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.

Eight Reasons We Suffer

Walter Kaiser provides eight reasons we suffer from the culmination of his work on this topic:  Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Grief and Pain in the Plan of God: Christian Assurance and the Message of Lamentations. Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2004 (127-36).  I’ve condensed the discussion below:

  1. Sometimes our suffering is result of judgment we deserve.  If we choose evil, it leads to suffering.
  2. Suffering is a form of correction.  (See Hebrews 12.7)
  3. Often prophets in the Old testament suffered not particularly for their own sins and rebellion but for the people.  Jesus fulfilled the role of the Suffering Servant completely.  He suffered for us not for Himself.   (See Isaiah 53.5)
  4. But there is suffering not only for people but with people.  God suffers with us:  “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63.9).
  5. We also suffer for the glory of God.  Joseph’s life is an illustration of this.  “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” (Gen 50.20).
  6. Enduring suffering is a powerful testimony to the faithfulness of God (e.g., “Consider My servant, Job”).
  7. Suffering can drive us to newer understanding of God.  Hosea suffered greatly because of his unfaithful wife.  Yet he still loved her.  What Hosea went through gives us a greater understanding of not only God’s love for Israel; but God’s love for us.
  8. Eschatological:  Even the Tribulation will be filled with immense suffering.  But just when things are at their darkest and all are despairing in Jerusalem once more, Jesus will come and reign!

Suffering is complicated, but it can be simplified when one remembers that the unchanging God is always good and great is His faithfulness!

Cut to the Quick

Millard Erickson speaks of “individual eschatology” in Christian Theology.  Better to study last things and how they relate to one’s own personal life.  Study concerning the end of your life is confrontational.  You are confronted with your choices – good and bad.  You consider the high price of sin, the clear causes of suffering, and whether or not it was worth living the life you lived.

The Wages of Sin

The people of God in Lamentations 4 faced a bleak and brutal end.  Their desperation drove them to the very brink.  Children were neglected and worse.  The people had once donned scarlet finery, and they now are found embracing ash heaps (4.1-5).  Since they were the people of God and therefore highly culpable for their sinful choices, their end was torturous and painful (4.6 cp. w/ Luke 12.47-48).  Even the upper strata of society is brought low.  Once brighter than snow and whiter than milk, they are now blacker than soot (4.7-11).

God allowed this tragic end.  He fulfilled His fury and poured out his fierce indignation.  Every word in these opening verses is filled with misery and devoid of mercy.  This is the high cost of sin:  a face-to-face confrontation with one’s own end.  It’s our pit where there is no human hope of rescue in sight.  Isolated and alone we wonder what has led to all the suffering we are experiencing.

Two Causes for Suffering

The answer is found in the fact that we are sheep without a shepherd.  The religious leadership in our country is bereft of the spiritual discernment needed to lead.  Most are still optimistic and generally very positive about the outlook for our country.  They preach peace while all the while remain a cause of suffering.  They fail to bring people face to face with their sin and rebellion.

The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.  Because of the sins of the prophets and the iniquities of the priests, who shed in her midst the blood of the just.  – Lamentations 4.12-13

A second cause for the grief and pain that comes upon us is found in our inclination to trust in the creation rather than the Creator.  “Still our eyes failed us, watching vainly for our help; in our watching we watched for a nation that could not save us” (4.17).  “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17.5).

Unlikely Hope

Where’s the hope in that?  It’s found in the fact that in spite of gut-wrenching grief and pain, God will make it right.  Before the dawn of hope, one must identify the cost of sin and the causes of suffering.  You trace the rainbow through the rain.  As you consider your end as a child of God, consider also that guilt and culpability are gone.  Death has lost its sting!  Suffering is finished upon the cross of Christ!  God cuts to the quick so that we might become sensitive to the conclusion of our own story.