How do we respond to overwhelming situations?

How do we respond to overwhelming situations; situations beyond our control? From the Job study, Job encountered God in the whirlwind proclaiming truths Job had no answer for (Job 42:3), “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job understood the depth of knowledge and power found in God was certainly beyond a mortal man. Individuals, even great people of faith, find themselves at times in situations that go beyond their comprehension.

Mark 9:2-13: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

Peter, James and John find themselves in an overwhelming encounter. Their Lord finds Himself  changed (transfigured) and standing next to two of the greatest men in the Hebrew faith: Elijah and Moses. Jesus not only stands among them, but carries on a conversation with them.

The disciples seek to understand this and Peter, ever an individual of action makes his decree, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Before considering the understanding of what Peter is asking to do, recognize Peter is caught up in a very familiar failing found in many of us, acting without understanding.

The Bible tells us, “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, But a fool displays folly (Prov. 13:16).” The Bible tells us in regards to Peter and his fellow disciples, “6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Peter said something, because … terror, bewilderment, and ignorance provided his foundation. There are times, even when the compulsion to respond is present Proverbs 17:28 should guide a Believer’s thoughts “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent (think about Job placing his hand over his mouth to not speak Job 40:4).” The call to be quick to hear, slow to speak , and slow to wrath should provide additional direction. Peter knew SOMETHING must be done, but did not know what.

God assisted Peter with understanding 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Simple and clear direction for all of us, Listen to Jesus, Keep our mouths closed, and do what Jesus says.

God of the valleys

Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD'” (1 Kings 20:28).

We are currently studying the Kings and Prophets in our adult Bible class, and we are about to discuss 1 Kings 20 on Sunday. God used the wicked king of Israel, Ahab, to defeat the Syrians in order to show King Ahab that God is truly God. “And you shall know that I am the Lord…” (see 1 Kings 20:13,28).

The first battle took place in the city of Samaria, and the men of Israel were outnumbered (1 Kings 20:15). Nonetheless, they were victorious and “killed the Syrians with a great slaughter” (1 Kings 20:21). After this battle, a prophet came to King Ahab and warned him that the Syrians would be back in the Spring (1 Kings 20:22).

So, now read verse 21, and think about the conclusion the men of Syria made about God and why they were defeated in battle.

Then the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills. Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the plain, surely we will be stronger than they (1 Kings 20:23).

They had a regional view of God, and that makes sense when you are in a polytheistic culture. But their poor theology led to really bad conclusions about why they were defeated, which in turn led to a second catastrophic military loss. They thought they could beat Israel if they fought in a different location, and God showed them in a mighty and devastating way that He is God of the hills and the valleys. Once again Israel was outnumbered, but Syria was no match for God’s power (1 Kings 20:27). In the second battle 100,000 Syrian soldiers were killed and another 27,000 died because of a city wall that fell in on them (1 Kings 20:29-30).

There are so many ways we can apply this concept of God being the God of the hills and valleys.

  1. God is not a regional God. He is Lord of all your life, not just part of it. Either we choose to let Him reign over all of our life, or none of it at all. We cannot serve God and another master, Jesus said. God is a jealous God, He desires for us to come completely under the shelter of His wings and to make Him Lord of all of our life…of every fiber of our being.
  2. God is Lord of the hills and valleys in our lives. It sure is easy to sing praises to God when we are on the mountaintops, but what about when we are in the valleys? If you read the previous two chapters of 1 Kings, chapters 18-19, you will see that Elijah learned this very truth. Elijah had a mountaintop experience when he with God’s power defeated and executed the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (chapter 18). But in chapter 19, Elijah is scared, depressed and in despair! God showed Elijah that He was God of the valleys, too. We have to remember that. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, because You are with me” (Psalm 23).
  3. We sometimes forget to connect our previous victories with God to current challenges we face. Consider the faith of David when confronting Goliath (1 Samuel 17). His conclusion by faith was that if God helped him defeat the lion and the bear, then Goliath was no match for God. He knew God wasn’t just a God of lions and bears; He is Lord of everything. Remember that the Lord promised the Christian, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “The Lord is my helper…” in the hills and the valleys.
  4. There is nowhere that you are stronger than God. You will not find a location where you can out-smart, out-man, or gain an advantage on God. All of us in some way have tried this, if we’re honest! “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23). As a dear older sister (Katie Marcus) used to tell me, “Your arms are too short to box with God!”

Praise the God of the hills and the valleys, the great I AM!

What about Grief?

A dear friend, who has just gone through a tragic loss, said to me, “I need to be strong but I feel so much grief.”  Deep sorrow and anguish is a natural response to significant loss or suffering but is it a contrast to strength?  As men, we often make the mistake of believing that strength is suppressing our grief and not allowing it to be seen.  When we do this we not only cause ourselves harm but we are also missing an opportunity to positively impact the family of God.  We need to redefine our definition of strength.

Please read the text below from II Corinthians 1:3-11 and consider some observations.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

  • “…just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (5): There is a direct correlation between the suffering and grief we experience and the comfort we experience in Christ.  To deny the grief is to deny the comfort of Christ.
  • “…we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength…so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises from the dead” (8-9): There is a lesson to be learned in all suffering and grief.  The pain of grief should be a reminder that we are not adequate, in and of ourselves, to handle the ups and downs of this life.  The grief should be a reminder of our lack of control.  To deny the grief is to deny God’s strength.
  • “…He on whom we have set our hope.” (10): Suffering and grief should remind us of the temporary nature of this life.  Properly embracing the grief will force us to place our hope in God, the only stable foundation we have in this world.  To deny the grief is to misplace our hope.
  • “…who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us…” (10): Allowing grief to turn our eyes towards God will strengthen our faith.  As we leave one storm behind us and head towards the next, we will be secure in the knowledge that He has delivered us and will deliver us again.  To deny our grief is to head towards the future unprepared.
  • “…who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (4): Suppressing our pain and grief is ultimately selfish.  We do not live in a vacuum and every tragedy and every hardship is an opportunity to be shaped and molded into a useful instrument for God.  God is preparing you because somewhere out there someone needs comforted.  To deny our grief is to fail our brothers.
  • “…so that thanks may be given my many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.” (11): Worst of all, when we fail to embrace our grief and refuse to allow God to use us we are robbing Him of the thanks that He deserves.  In a way, we are stealing His glory.  Allowing others to see our pain provides them opportunity to be involved in prayer and encouragement and when we have come through the storm God will be glorified.   To deny our grief is to deny God His glory.

Grief is a powerful force in our lives.  We can suppress it and render ourselves useless in His kingdom.  We can succumb to it and allow it to cloud our vision and erode our hope.  Or we can embrace it, be trained by it, and become effective tools in the hands of our Creator.  It is our choice.

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him (Genesis 40:23).

Joseph had quite a list of reasons to be angry at God and life. He certainly could have walked around bitterly with a chip on his shoulder.

Think of what happened in 13 years for Joseph. At 17 years old, he was sold to merchants and slave traders by his own brothers. After things in Egypt were starting to look up for him, he was falsely accused of attempted rape and unjustly imprisoned. Again, things were going well for Joseph, even while in prison. After some time in prison, he interpreted dreams for Pharaoh’s butler and baker. He asked the butler to remember him when the butler was restored to his position. Now to add insult to injury, he is forgotten…for two years (Genesis 41:1,9). Hated, betrayed, abandoned, sold, enslaved, framed, imprisoned, forgotten…sure sounds like a raw deal for over a decade, right?

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him

Personally, I find it simply amazing that Joseph carried himself the way he did in spite of all the adversity. We don’t see Joseph being bitter. Joseph didn’t shake his fist at God and walk away from Him. He didn’t turn inward and self-centered, only concerned with taking care of number one. There is no indication that he lived his life in hatred and bitterness toward those who did him wrong. He wasn’t plotting his revenge.

What we do see in Joseph is a continual understanding and acknowledgement of the Lord’s presence in his life. When tempted to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife, he knew this sin would be against God (Gen. 39:9). While interpreting dreams, he gave glory to God as the one who gave him the ability (Gen. 40:8; 41:16,25,28,32). As he was working, whether in Potiphar’s house, or in prison or second in command to Pharoah, the “Lord was with him” (Gen. 39:2,21). Joseph worked for God, not for man.

Because of the way Joseph lived and talked, those around him noticed that God was with him. Potiphar knew that the Lord had blessed his house because of Joseph (Gen. 39:3-6). Even the keeper of the prison saw this in Joseph (Gen. 39:21). Pharoah himself witnessed the presence of God in Joseph’s life (Gen. 41:38-39).

Am I in God’s place?

Finally, look at Joseph’s attitude toward God and how that affected his attitude toward his brothers.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

How do you and I respond when facing life’s difficulties? We are all dealt a rough hand at times, so let us consider the wonderful example of Joseph. Let us remember that God’s presence is with us. Work for Him, not for man. May we have forgiveness, not bitterness, in our hearts. Remember, like Joseph, that we are not in God’s place. Let’s give glory to Him, and be thankful in all things.

What is Your Giant?

Men, what is your giant? I’ve had several people respond to that question over the years with, “What do you mean “giant” singular, I have giants plural!”

Yesterday, I preached about David and Goliath, and I used a visual to illustrate the height difference between David and Goliath. I used my son, Jonathan, and my great friend, Shane. Shane stands about 6’3″ and Jonathan is around 3’10”. As you can see in the picture, Shane just looks massive in comparison to Jonathan. Imagine how a roughly 9’6″ beast of a man in full battle armor looked in comparison to the average Jewish male.

Intimidating! For 40 days and 40 nights, Israel was dismayed and greatly afraid because of the taunting of Goliath. No one, not even King Saul, would dare face him.

Yet, here comes this young shepherd from Bethlehem with a sling and 5 smooth stones. “Whack!” the Giant goes down in defeat. So, who was the real giant in this account? Was it not David? I’ve always heard that dynamite comes in small packages, and when it comes to faith, David nor God cared how big and intimidating Goliath was.

Look at the words of David:

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

We also sang the song, “The battle belongs to the Lord,” which ties in beautifully to this passage. I encourage you to listen to the words of the song today.

What is your Giant (or Giants)?

Whether it is lust, envy, pride, anger, materialism, bitterness, dishonesty, fear, or anxiety, with God’s power we can overcome! That doesn’t mean that in one mighty blow we will forever defeat the giants in our life. This battle of ours is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan himself (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). It is a constant battle, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. But do not focus on the Giant, focus on the Lord who defeated all “giants” at the cross. Remember that Satan is already defeated…read the end of the book, Jesus is going to cast him into the lake of fire.

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death (Revelation 12:11).

When my heart is overwhelmed

“When my heart is overwhelmed…” We all face it at some point…being overwhelmed. The busy-ness, the adversity and the fears all hit us like a tsunami.

I searched for the word “overwhelmed” in the Bible, especially in the Psalms (I searched using the New King James Version). Here are some verses of comfort for you today if you are one of the overwhelmed. If you are not, consider sending these verses on to someone who is overwhelmed right now. God’s word has divine comfort for you and me.

When my heart is overwhelmed

To the Chief Musician. On A Stringed Instrument. A Psalm of David. 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. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah (Psalms 61:1-4).

Here is the entirety of Psalm 77. Look at how Asaph responded to being overwhelmed and what he searched and found out about God.

To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph. I cried out to God with my voice– To God with my voice; and He gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.

You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah

And I said, “This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid; the depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (Psalms 77:1-20).

Here are some other very valuable Psalms for when we are overwhelmed (Psalm 55:1-23; 102:1-28; 142:1-7; 143:1-12; Daniel 10:15-19). There are many others, of course. God’s word is relevant to any situation we face in life…you can trust that!

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Habakkuk was deeply distressed about the immoral state of his nation. He was certainly justified in these feelings. In his distress he cried out to the Lord, but the answers he received from the Lord were not comforting at first. God would deal with the sin of Judah, but he would use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to do it. “Wait a minute,” Habakkuk thinks, “how can a righteous and holy God use such a wicked and violent nation to punish His own people?” That is not the answer he was expecting…at all!

Through his conversation with God, we see the true character of Habakkuk shine as he is refined by God.

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD

Question: How can a man rejoice in the midst of wickedness, chaos and pending doom?

Habakkuk was told by the Lord that the righteous man “shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). “Trust Me,” God is saying. Trust His nature, His motives and His promises. Know and assume that God will always do the right thing, even if it doesn’t make sense to you and me.

Regardless of what happens around me, Habakkuk had to wait quietly for the day of distress (Habakkuk 3:16). There is a value to silence. The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him (Habakkuk 2:10). You know, this time of judgment was going to come whether or not Habakkuk had the right attitude! God was going to bring punishment upon Judah by Babylon and then He would destroy Babylon.

The purposes of God will be accomplished, so let us trust that God will always do the right thing. Let us also quiet our minds knowing that God will always take care of His people. We are “sealed” and “marked,” God knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). If you are a follower of God, you won’t get lost in the sauce.

So if the economy tanks and the nation crumbles (no produce, flocks and herds lost), yet we will rejoice in the Lord. The Lord and only the Lord is our strength. If my focus is on the material, then I will never develop true joy.

What Habakkuk learned long ago is what we as God’s men today must get straight in our heads. Especially now in America.