Leadership Lifter: What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed – Part One

by Rick Warren

A lot of things can overwhelm us. Grief, guilt, grudges, worry, responsibilities, or circumstances. As the holidays approach, these factors are often multiplied. As a leader in ministry, with increased duties at the church combined with increased family responsibilities and functions, this can be a particularly tough time and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. This month we are going to begin looking at what to do when you are overwhelmed.

We will begin by looking at the life of a young girl named Mary. Luke 1:26-30 (NLT) tells us, “God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman. The Lord is with you.’ Confused and disturbed Mary tried to think of what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be frightened, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for God has decided to bless you.’”

At this time, Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old. In those days marriages were arranged, so Joseph had probably been chosen to be husband of this young peasant girl. Think about it. Mary is a virgin and very young. An angel shows up and tells her that she is about to have a child from God.

How would you react to that kind of news? I can imagine Mary thinking, “How in the world am I going to explain this one? Who in the world is going to believe me?” She had to think through the implications of this news the angel had told her. “Joseph is going to probably leave me. My parents are going to doubt me. The community is going to disgrace me. My reputation is shot. In those days you could be stoned for immorality.  to know that losing her life was a possibility.

The Bible says she is confused and disturbed. There’s a better word for this – overwhelmed. Think about what she could be dealing with.

First, there’s the fear of criticism. What’s everybody going to think?

Then there’s the fear of the supernatural. Exactly how is this going to happen? And what’s going to happen inside of my body?

Then there’s the fear of in adequacy. I’m going to be the mother of the Son of God? Do you think feelings of in adequacy would come up? Absolutely!

There’s the fear of change. How is this going to change my life because I know my life is going to be totally changed?

She was overwhelmed.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? I don’t care if you’re overwhelmed by debt, overwhelmed by fatigue, overwhelmed by stress, or overwhelmed by the responsibilities of leadership. You need to do the same three things that Mary did when she received overwhelming news. Which will probably be the exact opposite of what you feel like doing!

Mary was overwhelmed when the angel came to her and told her this news. But the angel said, “Mary, you’re going to be blessed.” Here’s the principle: we usually feel overwhelmed right before we’re going to be blessed. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed in any area – congratulations you’re about to be blessed!

What do I do when I feel like my life is overwhelmed? The first thing I do is what Mary did and it’s this:

1. Let go of my need to control the situation.

Typically the more out of control we feel, the more overwhelmed we feel, the more we try to control the situation. We try to control it more. We micromanage. We use force. We use willpower to try to make it work.

We do that all the time. Parents do this with their kids as they start growing up and start showing the first examples of independence. They say, “We’re not going to let that get out of control so we’re going to nip it in the bud right now! We’re going to push it down. We’re going to put them on restriction. We’re not going to let this get any bigger. We’re going to control it right now!!”

So much of the stress in your life is caused by this desire to micromanage everything, to control everything, to be the manager of the universe. The more you try, the harder you try to control the things that are uncontrolled in your life, the more overwhelmed you feel.

The fact is most of life is out of your control and most of life you can’t figure out. The Bible calls life “a mystery.” God not only glories in revealing things but the Bible says God glories in concealing things. God intentionally doesn’t tell us certain things about life. Why? To force us to rely on Him, to depend on Him. There are some things you are just not ever going to figure out. You have to let go of your need to control it.

In Luke 1:34 and 37 (NLT) Mary asked the angel after she heard this big news, “But how? But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘Nothing’s impossible with God.’”

This is a typical reaction when we feel overwhelmed. We say “but how?” How in the world am I going to get it all done on time? How in the world am I going to make that payment? How in the world am I going to solve that problem? How in the world am I going to get that person to love me again?” We ask the “But how?” question.

Mary did not doubt what God had said to the angel. She didn’t doubt that it was going to happen. She was just puzzled. Mary is thinking, “How could a virgin have a baby?” Good question. People are still asking that one 2000 years later. We’re still asking, “How did that happen?”

The angels’ response is not to give a detailed explanation of how this is going to happen. He just says, “Is anything too hard for God?” No. God can do anything. He can do everything. So don’t sweat it. Just let go of your need to control the situation.

Here’s the principle: whatever is bugging you in your life right now, you need to understand that although it’s out of your control it’s not out of God’s control. When Mary understood this she stopped worrying and she started trusting. She relaxed and her response was instant and it was simple.

Notice what Mary answered when the angel said, “God will do this.” She responded in the next verse. “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. I am willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said come true.’”

This is the first secret of peace. I don’t care what overwhelms you. The first secret of peace is let go. Let go of control. Let God handle it. Mary says, “I’m giving up control. I yield to God. I surrender to His will. I give it up.” There’s a word for that. It’s called faith. She’s showing faith. She’s saying, “Ok, God. I don’t know how You’re going to do it but I trust You to do it.” That’s a hard thing to do.

Let’s admit it, many of us in leadership are control freaks. We have this innate desire to control everything around us because we know how to make it better. If everybody else would just let us rule the world everything would be perfect. If everybody in our family would do it our way, and if our staff would do it your way, life would be grand. We have this need to control.

There’s a verse in the Bible just for control freaks. It’s Proverbs 3:5. This version is from The Message, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart. Don’t try to figure out everything on your own.” Does that sound familiar? I don’t have to figure everything out. That’s one of the most important lessons in life. I don’t have to figure everything out. In fact if you try to figure out God you’re going to be severely frustrated because God cannot be figured out. He’s much bigger than your brain can handle. And every time you try to figure out why God does what He does you’re going to be disappointed and frustrated because it is impossible. Don’t even try. Just let it go.

Join me next month as we continue to look at what to do when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and author of such internationally best-selling books such as The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church.

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2 Responses to Leadership Lifter: What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed – Part One

  1. Sounds good but so hard to do especially in the business world. So many people trying to bring you down, just like they did in the church I pastored for 13 years. Pray for me.

  2. Al Cotton says:

    Awesome and timely message. I appreciate your ministry Pastor Rick!

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