Overwhelmed. We all know this feeling. A few definitions include, “to bury or drown beneath a huge mass, defeat completely, give too much of a thing to (someone); inundate.”
This used to be my constant state of being. The weighted feeling of life, the persistent pressure. The inundation of it all, oftentimes pressing down so intensely it was difficult to breathe. Maybe you can relate?
As a child, life came at my family pretty fast and heavy. I quickly learned to sift through it, manage it and tuck it away. As I became an adult, being overwhelmed was a part of my everyday. I had learned how to cope through the feeling. I knew what to do and became my own coach when needed.
If my heart was overwhelmed, I suppressed the feeling — because who has time to deal with a defeated heart? If my mind was overwhelmed, I made myself busy. If I could just forget why I was overwhelmed, ignore it somehow, it would be fine. I ended up adding on to my overwhelmed mind and heart with more doing.
If I were physically overwhelmed with the doing, I would just tell myself it was a part of life to feel this way. I would excuse this feeling as part of my responsibility as someone who gets things done.
All of this was a sign of an overwhelmed soul in deep need of a loving God.
In the midst of one of my most challenging seasons, I learned His overwhelming presence was where my weary soul would find refuge and rest. With Emmanuel, God with us, I would encounter the peace and wisdom a tired soul required.
The most common Hebrew term for “presence” in the Bible is panim, which is also translated “to face,” implying a close and personal encounter with the Lord. Closeness with the Father … a face-to-face encounter with the King of kings that brought His overwhelming love to an underwhelmed people.
I used to believe His presence wasn’t an ever-present help. That rest wasn’t something promised in our day-to-day. This may be how you’ve felt as well — that His presence isn’t tangible and therefore out of reach when life seems out-of-control. But His presence is real, and we experience it through our trusting that He is a good God, that He is God with us.
In the Old Testament, God told Moses His presence would be with Moses as he was sent into a mission that was hard but holy: “And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’” (Exodus 33:14).
Moses was to find his rest in God’s presence. This is where his overwhelmed soul met God’s overwhelming love and faithfulness. The same presence is given to us through Christ Jesus — He gives us access to abundant life through trusting and resting in His love for us.
A desire to rely on our doing versus God’s faithfulness will diminish our experience of God’s presence. God, however, doesn’t want us to live led by the rush of life. Instead, He’s inviting us to trust in His overwhelming presence to guide us.
As we move through our day and invite Him into the spaces that need Him so desperately, let us remember that as we draw near to our God, we are inviting His presence to guide us with love.
This is abundant life: God with us, a mighty and overwhelming presence.
Heavenly Father, thank You that Your overwhelming presence of love not only follows us but is with us. Lord, we ask that in the times when life tries to overwhelm us, we would be reminded that You, Father, are the very thing that brings light and calm to the dark and heavy. Help us to remember that Your presence holds the power for us to keep going, and we will trust You in it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Is any lostness worse than remaining lost while believing you’re found?
Of all those who finally travel the broad way to destruction, are any so wretched as those who sang Christian songs, prayed Christian prayers, and sat under countless Christian sermons along the way? The man sipping sand in the desert, because he thinks he holds a cup of water, is the most tragic and pitiable of sights. To plunge thoughtlessly into the next life is one horror; to play the saint, and still be deceived, is another.
There was a time I wouldn’t have believed such people existed — least of all, that I was one of them. Certainly, all who audibly called upon Jesus as Lord would be saved — why else would anyone show up every Sunday? But there it stood before me, glowing as if engraved in fire, Jesus’s own words giving us a transcript of some on judgment day:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21–23)
I read it again. And again. No verse had ever made me lose sleep before.
I realized that I must be one of the “many.”
Three Fatal Dreams
I was like so many sermon-hearers, Bible-readers, and synagogue-attenders of Jesus’s day: lost in a dream, traveling toward hell in church clothes. “As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched” (Isaiah 29:8), I merely dreamt of eternal safety .
But God, as I pray for many who read this, woke me up through his word. At the end of the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus exposed three fatal dreams that I dreamt as one of the religious lost: dreams that mere intellectualism, mere emotionalism, and mere activism are solid grounds for the hope of my salvation.
Correct Doctrine Is Insufficient
First, Jesus shows the insufficiency of intellectualism — of the one who would say, “I know and, thus, I am saved.” Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” These men and women were addressing him with the appropriate term, “Lord” (Greek kyrios), the characteristic title for God in the Old Testament — and so he was.
“Knowing the right mantras, solas, verses, or doctrines is not sufficient for eternal life.”
Calling him Lord proved their orthodoxy, they may have thought. They knew something every child of God knew to say. They did not approach him as a mere prophet or religious teacher; they addressed him as exalted majesty. They knew the Scriptures, the books to read, and which podcasts to follow. But calling on him as Lord did not open the kingdom of heaven to them. As the scene shows in full sobriety: knowing the right mantras, solas, verses, or doctrines is not sufficient for eternal life.
Emotions Are Inadequate
Second, Jesus shows the inadequacy of mere emotionalism — of the one who would say, “I feel and, thus, I am saved.” Addressing him as “Lord, Lord” shows that this wasn’t spoken dryly. They spoke enthusiastically, expectantly, confidently. They spoke emphatically to convey a sense of familiarity with who they perceived to be their Lord.
No doubt, this was the product of lives filled with great sensations toward Jesus. Certainly, they had a relationship with him, they thought — he was not “Unknown judge” or “Distant deity” but “Lord, Lord.” If asked whether they felt affection toward Jesus, all would have answered, “Of course.” Yet, they heard in reply, “I never knew you; depart from me,” proving that positive emotions toward Christ are not in themselves an adequate response to his word.
The trouble is that relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing has yet been done. ~ C. S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm, Chiefly On Prayer
She approached me after a speaking engagement, her face lit up with a big smile:
“Oh, don’t you worry, honey,” she said, patting my arm. “God’s not going to let anything happen to you. You have too much good work left to do!”
I appreciated her kindness and her absolute confidence that everything would turn out a-okay in the end.
The only problem? She was wrong. And I knew it.
I smiled in return, thanked her for her encouragement. She meant well, even if I didn’t agree. Behind her words sat a distorted theology: As long as I work hard for God, God is on the hook to give me a good life.
I knew better. Life and faith don’t work that way.
I walked away whispering a prayer of reminder: Live or die, God, I trust You.
Nine years ago, when I was still a young wife and mom, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue — cancer, of a rare and personal kind. In the years since, I’ve had two serious recurrences, each more aggressive than the last. As a result, I’ve endured multiple surgeries and procedures including the removal of two-thirds of my tongue, chemotherapy and radiation on my head and neck, and countless doctor’s appointments, lab tests, and follow-up scans. Although I’m cancer-free at the moment, I will never be free of a doctor’s care. And I will live with permanent functional disabilities, making the daily tasks of speaking, eating, drinking, and swallowing difficult. And painful.
Beyond the physical repercussions, however, I wrestle with the emotional and spiritual wounds from such a life-altering loss. I’ve loved Jesus all my life and, for fifteen years, I’ve done my best to serve Him as a Bible study leader, author, and speaker. Moreover, during my illnesses, thousands of people prayed for my healing, including me and my family. But now, in spite of those prayers and years of service, the very means of my ministry — my speech — is compromised.
For me, life comes at a steep cost.
It helps me to know I’m not the only one who can’t always make sense her God. The pages of my Bible are filled with the stories of men and women who didn’t always receive what they hoped for. Although they loved Him, they couldn’t always unravel the mystery of Him.
Moses. Elijah. Jeremiah. David. John the Baptist. As well as the Twelve Disciples and early church.
After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the Gospel spread like fire. Those who had been witnesses of Jesus’ death and life couldn’t stop talking about Him, couldn’t stop sharing about the One who’d conquered death once and for all.
But, in the middle of all that good news, Acts 12 delivers a little bad news:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also… — Acts 12:1-3
At a time when the Gospel needed every available voice to help it spread, two of the loudest voices were silenced. This was the time for a God-sized miracle. The church had too much good work yet to do.
Instead, one was thrown in prison. And another was murdered.
This must’ve baffled the believers. According to Acts, the early church “was earnestly praying to God” for Peter, and no doubt they did the same for James. On the other side of those prayers, Peter experienced a miraculous deliverance from jail. And James died by the sword. The same prayers to the same God. But two completely different results.
the word of God continued to spread and flourish. — Acts 12:24
Why? Because the early church remembered an important truth we too often forget:
What is most at stake in our lives isn’t our freedom, our families, or even the number of our days.
What is most at stake is our faith.
Years later, Peter would once again face an arrest and imprisonment. This time, however, in spite of prayers for deliverance, God did not deliver him in miraculous fashion. Instead, He delivered him to Heaven. Before he died a martyr’s death, however, Peter himself wrote these words:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” —1 Peter 5:8-11 (emphasis mine)
I don’t know why some get their miracle while others die before it comes. I don’t know why some prayers receive spectacular answers while other prayers — just as fervent and faithful — seem to solicit nothing but silence.
But this I do know.
God is where the pain is.
His presence is with those who question and with those who cry, with those who suffer and with those who die. And although cancer might wound a life, it has no say over a soul. Even better, a day is coming when God himself will restore all that’s been lost, either in this life or the one to come.
Live or die, God, I trust You.
What is your pain? What is your prison or sword? Keep praying for your miracle, friend. Our God is still the God of the impossible. But whether or not you receive it, decide now where you’re going to put your trust.
In your circumstances and ability to control? Or in the God who will Himself make all things whole?