Monday, February 1, 2016

When You Feel Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed was the topic of our recent Men’s Fellowship.  This topic resonated with our men.  Not only that, but when one of our lady’s later saw a handout on this topic which was left in the classroom, she exclaimed, “Wow, I need this”.  She’s not alone!

Many people feel overwhelmed by the pressures and burdens of life.  Issues which can lead to feeling overwhelmed include:

1.  Family responsibilities.  Caring for our spouses and children, but also sometimes for parents and for other extended relatives.

2.  Financial pressure.

3.  Health problems.  This can include chronic, long term problems or a sudden health crisis. Both our own health problems and those of family members can weigh on us.

4.  Conflicts in relationships.

5.  Just too much to do on our “To Do” lists, and never enough time to do it.

6.  Problems at work, or just too much work.

7.  Spiritual oppression.

8.  Guilt and shame.  Failures which make it hard to keep trying.

9.  Enemies and opponents of all types.

10.  All the bad news and danger in the world we live in.

We could easily add to this list.

Feeling overwhelmed is not anything new.  And feeling overwhelmed is not necessarily a sign that we are “bad Christians”.  Even the Apostle Paul could feel overwhelmed sometimes.  He wrote:

NIV  2 Corinthians 1:8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.

In the verse above, Paul uses two words which paint a picture of what being overwhelmed feels like.

The Greek word translated “troubles” is thlipsis.  The literal meaning is pressure, or to press something together. In the New Testament thlipsis describes the feeling of pressure we get when we are oppressed by people or painful circumstances.

The Greek word translated “under pressure” above is bareo.  The meaning is to be weighed down, or to be under a heavy burden.

So, we can see a combination of two “word pictures” in 2 Corinthians 1:8.

Credits:  The “squeezed” image I found here, and the “burdened” image I found here.

Do you ever feel like the guys in the cartoon pictures above?  I often do!

What can we do about it?

Short answer:  Keep your eyes on Jesus!  Remember His promises and faithfulness.  Trust God.

Longer answer:  I found a sermon on this topic which was encouraging to me personally.  It’s an hour long, but in my opinion it is worth it.  It is a sermon by Rick Warren. I have some thoughts below about the sermon, but you might want to watch the sermon first.

Some additional thoughts related to Rick’s Sermon:

This sermon’s strength is that Rick clearly brings out some Biblical principles that can help us when we feel overwhelmed.  He focuses on the type of overwhelming problem where God does not expect us to play a major active role in overcoming the problem.  It is the type of problem where we are called to be mostly passive in terms of human activity while trusting God to do what we cannot do.  There are many problems and situations like this in life.  God encouraged my own heart through Rick’s message.

At the same time, we are not called to respond to every difficult problem in the way Rick describes in this sermon.  The sermon is based on the story of how God delivers King Jehoshaphat and Judah from a huge enemy army.  God tells Jehoshaphat, “You will not have to fight this battle” (2 Chronicles 20:17).  We often face stressful situations where God is not asking us to fight for ourselves, but to stand and trust Him to fight on our behalf.  But, there are many other times when trusting God involves trusting Him to give us the strength and courage to wade into a dangerous, messy battle and fight with all He gives us.  Rick’s sermon does not address this second type of battle, but I wanted to mention it here.

Rick says it is never God’s will for us to run from a difficult situation.  To be sure, we are often tempted to run when God wants us to stand.  But are there ever times we should run?  Two of the most courageous men in the Bible, King David and the Apostle Paul, both fled at times.  Sometimes it might be right for a wife to run from an abusive home, and sometimes it might be right for a believer to run from a church which has slid into false teaching or other harmful sin.  Sometimes in such situations God asks us to stay, and sometimes He may want us to flee.

When it comes to the difficult question of whether it is best to flee or to stay in any given difficult and dangerous situation, I have found some advice from John Bunyan to be helpful.  Bunyan is best known for writing Pilgrim’s Progress.  But Bunyan also wrote, Advice toSufferers.  Bunyan is certainly qualified to give advice to suffering Christians, as he endured twelve years of imprisonment for preaching the Gospel.  The whole work is excellent.  I’ve copied the section of Advice to Sufferers which discusses whether it is ever right to run below:

****** beginning of excerpt from Advice to Sufferers ******

1. Object. But may we not fly in a time of persecution? Your pressing upon us, that persecution is ordered and managed by God, makes us afraid to fly.

Answ. First, having regard to what was said afore about a call to suffer; thou mayest do in this even as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Any thing but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Exo 2:15), Moses stood (Heb 11:27). David fled (1 Sam 19:12), David stood (24:8). Jeremiah fled (Jer 37:11,12), Jeremiah stood (38:17). Christ withdrew himself (Luke 9:10), Christ stood (John 18:1-8). Paul fled (2 Cor 11:33), Paul stood (Acts 20:22,23).

There are therefore few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. I should be loath to impose upon any man in these things; only, if thou fliest, take two or three cautions with thee:—

(1.) Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God's providence, and the escape countenanced by God's Word (Matt 10:23).

(2.) When thou art fled, do as much good as thou canst in all quarters where thou comest, for therefore the door was opened to thee, and thou bid to make thy escape (Acts 8:1-5).

(3.) Do not think thyself secure when thou art fled; it was providence that opened the door, and the Word that did bid thee escape: but whither, and wherefore, that thou knowest not yet. Uriah the prophet fled into Egypt, because there dwelt men that were to take him, that he might be brought again to Jerusalem to die there (Jer 26:21).

(4.) Shouldest thou fly from where thou art, and be taken in another place; the most that can be made of it—thy taking the opportunity to fly, as was propounded at first—can be but this, thou wast willing to commit thyself to God in the way of his providence, as other good men have done, and thy being now apprehended has made thy call clear to suffer here or there, the which before thou wert in the dark about.

(5.) If, therefore, when thou hast fled, thou art taken, be not offended at God or man: not at God, for thou art his servant, thy life and thy all are his; not at man, for he is but God's rod, and is ordained, in this, to do thee good. Hast thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which way soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God's hand.

(6.) But fly not, in flying, from religion; fly not, in flying, for the sake of a trade; fly not, in flying, that thou mayest have ease for the flesh: this is wicked, and will yield neither peace nor profit to thy soul; neither now, nor at death, nor at the day of judgment.

2. Object. But if I fly, some will blame me: what must I do now?

Answ. And so many others if thou standest; fly not, therefore, as was said afore, out of a slavish fear; stand not, of a bravado. Do what thou dost in the fear of God, guiding thyself by his Word and providence; and as for this or that man's judgment, refer thy case to the judgment of God.

****** end of excerpt from Advice to Sufferers ******

Closing Encouragement

We all experience times when we feel overwhelmed.  At these times it is especially important to stay close to Jesus.  Let the pressure drive you closer to Christ and not away from Him.  Let the burdens lead you to seek Him even more in prayer and in His Word.  Experience His love through other Christians.  Trust God!

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