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.

Compensated Beyond Comprehension

Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask? – Mark 10.35

These words were spoken to Jesus Christ by His apostles, James and John.  The words aptly express the sentiment of many nominal Christians today.  James and John, along with Peter, already enjoyed very close fellowship with Jesus.  The three men made up the inner circle chosen to be with Jesus during special times and landmark occasions during His earthly ministry.  Now, they come and and ask Jesus to commit to something without revealing what it is they desire.  Any parent knows how that feels!  We half expect them to say, “If you really love us, you’ll do this for us.”

It’s hard to see clear evidence of selfishness like this inside of us.  But it’s there.  Perhaps our conscience is quickened when we behave this way, but we still cajole and manipulate our desirable outcomes in life.  We want to make things the way we want them knowing all the while God will refuse us.  But still we pray, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask!”

Jesus’ response is surprising to us.  We expect Him to point out how selfish these guys are.  Instead, He asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (10.36) It really is quite masterful when you think about it.  Now these selfish men will actually have to verbalize their spiritual immaturity.  They blunder on by replying, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (10.37).  I imagine John cringing when think about this as an old man on the Island of Patmos.

The right hand was the most privileged position and the left second-best.  At least James and John left it to Jesus as to whom would receive each respective place of honor!  Jesus patiently explained that these two men didn’t know what they were asking.  The fact that they were asking for themselves indicates they were selfish, but the fact that they didn’t know where their request would lead indicates they were foolish.

Jesus patiently and compassionately used two metaphors to paint the bleak picture that He Himself faced ….that they too would face.

Drink the Cup – Active Participation in Suffering

You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink.  – Mark 10.38a

The men will later respond that they are able.  Jesus then affirms that they will indeed drink the cup from which He drinks.  Draining the cup in the Old Testament (the only Bible these men had) meant drinking from the cup of God’s wrath or indignation against sin.  Jesus drained the cup of God’s wrath when He suffered and died upon the cross for us.  James and John could never do this, but they would endure great suffering as apostles laying the foundation stones of the early church.  Recall that James was murdered by King Herod (cf. Acts 12).  John was imprisoned, beaten, and exiled to an island to die.  They didn’t understand the cost of being identified as disciples of Christ.  They would actively participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Be Baptized – Passive Participation in Suffering

You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to …be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? – Mark 10.38b

Again, James and John affirm that they are able.  Jesus affirms that they will indeed be baptized with such a baptism.  Baptism is a figure that means being fully immersed in something.  Here a person is fully immersed in the suffering that comes from external means and not of his own doing.  Jesus experienced this baptism culminating in His death.  Were James and John able?  They believed they were able but didn’t fully comprehend what this meant.

Jesus continues by affirming that the baptism will come upon these men.  He then concludes by saying:

But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared. – Mark 10.40

Matthew supplements the thoughts recorded in Mark by saying that these places of honor are actually prepared by God the Father (cf. Matt 20.23).  Honor is prepared by the Father for those whom He chooses to honor.  Also, the Father will prepare the men and women who take these positions of honor.  That should do away with any thoughts of envy or self-seeking.  Those on the left and right of Jesus in Heaven will certainly deserve those positions.  The character forged upon the anvil of suffering in this life will earn these positions because endurance for them came from the grace and mercy of Almighty God in the first place.

It’s hard to point out when someone is being selfish.  Some are overly cautious with selfish people.  They worry about speaking too bluntly when it comes to revealing such a character flaw in another person.  Others are overbearing and can hardly wait to point out such flaws!  Jesus show us the way in this passage of Scripture.  He used the selfish orientation of these men to instruct them carefully, compassionately, patiently, and effectively.

Jesus revealed the thinking of these men.  I understand that they were thinking of themselves instead of Jesus.  They were thinking of a temporal, earthly kingdom.  This means that they didn’t understand the yet third prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection stated earlier in this passage.  They thought in temporal terms and were emboldened to ask for positions of prestige and power.  They were not thinking of the suffering and selflessness that paves the way to such positions.  Were they able?  Are you able?

I hope you desire position and privilege within God’s Kingdom.  I do.  But we must remember that such position is won through conflict, trial, and suffering.  Don’t look for ambition and privilege in this life.  Look instead for suffering, tribulation, persecution, and even martyrdom.  The Father is preparing special positions of honor.  Jesus is preparing a place in Heaven for us.  Our cup and baptism on earth may be difficult and beyond us, but one day a great exchange will take place.  We will be compensated beyond comprehension!