When the Heart is Overwhelmed

Michael Beck

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Because of his early triumphs, David is often looked upon as a calm and fearless superhero.
But scripture paints a complete, and different portrait of a man who had very common reactions to disturbing events. David acknowledged that his heart was frequently overwhelmed.

A Psalm of David. Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3)

If David didn’t find shelter in God when his heart was overwhelmed, he didn’t handle situations well.

When David’s heart was overwhelmed by FEAR, he made unwise decisions to protect himself [e.g. fleeing to Achish:“And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.” (1 Sam. 21:10); ordering Uriah’s death to cover-up his sin: “And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” (2 Sam. 11:15)]

When David’s heart was overwhelmed with ANGER, he made unwise decisions to exact vengeance [e.g. determining to kill Nabal and his men: “So David’s young men … came and told him all those sayings. And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword.” (1 Sam. 25:12,13; ordering the death of the rich man who took the poor man’s lamb: “And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die” (2 Sam. 12:5)]

David also experienced the common reaction of wanting to escape situations which overwhelmed him.

Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. (Psalm 55:5)

David became so overwhelmed at times by a situation confronting him that he did nothing (e.g, response to the rape of Tamar); or very little (e.g., response to Absalom’s turmoil.)

There are two sides of the spectrum we can go to when our heart is overwhelmed (both of which are wrong):
1.) TAKE UNWISE, EXCESSIVE ACTION and compound the problem. 2.) FREEZE, and watch the problem get bigger.

David was not a perfect man, but he knew the importance of having a “perfect heart.”
David charged Solomon to serve God with a “perfect heart.”
A perfect heart is willing to do what God wants, and knows it desperately needs God’s help to discover and do His will.

And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

Although Solomon did not end up having the testimony of his father (i.e., “… and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” (1 Kings 11:4); Solomon pleased God when he requested a “hearing heart” to tackle all the problems he would encounter.

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. (1 Kings 3:8,9)

understanding > Heb. verb – shama > to hear, listen to, give ear to, obey

The first example of Solomon’s hearing heart came when two harlots both laid claim to the same child. (see 1 Kings 3:16-28)

Though a situation can begin in contention and chaos, receiving wisdom from above will always bring it to a good conclusion.

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he. (Proverbs 16:20)

The “great peace” God would give us depends on us being taught of Him.

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. (Isaiah 54:11-13)

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. (Psalm 119:165)

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28,29)

David’s good example was seeking God when his heart was overwhelmed. He didn’t just want God to calm his heart; or immediately change the situation; he wanted God to show him how to deal with the situation according to His will.

A Psalm of David. Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness …
For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate …
Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me.
Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalm 143:1,3-12)

We need “wise counsel” to know how to righteously engage our enemies.

For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety. (Proverbs 24:6)

Finding godly counsel is a beautiful thing that can cause us to rejoice even while in the midst of an ongoing problem.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)

Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)

Having a godly friend and counsellor is a blessing; but many times when no one is there for us, we must go directly to the Lord.

Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave.
I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication.
I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.
I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. (Psalm 142:1-5)

Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.
Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.
Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. (Psalm 27:7-11)

We may or may not get the answers we need when we go to men, (they may overreact or under react); but we will always get the answers we need if we diligently seek God.

Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge. (Proverbs 14:7)

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. (Psalm 32:8,9)

We should not wait until we enter a “land” of great trouble to seek God. Seeking God must become a habit that starts with smaller disturbances and minor annoyances, when we’re still in a “land” of relative peace.

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee. (Jeremiah 12:5,6)

Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort … (Psalm 71:3)

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.