Have you ever felt like the answer to your prayers involved more confusion, complexity and intensity to your already painful circumstances? Navigating these feelings in my current season of life surfaced my growing need for God’s guidance when my heart is overwhelmed. For at times, in His flawless sovereignty, He places me in situations designed to exceed my independent ability for managing them, that I may grow in my knowledge and dependence on Him.
Seasons of intense pain, suffering or perplexity are what I term, “God’s severe mercy.” For despite the sovereign hand of God heaping more pain and disruption upon existing complications, He acts in mercy. Though the severe mercy drives me to desperation, the result is I feel my need for Him more intensely.
when desperation overwhelms my heart
God’s severe mercy pushing me to desperation never “feels good”; in fact it feels anything but merciful. Yet the emotional experience of desperation drives me to my knees seeking Him. Like many, I turn to the Psalms for solace and language of expression when my heart is overwhelmed. Recently reminded of the treasure of Psalm 25, I mined incredible wisdom from the man after God’s own heart, enriching my relationship with God in troubled times.
One of many times David entreats God for deliverance while in desperate circumstances, Psalm 25 models for us an approach to God which dispels fear and unbelief while gaining the correct perspective of God and His ways in troubling times. Praying through this psalm keenly invites us into deeper trust of God, and relinquishing of self-sufficiency.
an overwhelmed heart
Of course David’s overwhelmed heart no doubt stemmed from greater issues than those I face. The culture in David’s time made a king’s position not only precarious, but dangerous. Power hungry enemies from surrounding kingdoms and greedy traitors within threatened David almost daily.
David’s treatment of his enemies, however, differed from the ruthless norm of sovereigns of his time; instead, David commended his enemies into God’s care. By this action, David demonstrated to friend and foe alike, his complete trust rested in his God.
If like other regents, David took matters into his own hands in retaliation, his actions would indicate his faith in his own power, not God’s. David’s relegating of his enemies into God’s sovereign care required great courage and faith.
when faith and courage fail
Like us, David’s faith, courage and trust in God wavered in the face of desperate times. The psalms preserve a record of his personal prayers in just such times. Psalm 25 offers us an intimate view of David’s interaction with God. When my heart is overwhelmed, his words guide me to God.
“Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.” (Psalm 25:1-3)
Notice how David approaches God; before listing the situation driving him to God, he asks for something deeper. In asking for his enemies failure to triumph over him, he asks God that he not be put to “shame”.
David is not making this about him; on the contrary, by asking God preserve his integrity, he actually pleads God preserve HIS glory. David publically and repetitively declared his trust in God; if God allowed David to be put to shame and defeated by his enemies, God’s name would be put to open shame.
the need of an overwhelmed heart
David then moves into asking for the need of his overwhelmed heart. With his life hanging in the balance notice what David’s request contains:
“Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.” (Psalm 25:4-7)
Transitioning from the first three verses to verses four through seven, puzzled me. When my heart is overwhelmed, my vision sees only the looming problem. Yet in these verses, David mentions his enemies not one time. His focus steadfastly fixes on the Source of help, rather than the problem.
How many times I approach God in fear, anger or panic, engulfed in the problem rather than the Source of help? As a result my requests tend towards the removal of the problem and relief from the problem. David asks for neither!
Requests Reveal the Heart
David’s overwhelmed heart requested only two things:
- Guidance. Painful, confusing and overwhelming circumstances often leave us feeling unsure of how to act. At times our decisions in desperate situations pose ramifications we fear or fail to comprehend. Like us, David most likely felt the same way, yet instead of asking for removal or relief, he asked God to reveal His ways and His truths. Humbling himself before the God of his salvation.
- Forgiveness. David had an accurate view of himself and his circumstances; he faced his guilt and sinful nature, seeking forgiveness and God’s mercy upon him. Again, humbling himself by trusting in God’s steadfast love, mercy and goodness, asking God not to remember his sins.
Contemplating what David’s requests of God in his desperate situation revealed about his heart, regrettably, too often my requests of God reveal my problem fixation rather than my focus on God’s Presence and promises.
During our darkest moments, His voice is the light guiding us through the storm.DM Bucher
the belief of an overwhelmed heart
Amazingly, David moves from his request for guidance and forgiveness into a “statement of faith” in verses eight to fifteen.
“Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.” (Psalm 25:8-15)
David now tells God what he believes about Him. God is good to sinners who humble themselves, He teaches them His ways and guides them, while protecting and dwelling with them. But one sentence caught my eye in verse ten, “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.”
David, in a desperate situation beyond his means, knowing fully what awaited him, prayed, All the paths of the Lord were mercy and truth for them who trusted Him. A prayer of surrender in whichever way God led, David knew He led in mercy, steadfast love, and truth.
the emotions of an overwhelmed heart
The most revealing section of the whole psalm comes in verses sixteen to twenty-two. In David’s prayer for his desperate situation, he relates his feelings at the very last. He first brings the problem to God, then he petitions God for his need of wisdom and forgiveness, confesses his deep faith in God and finally shares the emotions swirling in his heart.
“Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred. O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 25:16-22)
Sitting with David’s words in this psalm, I believe the order in which he petitioned God holds great signifcance for us. Confessing what he believed about God before baring his emotions to God reveals David’s reliance on his knowledge of and personal experience with God.
Belief Before Emotion
Considering David surely felt fear, anxiety, sadness and turmoil of heart, as I certainly do when faced with a desperate situation; he displayed wisdom in wrapping those emotions in the truth of what he knew about God.
The emotions I feel when my heart is overwhelmed are not wrong; but as David no doubt knew, they bode danger. Powerful emotions have the ability to diminish our courage; but choosing instead the rehearsal of God’s goodness and our beliefs about Him, we submit powerful emotions under His sovereignty, increasing our faith.
when my heart is overwhelmed
Accepting and praying for trials and suffering we find overwhelming, confusing and troubling, becomes clear as we follow David through Psalm 25. When my heart is overwhelmed, following the man after God’s own heart, I bring my troubles to the Lord, ask God for wisdom and forgiveness, confess my belief about God to Him, finally casting my anxiety, fear, and pain upon Him.
David’s methods for approaching God vary throughout the psalms; let us avoid grasping the pattern in Psalm 25 as a “magic prayer formula.” But learning to stir up my faith through the rehearsal of God’s goodness and faithfulness gave me the courage to subsequently cast my troubles upon Him rather than fixate on them. Resulting in my resting in the knowledge that all His paths are steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness.