There is a good side to being overwhelmed even though it almost always has a negative connotation in our culture. In spite of my own reactions, I believe we ought to embrace being overwhelmed. See, in my own life, I mostly try and avoid this feeling and for many different reasons. In my modern world I have complete control over pretty much everything and this feeling of “being overwhelmed” is unnerving. I try and avoid it or dominate it, really whatever I can do to undo it. But I think I’m missing out on something important because of this.
When confronted with being overwhelmed sometimes we despair. We see the mass of what needs to be done, make the calculations of how long it will take to do everything and realise we won’t come close to making the deadline. We are likely to give up, knowing we just won’t be able to get done what needs to get done.
On the other hand, sometimes when this feeling rouses its head we try and overcompensate. We see that deadline looming so we work harder and sleep less as we lock ourselves away from the rest of society until finished and are exhausted at the end.
Just yesterday I was in a conversation at a staff meeting and we were discussing how overwhelming God’s mission can feel. In our city, the rough estimate is that about 2% of the 2.7 million people are believers. When talking about how we can actually be a part of God’s mission on earth: bringing light to those 98% of people living in darkness…well, it’s just plain overwhelming. How ought we to respond to this feeling? Do we throw our hands in the air and give up or do we all just decide to grip harder and clench our teeth tighter?
Passivity in despair and aggression in overcompensation are merely shallow reactionary ways of living. Despair leads to nothing getting done, overcompensating leads to burn out. We often waffle between the two: first, overcompensating, then despairing, et cetera, but neither are sustainable ways of living out the calling God has given us. Instead of avoiding or dominating this feeling, I think we should embrace it. Let’s see why I believe being overwhelmed can actually be a good thing.
First off, we ought to be overwhelmed. This is God’s vision for the world in Isaiah 2:2–3:
“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob.”
How is this not overwhelming?! All nations in a gravity-defying stream toward God? People who aren’t God’s people talking about seeking God’s presence: these are our neighbours, friends, colleagues. Right now, Manchester doesn’t feel like that flowing river, but this is what God is about. How can we possibly be a significant part of this?
God’s mission ought to overwhelm us. We are overwhelmed by His love toward those who deserve his anger. Overwhelmed by how obsessed He is in bringing life to dead places. Overwhelmed by His glory being made known to the ends of the earth…and that we are called to play a part in it. If we aren’t overwhelmed by what God has called us to, our plans are too small and our hearts are too hard.
This kind of overwhelming should lead to a response of humility and submission. Before we do anything, we are included in God’s grand plan. He pursues us with the same kind of unstoppable love that Hosea pursued Gomer. A man of God, a prophet, marries a prostitute. She leaves him, but he still pursues her. Gomer’s rebellion leads her into slavery and Hosea buys her back, clothes her naked body and continues to love her as his wife. We are Gomer and we are bought back and brought into a loving relationship. There is no room for pride in this relationship.
When we find ourselves caught up in such a love, we rightfully desire to submit to it. How silly would it have been for Gomer to object to being cared for after being found as a naked slave? The proper response to something so big, so amazing and so good is submission. We submit our broken selves to God’s goodness and the plans He has for us.
From humility and submission flow peace and inspiration. We can be at peace when overwhelmed because we aren’t in this alone, we find ourselves in God’s embrace. Being in God’s embrace means that we don’t do things in our own power anymore. God’s embrace leads to God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and He is the One working within us. That gives us peace, allowing us to rest, believing that God is always work: “he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4).
It might sound counter-intuitive, but being overwhelmed can lead to inspiration: not the cheesy greeting card fare, but the motivating force to actually do something. Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:1 writes this:
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
Why don’t we lose heart? Through the mercy of God we have “this ministry”. What is “this ministry”? In the previous verses, Paul is talking about the ministry of the Spirit: the new covenant. We who have been the focus of God’s mercy are now being transformed into the image of Christ. All those whom Christ has called out of darkness into His glorious light now can live in such a way where we do not lose heart. The inspiration we need to be a part of God’s mission has already been given to us through the glory of the gospel.
The Father has sent the Son to break into our world and redeem us from our broken selves and broken plans, buying us out of slavery and giving us a better life. The Father and the Son send the Spirit to reside in us, now radically changing us, giving us the gift of humility, submission, peace and inspiration. The Trinity has sent us, together as the Church, into the world that we might participate in this stream of nations to God’s holy mountain.
Are you overwhelmed? Good.