I have an old newspaper comic strip in my desk that I cut out years ago (Mr. Boffo, for those who are interested in such things). I saved it because I think it’s funny. In the top left corner of the comic is a box with the words, “Finalist… World’s Greatest Optimist Competition.” The image itself shows two cowboys sitting behind a log with their guns drawn. A few hundred yards in front of them, thousands of Indians on horseback are rushing toward them over the crest of a hill. One of the cowboys has turned to the other, and he says, “This isn’t going to be as easy as it looks.”
I’ve felt like one of those two cowboys a few times in my life, and I suspect that if you are over the age of five, you too have experienced such moments. Those of you with actual combat experience in wartime may have experienced something like this a little bit too literally.
There are moments when we simply feel overwhelmed. This can happen with school, work, or family matters. It can happen as a result of any number of things — bad news from the doctor, a broken water pipe in your wall or attic, severe weather, or simply watching the fearmongering on the nightly news. Difficult situations arise on an almost daily basis. How we respond to these situations is the issue. Do we respond in fear or do we respond in faith?
Moses provides an instructive biblical example of a man who likely felt overwhelmed on more than one occasion. While shepherding a flock near Mt. Horeb, he found himself commissioned by God to confront Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth at that time, and to lead well over six hundred thousand Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 12:37).
It was a daunting task to say the least, and Moses tried everything to talk his way out of it (Ex. 3–4). Eventually, he did as God instructed him, but after leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses had to deal with their constant grumbling and complaining (Ex. 16, 17; Num. 11). At one point, he was so overwhelmed with the task of judging the people that his father-in-law had to step in and advise him on the necessity of delegating some responsibilities (Ex. 18). Moses also had to put down personal opposition from within his own family (Num. 12) and a rebellion led by Korah (Num. 16). More than once, the apostasy of Israel was so great that Moses had to intercede with God to spare the nation from destruction (Ex. 32; Num. 14). To put it mildly, Moses had quite a task on his hands, and even though he grew exasperated with the people at times, he remained faithful. He did not give in to despair. He did not throw in the towel. He trusted God, he prayed, and he obeyed.
Paul says, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). These situations in the life of Moses can instruct us in two ways. Positively, Moses gives us (usually) an example of a godly way to respond to overwhelming situations. He prays. He seeks God’s will, and, upon discovering it, he obeys it. When he argues with God (Ex. 3–4) or when his exasperation and frustration get the best of him (Num. 20), God makes His displeasure known.
Negatively, we witness in the constant grumbling of Israel how not to respond to overwhelming situations. They grumble in fear as the armies of Pharaoh approach (Ex. 14). After God miraculously delivers them through the sea, they continue to grumble in the wilderness (Ex. 16–17). Note that they were not grumbling over minor, petty things. A well-trained army intent on your complete annihilation, potential starvation, and the lack of water in the middle of a desert: these are all very serious matters. The problem, however, is that the Israelites were forgetful of and ungrateful for God’s past deliverances, and lacked faith in God for any future deliverances. They fell prey to fear and gave up all hope.
Giving in to despair and cynicism is the easy way out when we feel overwhelmed by circumstances. On the other hand, casting our cares on God, refusing to worry, and doing what we need to do with faith, joy, and hope is difficult. We must trust God in such circumstances. We must remember what He has done for us in the past. We must trust that He loves us and that whatever circumstances He brings our way are for a reason. Finally, we must realize that responding faithfully is not as easy as it looks.
Now, the bad news is that because we are still sinners, we never respond to these situations perfectly. We get stressed. We worry. We grumble. We wonder how we are going to get through another day. We forget to seek God. We sin.
The good news is that if you are a believer in Jesus, His blood has covered these sins too. The good news is that no matter how overwhelming your circumstances might be right now, in Christ Jesus, there is rest, there is hope, and there is peace.