When the Spirit Is Overwhelmed
“My spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate.” Psa_143:4
There are some natures more prone than others to this overwhelming of the spirit, but it wouldn’t be true to say that the peril is limited to temperament. Some of the last persons one would ever dream of are prone to this hopeless sinking of the heart. I would expect it in Jeremiah, that most tremulous of all the prophets; but in Elijah—that man of iron will—I would scarcely anticipate finding it. Yet in the life of Elijah came an hour when, plunged into the deeps, his prayer was that God would let him die. There are few things that men hide so well as this inner desolation.
Sometimes such an overwhelming feeling comes for reasons that are purely physical. This is the body of our humiliation, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I asked a friend only the other evening if she ever experienced an overwhelmed spirit, and she answered, “When I am very, very tired.” Nothing is more delicate and subtle than the interaction of the body and the soul. Lack of faith is sometimes related to lack of health which should make us very tenderhearted and forbearing in judgment towards those who are never really well.
Sometimes we become overwhelmed through simple failure to do our duty. To shirk our God-appointed task is to court the presence of despair. When Christian and Hopeful were on the King’s Highway, Giant Despair was never encountered. But when they got into By-path Meadow, then they fell into the giant’s clutches. And whenever anybody leaves the King’s Highway, sooner or later, but inexorably, “melancholy marks him for her own.” To omit the task we know we ought to do, to shirk the duty of the hour and shun the cross, to refuse to lift the burden and put selfishness in place of service—all this, in this strange life of ours, is to head straight for the overwhelmed spirit.
Times of Darkness Are Not Times for Judgment
I should like, too, to add here that we should never pass judgment in overwhelming hours. Let a man accept the verdict of his Lord, but never the verdict of his melancholy. Hours come when everything seems wrong and when all the lights of heaven are blotted out, and how often, in such desolate hours, do we fall to judging the universe and God! It is part of the conduct of the instructed soul to resist that as a temptation of the devil. Such hours are always unreliable. The things that frighten us in the night are the things we smile at in the morning. We are like that traveler who in the fog thought he saw a ghost; when it came nearer, he found it was a man; and when it came up to him, it was his brother. Overwhelming times are times for leaning; God does not mean them to be times for judging. They are given to us for trusting; they are not given to us for summing up. Leave that till the darkness has departed and the dawn is on the hills, and in His light we see light again.
Indeed, the great need in overwhelming hours is the old, old need of trust in God. It is to feel, as the hymn has it, that we are “safe in the arms of Jesus.” To be assured that God is love and that He will never leave us nor forsake us; to be assured that He knows the way we take and that His wings are folded over us all the time, that is the way to keeping a brave heart when everything is dark and desolate. Plunged into such depths, there is something even deeper. There is the love of God commended in the cross. Underneath are the everlasting arms. So we endure as seeing the invisible, and then (and often sooner than we expect) the day breaks and the shadows flee away.