We are kicking off a brand new series today called Overwhelmed. It’s going to be awesome, because not only are we going to be digging into this series here on Sunday mornings, but all of our Connect Groups are going to be digging even deeper into it throughout each week. So if you haven’t joined a Connect Group, this is THE time to do it. Just catch us afterward and we’ll get you plugged in.
The idea for this series came from a sermon series and a book written by Perry Noble, pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. Our Connect Groups are going to be reading through the book throughout this series, and we have books available at the Connect Center. So I’ll go ahead and tell you that some of what you hear in this series is not original with me or with Brian Morrissey, who will be preaching in a few weeks. We owe some of the content to Perry Noble and to NewSpring Church, who has generously shared resources for this series with us.
So with that said, let’s go. I’m so glad this series is finally here. I’ve really been looking forward to this one. And the reason I’ve been so excited about this series is because every single one of us can relate. We all know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed. And a whole lot of us are in a place where we feel overwhelmed in our lives right now.
Maybe you have really young kids, and it’s just overwhelming. You’re up all hours of the night. The baby has colic. Your two-year-old has another ear infection. Instead of being husband and wife, it feels like you and your spouse are just full-time babysitters now. You’re worried about keeping up at work because you’re so tired. And it just gets overwhelming.
Or maybe you have teenagers. The words “teenager” and “overwhelmed” are synonyms, aren’t they? They just go together. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. They go together like Luke Bryan and lady jeans. Seriously, you’re running everywhere trying to keep up with everything they’ve got going on. You set some boundaries for them that you believe are wise, but they inform you that their friends’ parents have very different boundaries. Then they start dating, and you begin to wish that your life was over. They’re caught somewhere in this weird place between childhood and adulthood. You’re trying to figure out how to handle it, but there’s just no manual for how to deal with it. And you feel overwhelmed.
If you’re a student, it can be very easy for you to feel overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed sounds like a very “adult” thing, but it’s not. At least it’s not anymore. If you’re a student, you can be under immense pressure. You’ve got to keep a certain GPA to get into this college. School is requiring more and more from students at a younger and younger age. Way more than your parents had to deal with at your age. And on top of that, you’ve got sports. Band. Maybe a part-time job. And it can all just get overwhelming. And adults, if you think that kids have it easy, you’re wrong. There is a ton of pressure. And sometimes moms and dads just add to the pressure. And it just gets overwhelming.
Maybe you’re in the stage of life where you’re caring for an elderly parent. That’s incredibly overwhelming, isn’t it? It’s such a hard transition to go from “you took care of me” to now “I take care of you.” You have to watch the person who raised you deteriorate. You have to make incredibly difficult decisions. Decisions they can’t make. Decisions they might vehemently disagree with, but you know it’s in their best interests. They get angry with you, not because they hate you, but because they hate the situation that they’re in. You feel like you’re always in an unwinnable situation. And it’s overwhelming.
Maybe you’re dealing with a marriage that has hit a bump in the road. Or maybe it’s been more than a bump. Maybe your marriage has hit a boulder. Or maybe, it’s just over. You’re trying to navigate through life now that you’re divorced. Whatever the case, when you walked down the aisle and said, “I do,” you never dreamed it would work out this way. You feel helpless and hopeless. You feel overwhelmed.
And the list could go on and on and on. You know what your overwhelming situation is. The reality is that life can be overwhelming. It’s just the truth. Life can be overwhelming.
But this is equally true. You have to DECIDE if you’re going to be overwhelmed or if you’re going to overcome. And it is just that. It is a decision. You have to DECIDE if you’re going to be overwhelmed or if you’re going to overcome.
Your overwhelming situation will always be an overwhelming situation, if you allow it. The first step in our journey out of being overwhelming is a decision that we make. It’s deciding that instead of being overwhelmed, we are going to overcome.
Now, the bad news is that this decision doesn’t change your circumstances. Your situation probably isn’t going to change while you sit in this room. Whatever situation you walked in with, you’re probably going to walk out with. Your circumstances probably aren’t going to change during the hour and ten minutes that you’re sitting in this room.
But here’s what can change. And this is a really big deal. What can change is your focus. In this series, we’re going to shift our focus from our situation to our Savior. If we change that focus, everything in our life can change. That’s not overstating it. That’s the truth. If we decide to focus on our Savior and not our situation, that will free us to overcome instead of being overwhelmed.
The reality is what gets our attention will ultimately determine our direction. It’s true. What gets our attention will ultimately determine our direction.
Here’s what that means. If I focus on circumstances, then I an always going to be overwhelmed. If my situation is what always gets my attention, then that will produce fear, anxiety, worry, and even depression.
But if I focus on my Savior, something very different happens. Peace happens. Hope happens. Joy happens. Instead of being overwhelmed, I begin to overcome, not because of who I am, but because of who Christ is. Not because of what I can do, but because of what Jesus has done and what He is doing for me.
What gets our attention will ultimately determine our direction. And so this series is all about redirecting our attention, changing our focus back to where it needs to be. Taking our focus off of our situation and putting it back on our Savior.
Because here’s the deal…our Savior is greater than our situation.
This is going to sound so simplistic, but the simplest truths are usually the most awesome truths.
God is great. (Now I know some of you want to finish it by saying, “God is good, and we thank Him for our food. Amen.” That’s a sermon for another time.)
God is great. That sounds so simple. That sounds like something that would be taught in the kids rooms behind me. But if we don’t own this truth, we will never overcome. We will always be overwhelmed.
We’re going to be spending a lot of time today in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Daniel faced some seriously overwhelming circumstances in his life.
Let me set it up for us. In 605 BC, the nation of Babylon invaded the nation of Israel. And that invasion was bloody and brutal. Thousands of people died. It was one of the darkest chapters in Israel’s history.
And that’s where we’re going to pick it up with Daniel. Israel had been overthrown by the Babylonians. And here’s what happened to Daniel.
Go to Daniel 1, starting in verse 3. “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.
He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” (Daniel 1:3-7, NIV)
When the Babylonians invaded a nation, they would take the best and brightest of their captives and make them slaves. That’s what happened to Daniel. Put yourself in Daniel’s situation. One day, Daniel is among Israelite royalty. The next day, he was a slave to the Babylonians. Think that might have been a little overwhelming?
But it’s actually even worse than that. A lot of historians believe that the Babylonians probably killed some of Daniel’s family and friends right in front of him. This was done to make sure that the new slaves knew just how serious and powerful the Babylonians were.
Then after that, they marched Daniel across two deserts. They changed his language. Some scholars even believe they made Daniel a eunuch. If you don’t know what that is, ask somebody else after church. But you probably don’t want to Google it. I’m not sure what you would find if you did that. But let’s just say, that’s a bad day!
I think we can all agree that Daniel is in absolutely overwhelming circumstances.
But now, look at the next verse. This is key.
Verse 8: “But Daniel (we need to underline those two words. But Daniel. That’s so important. We’re going to come back to that.) resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” (Daniel 1:8, NIV)
Now, this is a little confusing at first. Here’s Daniel. His nation has been overthrown. His family was killed right before his eyes. He has been enslaved. They marched him across two deserts. He’s in a strange land, not knowing what is going to happen next.
And then, all of a sudden, they bring him a steak and a glass of wine. And he turns it down. I don’t think I would have done that. If I had gone through everything that Daniel had gone through, I think I would have said, “Set that food down right here and keep my wine glass filled, because it’s on!”
Now, some people who have kind of highjacked this part of the story. They’ve tried to change it into some kind of health or diet thing. Because Daniel turned down the royal food and ate only vegetables, some people have used that as a proof text to support a diet, being a vegetarian or vegan or whatever.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, that’s fine. Go for it. But don’t use this as your proof text, because while Daniel’s diet was healthier than it would have been had he eaten the royal food, that was not the point. That wasn’t the point AT ALL.
Here’s why Daniel took this stand and didn’t eat the royal food. In Babylonian culture, they would often take the food and wine that was going to be served on the king’s table and they would put that food before the Babylonian gods. This was a polytheistic culture. They worshipped many gods. They had a god named Bel. They had a god named Marduk. And on and on.
Then after they placed the food and wine in front of their gods, they would take that food and give it to the people. And if you ate this food and drank this wine, you were publicly saying, “I am a worshiper of the gods of Babylon.”
And Daniel drew a line right there. Daniel said, “You can overthrow my nation. You can kill my family. You can make me a slave. You can try to change my name. But I will not acknowledge another god.”
Daniel owned the truth that we have to own in our lives. God is great. My God is greater than my circumstances. My Savior is greater than my situation.
Yes, what I’m going through is hard. Yes, what I’m going through is confusing. Yes, what I’m going through is hurting me. And no, I don’t know how this is going to turn out. But here’s what I do know. My God is greater. My God is greater than the circumstances that I am facing.
Daniel was in an incredibly overwhelming situation, but he focused his eyes, not on his situation, but on his Savior.
Let’s dig just a little deeper here. Look at the first two words of this verse again. “But Daniel.” That’s huge. Let me tell you why.
I’d like to remind us all that we are in the Old Testament book of Daniel. When you read through the rest of the book of Daniel, it always refers to Daniel as Daniel. Here’s why that’s so important.
They tried to change Daniel’s name. And in that culture, when you changed someone’s name, you changed their identity. They wanted to change his name to Belteshazzar.
The name Daniel means “God is my judge.” The name Belteshazzar means, “Bel saves.” Bel was one of the Babylonian gods.
Here’s why that matters so much. Daniel never took on the identity that they tried to give him. He never took on the identity of a worshiper of Bel. He never took on the identity of a slave.
We’re not reading the book of Belteshazzar. We’re reading the book of Daniel. Here in verse 8, it doesn’t say, “But Belteshazzar.” It says, “But Daniel.”
And here’s why that’s so critical. If you and I don’t want to be overwhelmed, we can’t take on the identity of a slave.
If we are in Christ, we are free. Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5. He said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NIV)
It is for freedom that Christ set us free. In other words, freedom is the whole point. If you are in Christ, you are free. So why are you still living like a slave? Why are you still allowing an overwhelming situation to enslave you?
As long as your situation still defines you, you’ll be a slave. But when your Savior defines you, you are free.
That’s what Jesus does for us. He changes our identity. We are no longer defined by our situation. We are defined by our Savior. But when we take our focus off of Jesus and start focusing on our situation, we allow ourselves to become enslaved all over again.
Last Sunday was not a good day for me. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say that if it could go wrong last Sunday, it did. I spent my whole morning trying to keep things glued together before the service started. Now, if you were here last Sunday, you didn’t know any of this was happening because one of our commitments is that when 10:30 am comes, we are ready. We are ready for our guests. We are ready for kids. We are ready to worship. That’s our commitment.
But sometimes getting there is crazy. And when you’re a portable church, it can occasionally be extra crazy. That was my day last Sunday. And I was doing everything I could to just hold things together, because I know that, as the pastor of this church, people can take their cues from me. If I lose my cool, it can start a very bad pattern. So outwardly, I tried to remain calm. But inwardly, I was thinking, “The next person who tells me that something has gone wrong, I’m going to jack their jaw!”
And even after the service started, I was still fighting this stuff inside. I stood on the back wall and, while the band was playing, I didn’t sing. Now, occasionally I don’t sing because I’m trying to save my voice to preach. So if you ever see me not singing, that’s probably why. But last week, it was because I was still all out of sorts. And to be honest, I just didn’t “feel” like singing.
Until our band rolled out one particular song. It’s a song that just speaks to me. It’s a song that is laser focused on who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. And in that moment, everything in me changed. Because in that moment, I stopped focusing on my situation and I started focusing on my Savior. And all of a sudden, the crapstorm that I had dealt with all morning didn’t matter anymore. Now, none of the circumstances had changed. But in that moment, my focus changed. And when your focus changes, everything else changes too.
Where is your focus? Is it on your situation? Or is it on your Savior, who is greater than your situation?
God is great. It sounds so simple, but it’s the foundation of everything in our lives. God is great.
And God is able.
One our leaders here at Connect recently got a new truck. And it’s a beast. It’s a big mamma jamma. And after talking with Jamin, I’m pretty sure that he’s just looking for things to pull with his truck. In fact, he told me that he’s just looking for an excuse to put a gooseneck hitch on his truck. He just needs a reason. So if anybody has a trailer that needs towed, or something that needs hauled, a tree that needs to be pulled down, or maybe your house needs to be moved a few feet, just call Jamin. He’ll bring his truck and he’ll be all over it.
Now, I’ve got a truck, too. But it’s nothing like Jamin’s truck. And to be honest, the first time I saw his truck, I felt a little inferior. When I have to tow something, I have to check the weight. I have to make sure that my truck is rated to pull it. Jamin doesn’t care. Whatever it is, Jamin will hook his truck up to it and it’s on!
And you know why? Because Jamin knows that his truck is able. The reason he wants to use it is simple. He knows the power that he has at his disposal. He knows that his truck is able.
Here’s my question. What if we took that approach in our relationship with God? What if we really believed that God is able? What if we really believed that God is able to pull us through whatever circumstances we are facing? What if we believed that God is able, not just in our heads, but in our hearts? In our souls? In every part of our lives? What if we really believed that God is great, and God is able? I’ll tell you what would happen. It would change everything.
When you read the story of Daniel, you see that God didn’t show up and tell Daniel, “You’re going to have a bad time. It’s going to be really rough, but if you don’t eat their food, then I’ll do this, and this, and this. There’s going to be a book of the Bible named after you. And people are going to name their sons after you. And there’s going to be a Veggie Tales character named after you. It’s just going to be awesome!”
That didn’t happen. Here’s all Daniel knew. “I’m in the middle of an overwhelming circumstance that is trying to define me. But God is greater than my circumstance, and He’s able to pull me through.”
“But Daniel, what about everything that is happening to you?”
“I don’t know about any of that. I don’t know why this has happened. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But here’s what I do know. My God is greater than my circumstances, and my God is able to pull me through.”
Look at the next two verses in Daniel 1. “Now God…”
Just stop right there for a second. Underline those two words. Now God.
But Daniel. And now God.
And here’s why those two words are crucial. Because God is a right now God. He is at work in your situation right now. He’s a right now God.
Too many times, we think of Him as a back then God. He was working for those people back then in Bible times, but He’s not working for me right now. Wrong. God is a right now God.
Sometimes when we are in overwhelming circumstances, we can see Him as a “but when” God. But when I get through this…no. He’s not a back then God. And He’s not a but when God. He is a right now God.
He is with you right now. He is working in your life right now. He is working for His glory and your good, right now.
“But I can’t see it.”
I get that. I really do. When we can’t see it, we’ve got to believe it. He’s greater than our circumstances, and He is able to pull us through. And He’s at work, even though we can’t see what He is doing.
I’ve said this time and time again from this stage. Just because you can’t see what God is doing doesn’t mean He’s doing nothing.
God is with you right now. God is working in your situation right now. You may not be able to see it right now, but God is at work in your life right now. Just because you can’t see what God is doing doesn’t mean He’s doing nothing.
Let’s keep reading in Daniel 1, because we see that God was at work right now.
“Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” (Daniel 1:9-10, NIV)
Anytime you decide that God is great and God is able, the world is going to put pressure on you to compromise. Daniel had made up his mind, but the official said, “No, you can’t do that.” But Daniel stood strong. He wouldn’t eat this food, and thereby acknowledge the gods of the Babylonians.
And here’s what happened. Look at the next verses. “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar.
The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (Daniel 1:11-20, NIV)
Daniel stood firm on his conviction that God is great and God is able. And look at what happened. God didn’t deliver Daniel from his circumstances. He delivered him through his circumstances. And the same God that did that for Daniel can do it for us.
God is not threatened by your situation. Your circumstances don’t scare Him. Nothing that is happening in your life surprises Him. He is greater and He is able.
And if you really want to see if this true, you don’t have to look any further than Jesus. Jesus faced the most overwhelming circumstance the world can offer: death. I think we can all agree that, out of all the overwhelming circumstances we can face, death takes the cake. Death is the biggest and baddest of them all.
Jesus faced that overwhelming circumstance head on when He died on the cross. But three days later, He proved that even death couldn’t hold Him back. He rose to life again. He walked out of the tomb and He reigns in victory today.
Jesus died on that cross to pay the price for all your sin. You know that sin that is overwhelming you. You know the guilt from your past that never seems to let you go? You know how you are overwhelmed because you never think you’ll be good enough, you’ll never measure up? Jesus died to take that overwhelming sin and guilt and shame off of you forever.
And in His resurrection, He overwhelmed the most overwhelming force in our world. And His resurrection to life gives us a brand new life. A life of freedom. A life of peace. A life of joy.
Not an easy life. Not a life where everything is always perfect. Not a life where there are no problems, no issues, no struggles, no hurt, and no pain. But a life that overcomes. We can live an overcoming life because we have an overcoming Savior.
We have a Savior who is great and we have a Savior who is able.