’s house and the abiding place He has made for you.  Expect trials to end.  Expect sorrow to end.  Expect temptations to cease.  Move forward to the rest prepared for you!