In the infant days of personal computing, my oldest brother let me try my hand at an air traffic control game he had on his laptop. The processing speed and monochrome display of his machine pales in comparison to today’s tech. But my brother made part of his living coaxing air traffic control computers to talk to one another through his skilled programming. The “game” he let me play wasn’t far from the reality that the men and women in the high towers were working with to get air travelers safely in and out. Overwhelmed with multiple demands for immediate command decisions, it didn’t take long for me to make bad ones. I killed travelers by the thousands on the screen and backed away from the high-tech toy stressed out.
Flash forward forty plus years. It is near the end of shift at work on a busy but smooth Friday. My day crew is wrapping up and I am an hour away from the evening crew stepping in. It was then that all my problems decided to land. I was pulled out of my office to look at a critical piece of equipment. Truck traffic was coming through the gate, mechanics were explaining to me exactly what it was I was looking at, the purchasing agent was asking me how I wanted to proceed, my two-way radio clamored for attention through my earpiece, and an employee fifty feet away caught my eye and signified through her body language that she needed to talk to me “right now!” The multiple demands for immediate command decisions harassed me toward the brink of making bad ones I felt helpless to avoid. My stress level was palpable in that moment.
Have you ever felt harassed and helpless? The continual demands for command decisions in daily life can eventually overwhelm us to the point where choosing what to pick from the restaurant menu causes the same level of stress as weighing out end-of-life care options. Blood tests and regular diagnostics can measure the stress levels of our bodies. Counseling can help us discover the stress levels in our minds. But we aren’t just body-and-soul creatures. We are spirit beings who live in a body and possess a soul. The sense of being harassed and helpless is rooted in the spiritual.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. ESV
God is love. Jesus’s compassion not only kept him from drowning in the face of multiple command decisions, it focused his vision to true root causes. Sheep without a shepherd are harassed and helpless, distressed and distracted, skinned and scattered. Stress is a fact of life, but helplessness is a spiritual condition.
5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. KJV
His promise is His continual presence in and with us (Matt. 28:20). Distressed depression and intense impotence overwhelm us when we like Peter lose sight of Jesus in the storm or fail to heed the Helper’s hand. We are not sheep without a shepherd. We are never without help. When our appetites stretch beyond our needs and our presence of mind fractures in the face of the fear of man, doubting the Shepherd’s presence is an exercise in self-deception. The question is not where has the Shepherd gone, but why have we like sheep gone astray.
1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. KJV
When we find ourselves feeling fainthearted and cast down, we need to look for the thieves and robbers we’ve allowed to sneak into the sheepfold of our lives. Only through hearing and heeding His voice can we hope to avoid the reality of being eaten up with distress and despair.
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. KJV
We need to go to Jesus and find rest in Him. When we obey His voice, overload is impossible because He bears the weight in the yoke beside us. His grace and power provide us with the path of least resistance.
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,
5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;
8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ESV
The practical reality of Christ in us is lived through the recognition of being a part of the body of Christ. Attempting to function outside of our fashion is a sure recipe for frustration and wasted energy. His gifts of grace in our lives are indicators of our placement in His body and our primary function as His agents in this life. When we walk and work in that grace, our lives become more effective and take less effort.
Grace can be difficult to grapple with if only seen in the abstract or defined as a one-time past occurrence. But grace is expressed through design. For instance, suppose you had to extract a Phillips-head screw from a piece of wood. Removing it with a flat-blade screwdriver is possible, but would require more effort and provide exponentially more opportunities for frustration than using a Phillips-head screwdriver. Taking the same screw out with a cross-head screw bit in a power drill can seem effortless by comparison.
Walking in His grace is allowing ourselves to be used as a fit tool in the Master’s hand. Recognizing His love for us keeps us from a life of frustration.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. KJV
 The Greek terms behind “harassed” and “helpless” in Matt. 9:36 are skullo and rhipto. The first means to flay or skin and was used as an idiom by the Greeks to describe the troubles and stress of life as analogous to the pains of being skinned or flayed alive. The second means to throw, cast, hurl, or scatter as when Judas tossed his blood money on the temple floor (Matt. 27:5). If you’ve ever used the idioms “eat me alive” or “scatter-brained,” you get the sense of it.
 Matt. 14:28-32, John 14:26-27 ESV.
 Isa. 53:4-6.
 1 Cor. 15:10