Overcoming that Overwhelmed Feeling

"...I will cry to you when my heart is overwhelmed." Psalm 61:2

Opening Prayer: Father, I've done it again. I've let the pressures of this world overwhelm me. What do You suggest?

Can God-fearing people feel overwhelmed by life? Sure. It happens to you. It happens to me. It happens more often than we realize. This lesson is being written because I recently experienced a few weeks of feeling crushed by the weight of everything.

The usual excuse these days is "the pressures of modern life." But there's nothing modern about or unique about stress. Two thousand years ago, our Lord said, "In this world you will have tribulation." And a thousand years before that, King David wrote many Psalms expressing his fears and anxiety.

Psalm 55, verses 4-8 could have been written by a parent concerned about violence in public schools:

4 My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.
6 So I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
7 Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
8 I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest."

Please notice that the writer KNOWS his situation is out of control. He can't fix it. He can't even stand to think about it. The only hope is to flee, to try to put physical and emotional distance between himself and the problems. "Maybe I need a backpacking expedition to Yosemite or a trip to a little-known tropical island..." Can you relate? Have you felt like that?

The first step is to realize that you are not alone. Your problem is not unique. King David -- described in Scripture as "a man after God's own heart" -- frequently felt anxiety, judging by the number of Psalms that speak of terror, grief and fear.

But I thought Christians were supposed to have it all together, with "perfect peace" and all that stuff.

There IS a verse that describes perfect peace, and we'll get there before this lesson is over. But for now, realize that only Jesus had it all together, and even He felt anguish. Try reading Psalm 22, which Jesus cried out from the cross. When you read it, remember that Jesus voluntarily experienced that anguish on your behalf, because He loves you. He is moved to compassion by your "overwhelmed" condition. Just like He was moved to respond to the helpless and overwhelmed people of 2,000 years ago.

In Mark 1:41 we read how Jesus reacted to the ultimate outcast of His day, a leper:

And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said, "I am willing. Be cleansed."

Note that the Lord Himself, God in human flesh, was MOVED with compassion. The plight of this man -- who could not be cured by his own efforts or by any human doctors -- caused Jesus to be moved with compassion. Then He TOUCHED the man.

Did Jesus feel moved by the folks who felt comfortable and self-sufficient?

You can be sure that our Lord did not run around trying to touch and heal people who felt they had it all together. He did not appear on television and teach the power of positive thinking. He was moved by the people who KNEW they had needs. And He touched them.

The Lord has done the greatest works in my own life at those very times when I was the most helpless and overwhelmed. When I deserved help the least -- and needed it most -- my Lord was moved with compassion to help me. Will He do any less for you?

Let's look at Psalm 61, verse 2:

2 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.

The second step is to cry out to the Lord when we feel overwhelmed. And notice what we should cry out for: We urgently need higher ground, and we can't get there unless the Lord LEADS us there. Contrary to what some contemporary religions teach, the solution is NOT inside yourself. You already know that intuitively. You need a Rock (Jesus) for shelter from the storm -- a sheltered place HIGHER than the flood waters. A safe place higher and stronger than ourselves.

Let's continue in Psalm 61 and see what else we can learn.

3 For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy.
4 I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

Notice the verb tenses in this passage: "...You have been..." and "I will abide" and "I will trust." The Lord God HAS been a shelter to David in times past. The Lord HAS been a strong tower, protecting David from his enemies. David's enemies were consistently evil and violent, but God was consistently watching over David and sheltering him whenever David cried for help. God HAD proven His faithfulness.

Yeah, but that was a very long time ago. Life is very different now. Don't we need new truths and new solutions?

Yes, David lived a very long time ago. But people today are no different in any important sense. Our vehicles are faster, our music is louder and our toys are more expensive. But human nature is no better or nobler for these cosmetic distractions. In fact, the ineffectiveness of most secular counseling is proof that we've lost sight of the real issues and answers of life. The Bible keeps reminding us that some things never change. Fortunately, God's nature doesn't change.

Didn't you mention some Scripture about "perfect peace?"

Yes, and thank you for asking. But before we go there, remember that this is one of God's very special blessings. And while His love is unconditional, His blessings are usually conditional -- they require some small effort on our part to qualify for something too wonderful for us to ever achieve own our own. Having said that...

Isaiah 26:3 says:

3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (anchored) on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.

In this case, the blessing is perfect peace. In the Hebrew, it's "shalom shalom" -- the normal word for peace repeated for emphasis, to show that this is something quite special.

So what's the catch?

Very simple: in order to qualify for perfect peace, we need to anchor our minds and hearts on the Lord Himself. We need to trust that our Lord keeps His promises. We need to trust that He loves us personally and passionately. We need to trust that He'll save us somehow, even if there's a nasty storm raging outside. We need to trust that it's safer to stay anchored to Him than to drift off and flow with the tide.

So how does all this relate to our subject of being overwhelmed?

If I'm feeling overwhelmed, then I've let my heart and mind drift from God. I've fastened my attention on my problems rather than my Lord.

So how exactly do we re-establish our anchor and get over being overwhelmed?

We need to do what David did in Psalm 61 above: start praising God for His faithfulness and his loving kindness for us. If we divert our focus away from our problems and onto Him, the Lord Himself will reward our faith and give us His perfect peace. On the other hand, if we stay fixated on our problems and put our confidence in the power of our problems to overwhelm us, we'll probably be overwhelmed. Can you guess which approach I prefer?

But teacher, you don't know my problems.

True. But how do your problems compare to what Jesus experienced on the cross -- on your behalf? I can't relate to your problems, but He certainly can. So if you start praising Him and thanking Him for His love and care for you, you will experience the most amazing peace. And the peace will come before your problems go away.

Praise: The forgotten gate to prayer

Sometimes I get so focused on my problems that I forget some key principles in Scripture. In retrospect, it does sound silly but I often lose sight of the fact that prayer has a "gate" through which any believer can enter into the presence of God.

The gate to prayer is in Psalm 100:

1 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
2 Serve the Lord with gladness: Come before His presence with singing.
3 Know ye that the Lord, He is God: It is He that hath made us, and we are His; We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise: Give thanks unto Him, and bless His name.
5 For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness [endureth] for ever, And His faithfulness unto all generations.

Verse 4 is more than quaint poetry. It is a simple call to rise from our bed of tears and look -- in faith -- to the Lord Who loves us. This is not easy, or more people would get it right. But if we fill our minds, hearts and mouths with praise to God, we'll find that God's presence is right there, just ahead of us.

This works for two reasons:

Faith is taking some positive action based on God's Scriptures, even when our circumstances look like the forces of evil are going to win the battle.

But teacher, how could a good God let me hurt so bad?

I don't know your circumstances, but God does. All I can say is that you must step forward in faith, praising our Lord for His faithfulness and proven character. Enter into His courts with thanksgiving and praise. Give up your "right" to be angry about your circumstances. Approach the Lord as a hurting child seeking a comforting parent. And the God of peace will make His love real for you.

Closing Prayer: Father, I've drifted away from You in search of other pleasures and other treasures, and the storms have overwhelmed me. I praise You for Your faithfulness to me in times past; help me re-establish my anchor in You. Amen.

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Psalm 22:1-15: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou answerest not; And in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in Thee: They trusted, and Thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: They trusted in thee, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, [saying],
8 Commit thyself unto the Lord; Let him deliver him: Let him rescue him, seeing he delighteth in him.
9 But Thou art He that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me trust [when I was] upon my mother's breasts.
10 I was cast upon Thee from the womb; Thou art my God since my mother bare me.
11 Be not far from me; For trouble is near; For there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me; Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gape upon me with their mouth, [As] a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint: My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; And Thou hast brought me into the dust of death. Click here to return to the main lesson.