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Overwhelmed

Imagine you're Jesus on the ministry circuit, age 32. Where will you sleep tonight? What will you eat? Where along the way can you replace your threadbare tunic? What town should you and your crew hit next week, once you're ready to move on from your current locale? And beyond that, since you know your time is coming soon? What is the end going to look like? Will you make it to the cross? How will you make your point clear to your followers and be sure they get it?

We tend to assume that Jesus, as God, was immune from this line of thinking. But I don't think so. Since Jesus is fully human, he "has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin." (Heb. 4:15) This means that Jesus must have felt overwhelmed sometimes by his life circumstances. He must have wrestled with the temptation to worry. He must have faced moments when he wondered if he could accomplish the work he had to do - in the big ways, and maybe also the small ones.

Feeling overwhelmed isn't a sin, but it is a case of distorted perspective. When we feel overwhelmed, we look into the future and believe that it contains more than we can handle. More demands, more decisions, more stress. As we look past today and live out tomorrow's challenges in our minds, we become fearful.

A favorite pastor of mine preaching recently on persevering grace touched on this phenomenon, admitting his own struggle to believe that God will be as present and faithful in tomorrow's challenges as those of today. He spoke of the Israelites' effort in Exodus 16 to store up manna beyond their allotted one-day's portion as a back-up plan, just in case God didn't come through with tomorrow's provision. But the stored-up manna went bad, and Moses rebuked these Israelites for their lack of faith. God gives us what we need for today; the provision goes that far and no further.

I sympathize with the disobedient Israelites. Today, even on a hard day, I can believe that I can get through if I stick close to God. Present-tense grace makes sense to me. But when I see what lies ahead of me next week, next month, next season - I'm not so sure. Will God really provide the grace I need when I get to those challenges too?

When Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself; each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34) - he was telling his followers not to allow themselves to get overwhelmed with the unknowns of the future. Jesus wasn't saying not to think about tomorrow - not to look ahead, for example, or not to plan. Rather he was saying: today lies before you. Live it well. Watch as God takes care of your needs and empowers you to address the challenges you face. Then let him do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.

This must have been how Jesus handled the human emotion of feeling overwhelmed. Because while feeling overwhelmed isn't a sin, anxiety is a sin - so Jesus, the sinless one, successfully resisted the temptation to worry. He must have trained himself to constantly circle back to the circumstances of today and live those out well, while continually giving over thoughts and question about the intricacies of the future to God the Father.

This may be one of the toughest disciplines we face in the modern age. Our lives are full to the point of overflow, and it can feel like a constant juggling act to keep up. Daily we must resist two temptations: first, to take on more than God intends for us, and second, to take the reigns and the weight of tomorrow into our own hands.

Feeling overwhelmed is a beacon that signals the nearness of anxiety. As we begin to see this, we can consciously decide to run to God and unburden ourselves to him rather than sin by taking it on ourselves in the form of worry. And as we live in today and acknowledge his sovereignty in tomorrow, we can begin to feel God's freedom and peace replacing the sense of being overwhelmed.

February29, 2008 at 12:28 PM

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