If You Feel Overwhelmed, Eat!

When your soul is troubled and you feel overwhelmed, sometimes you need to just stop stewing and praying and tell yourself to eat, for God’s sake.

I get this from psalms like Psalm 43:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:5)

This psalmist feels overwhelmed by his troubles. In the first four verses he pours out his soul in prayer to God. But then he stops praying and speaks directly to his soul.

When psalmists talk to themselves like this, what are they doing? In every instance, whether in desperation or celebration, they are reminding themselves that their hope is in God. Why? Because in the world they have tribulation (John 16:33) and they feel it draining their hope. They know that if they don’t eat they will despair.

Here’s what I mean. Hope is to our soul what energy is to our body. Hope is the spiritual energy generated in the soul when we believe that our future will be good, even if our present is bad. Our souls must have hope to keep going just like our bodies must have energy to keep going.

When our body needs energy, we give it food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? We feed it promises — God’s promises of “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Hopeful promises are soul food.

Hope is something we only feel about the future, whether it’s ten minutes or ten thousand years from now. We’re never hopeful about the past. We can be grateful for the past. The past can inspire or even guarantee a hopeful future for us. But all the wonderful things that have happened to us in the past will not fuel our hope if our future looks bleak. We must have hope for the future to keep going.

That's precisely why the Bible is a book of “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4). Man was not designed to “live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). So God designed the Bible to be a storehouse of nourishing soul food for his saints.

And if promises are soul food and hope is soul energy, then faith is how the soul eats and digests. Faith is the confidence we have that God's promises are trustworthy — “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). That’s why “the righteous…live by faith” (Romans 1:17). We must eat to live. Faith eats and digests God’s promises and this produces hope.

So in Psalm 43, when the writer exhorts his soul to “hope in God,” he’s preaching to himself by saying, “Listen, soul! What are you afraid of? Have you forgotten the glorious future God has promised you? Do you believe your threatening circumstances are stronger than God? Get your eyes off your troubles and remember the Source of your hope! Eat, soul! Eat God’s promises!”

And this is what you and I must do as well. When our soul is in turmoil, God does not want us to be passive. We must pray, yes. But sometimes we need to stop praying. We need to stop listening to our soul recite its fears. Then is when it's time to preach to our soul. Fear is an indicator that our soul is hungry for hope. And the only foods that will really nourish and sustain the soul are God’s promises.

In Jesus, “all the promises of God find their Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The past grace of his death and resurrection guarantee a never-ending stream of future grace for us extending into eternity. To eat these promises is to eat living bread and live forever (John 6:51).

So eat, eat, eat to the glory of God! And “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

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Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.