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When the Needs of the World Are Overwhelming
Sometimes I wish media would just crawl in a hole and die.
No, that’s not a statement about biased reporters or skewed networks or even fake news.
It’s a statement about our culture that is saturated with information.
All kinds of information, really, but what I’ve been thinking about lately is the information overload about the needs of the world.
Are you with me?
When Technology Makes You Omniscient (Well, Almost)
Even fifty years ago, our knowledge about world affairs was limited to our communities, our newspapers, and our television sets.
Which means not many of us were confronted with video of the world’s disasters. Certainly not live. And it was easy enough to avoid if you happened to be so inclined.
Thanks to modern technology, we’ve never been so close to omniscience (a theological word that refers to the all-knowing nature of God).
Think about it…
Traveling to the other side of the world no longer requires a thousands-of-miles journey, but rather the single click of a finger.
No more are we limited to a handful of black-and-white newsprint images of suffering souls we’ll never meet; we can now see video coverage of them in living color, even live, as disasters are actually occurring.
Never before have we known so much about those around the world living in poverty. Those sold into sold into slavery. Those mistreated, abused, and killed because of greed or lust or anger.
Never before have we been so aware of those who don’t even have clean water, and who live and die with terrible diseases as a result.
Never before have we seen the faces of so many orphans. So many victims. So much pain.
Never before have we so personally encountered the staggeringly vast and varied needs of the world.
And I can’t help but feel the weight of this thing called knowing-almost-everything-about-everything.
Knowledge Without Power Is Helplessness
What do we do in the face of a billion needs that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears and feel with our hearts, but are virtually powerless to fix with our hands? While technology can transport our minds, our feet can’t possibly take us to the place of every need in all the world.
And I just bet you’re trying, aren’t you?
But for every dollar you give, ten thousand more are needed.
For every person you serve, a hundred thousand more still wait with desperate hearts and imploring eyes.
For every soul you embrace, a million more languish in the pit of abuse, of destitution, of hell-on-earth that you and I honestly can’t even imagine.
Sometimes I just feel flat-out overwhelmed by it all.
And I suspect there’s a good reason for that: our Maker did not create us to be omniscient.
Just sit on that and let it soak in for a minute.
God designed Adam and Eve to be innocent. Blissfully unaware and delightfully carefree. They needed only to be content with what He had given them, and to resist the one thing He declared off-limits.
God’s enemy (and theirs) knew this, and threw out some tantalizing bait.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:4-6)
Even then, the allure of more information, more knowledge, more awareness was too powerful to resist. And mankind has been paying the price (while still flirting with the allure) ever since.
Dealing With the Overwhelm
What do we do with this deep-seated sense of overwhelm caused by having more knowledge than we were designed to have? This question is critically significant for this generation of Christians. Here’s how to cope with those overwhelming feelings:
1.Know your calling.
We must learn to discern the specific, personal calling God has for each of us – not in a vague and ambiguous way, but in a real-life, everyday way. Here are some questions to prayerfully consider:
- What has God entrusted to me as His steward? How should these gifts be prioritized? Get started by thinking about relationships, employment, ministry, talents, financial resources, education, and health.
- Of all the needs in my community and in the world, to which one(s) does God seem to be directing my heart? While virtually every need will tug on our hearts for a moment, think about which one is at the forefront, which is most compelling to you, and which you seem to encounter more frequently than others.
2.Fulfill your purpose.
We must get up and do what God gives us the desire and the ability to do (Philippians 2:13). It’s time to get specific and ask ourselves: Considering my God-given calling, how does He want me to spend the hours and minutes and dollars and cents He has given me? This requires taking action – not haphazardly, but intentionally and purposefully investing your time and resources in the fruitful labor God has chosen just for you.
The writer of Hebrews tells Christians to consider how to spur each other on to love and good works (10:24). So when it comes to the different callings God has for each of us, why do we waste so much time comparing to one another? Belittling hers? Puffing up mine? Condescending to his? Wishing I had hers instead?
We ought to be each others’ loudest cheerleaders and biggest fans. When someone has a different passion than you do, a different talent or ability or calling, celebrate! That means she is able to meet needs in a place you haven’t been called to go, serving in a way you haven’t been called to serve. But it also means you are meeting needs in a place she hasn’t been called to go and serving in a way she hasn’t been called to serve.
No one else’s calling is a threat to yours. So let’s freely give each other a shout out and a leg up, fulfilling Kingdom work in harmony together.
4.Pray like it matters.
Come close and listen hard, because this one really matters, my friend. It matters as much as, if not more than, all the rest.
Prayer is always the best thing we can do, whether or not it’s the only thing we can do.
So when you’re confronted with that helpless feeling that comes from knowing too much and being able to do too little, don’t close your eyes and cover your ears and happily bury your head in the sand.
Instead, pray like your prayers matter.
Because they do.
This post describes how I pray for our world in desperate need; perhaps it will be helpful to you, as well.
5.Trust God (for real).
Here’s the culmination of it all, and the place where freedom is found: you and I must let go of those things that are outside our calling and our purpose, prayerfully entrusting them to God, and refusing to worry about them anymore.
In case you’re wondering, trust isn’t a vague and ambiguous state that we somehow achieve eventually when we’ve been a Christian long enough.
No, trust is an active and purposeful state for every Christian every day.
Trust means I can choose not to despair about the needs of the world.
It means I can choose to believe that God is alive and well and working in the world – in hundreds of ways I can see, and in countless more that I have no idea about.
It means I can be at peace knowing that God is in control, and that His plan is being worked out all around me, even when every circumstance on every social media channel and major news network screams otherwise.
It means I don’t have to be overwhelmed, as His grace enables me to know my calling; fulfill my purpose; encourage others in their labor; and prayerfully leave our great, big world to God.
He’s got the whole thing in His hands, after all.