Ever wonder about the word “overwhelmed?” I know what it means, and the word even sounds kind of like how I feel when I feel that way. But I have never head anyone say they were “whelmed,” so I looked it up. To “whelm” means “to cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect,” which sounds bad enough; then, to be overwhelmed is to be pretty much helplessly beyond hope. Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with that feeling.
Fortunately, God is never overwhelmed, and He only allows us to be so that we will run to Him for help. King Jehoshaphat (yes, the jumping one) shows us exactly how to respond when circumstance threatens like a riptide.
During Jehoshaphat’s reign, three neighboring armies band together to conquer the land of Judah. “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance.” (1 Chronicles 20:3 NLT) Men, women and children from all over Judah came to Jerusalem “to seek the Lord’s help.”(v.4) Standing in front of his assembled countrymen, the king prays:
O Lord, God of our ancestors, You alone are God Who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against You! ... Did You not give this land forever to the descendants of Your friend Abraham? Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, plague, or famine, we can come stand in Your presence before this Temple where Your name is honored. We can come cry out to You to save us and You will hear us and rescue us…. We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You. (v. 6-9, 12)
The power of this prayer lies in its focus: it’s about God, not the fearsome enemy or the people’s weakness. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Jehoshaphat acknowledges God’s omnipotence, using “You” or “Your” eleven times. He celebrates the fulfilled promises of God and the confidence he has that God can and will rescue them. Their impotence in the face of disaster is real, but the nation of Judah knows Who to turn to for help.
The Holy Spirit comes upon one of the men in the crowd and he prophesies: “Don’t be discouraged by the mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s… You will not even need to fight. Take your positions, then stand still and watch the Lord’s victories…. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” (v.15-17) Jehoshaphat and the people bow low in grateful worship, then the priests stand to praise Him at the top of their lungs.
The next morning Judah’s army sets out to meet the enemy led by, of all things, a choir. (Take a moment to savor what faith that took, to go into battle against fearsome armies defended only by praise music.) The singers march ahead of the soldiers, praising God: “Give thanks to the Lord; His faithful love endures forever!” (v. 21) The account says that at the very moment the worshippers begin to sing, the hostile armies turn against each other and destroy each other completely- not a man is left standing among their enemies. The army of Judah spends three days collecting all the plunder from the battle, and they return home triumphantly celebrating the victory God has given. The surrounding kingdoms are sufficiently intimidated by God’s power, “so Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.” (v.30)
What a great story, right? God’s miraculous power works on behalf of His chosen people to destroy an army. It all sounds very Old Testament (and it is) but can I also have “rest on every side?”
God can do ANYTHING. I’ll give you an example. Both my family and my husband’s family decided to have reunions in my hometown this weekend. (Yes, the same weekend.) On both sides of the family, people were traveling great distances to be together, not just for fun, but because there are some big issues that need to be discussed in person. Combine aging parents, very small children, teenagers preparing for exams, and some strong (and wonderful) personalities, and add in the potential for conflict- on both sides of the family - let’s just say I was feeling overwhelmed. (Did I mention that I also have a terrible problem with trying to please everyone all the time?) Certainly nothing on the scale of what Jehoshaphat faced, but this weekend was my own version of a showdown with fear, uncertainty, intimidation and anxiety.
Jehoshaphat’s example teaches us to lean into our battles with the weapons of prayer and praise. Anxiety cannot sustain itself when my thoughts are occupied with seeking God, and this weekend He took over my “battle” for me. I noticed something else. When I am busy fighting a storm of negative emotion, I find myself fighting people, too. But when I train my eyes on God, I glimpse His image in each of the people around me and I have a lot more love, joy, peace, patience … all those things I cannot manufacture on my own. I think this is the “plunder” from the “battle” God fought for me!
My favorite moment of the weekend came when my husband’s stepmother gave me a hug. She is a deeply kind and intelligent woman who is battling Alzheimer’s, and the struggle is heartbreaking. She took my hand and said, “No matter what, God has always been right there with me. We are so blessed.” Like Jehoshaphat, she says, “I may not know what to do, but my eyes are on You.” We need not fear being either whelmed or overwhelmed: “Give thanks to the Lord; His faithful love endures forever!”
Father, I am terrified about_____. I am begging You for guidance and seeking Your help. You alone are God Who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against You! ... Whenever I am faced with any calamity such as _____, _____, or _____, I can come stand in Your presence and honor Your name. I come, crying out to You to _____. You will hear me and You will rescue me from _____…. I am powerless against_____. I do not know what to do, but my eyes are on You.
‘Our eyes are upon thee.’ Lord, if help does come, it must come from thee. We are looking to thee for it. It cannot come from anywhere else, so we look to thee. But we believe it will come, men will not look for that which they know will not come. We feel sure it will come, but we do not know how, so we are looking; we do not know when, but we are looking. We do not know what thou wouldest have us to do, but as the servant looks to her mistress, so are we looking to thee, Lord. Lord, we are looking. (Charles Spurgeon)
I will not be discouraged by _____, for the battle is Yours, Father, not mine… I do not even need to fight. I will praise You, and then I will stand still and watch Your victories…. I refuse to be afraid or discouraged, for You are with me!
I believe in You, oh my God- You will make me able to stand firm. I believe in Your prophets, and I will succeed in defeating my enemies. I give thanks to You, for Your faithful love endures forever.
I am overjoyed, Lord, when I realize that You grant me victory over _____. All my foes fear You: I am at peace, for You give me rest on every side.
The lyrics of my very favorite hymn, “How Firm a Foundation:”
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,/ Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!/ What more can He say than to you He hath said—/ To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?/ “Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,/ For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;/ I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,/ Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand./ “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,/ The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;/ For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,/ And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress./ “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,/ My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;/ The flame shall not harm thee; I only design/ Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine./ “The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,/ I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;/ That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,/ I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”