Question: "The needs of the world overwhelm me. Am I too sensitive?"

Answer: Sensitivity to the world’s needs is a healthy sign that you are not completely self-absorbed. Pain, hunger, sorrow, and tragedy are regular occurrences in this once-perfect world, now ravaged by the effects of sin (Genesis 3:16–19). With the invention of satellite and the internet, we are bombarded by information from around the globe as it is happening, and our responses to the needs we see can range from apathy to anxiety to hopelessness. Apathy is not an option for a Christian, but neither is anxiety or hopelessness. We want to remain sensitive to needs and be aware of the desperate struggles in the world, but we also must learn how to set emotional boundaries for ourselves. Without those boundaries, we may become depressed or angry. We want to be sensitive to needs without being overwhelmed by them. We want to sorrow over the world’s condition without losing hope.

Jesus should always be our model. We can look at His years on earth to see how He handled living in a world filled with needs. His heart was sensitive: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Bible records two times that Jesus wept: He wept at the gravesite of Lazarus (John 11:35), and He wept over the stubborn sin of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–42). His heart was tender, and seeing the effects of death and sin moved Him to tears. But Jesus did not allow Himself to be overwhelmed. He saw the enormity of the problem, but He did not give in to anxious thoughts or sink into depression. He knew who He was and why He was here. He had come to earth on a mission (Luke 9:51). He was not merely sad about the human condition; He had compassion, and He did something about it (Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Paul is another example of one who was sensitive to the needs around him. He poured out his life as a drink offering for the benefit of others (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6). In Romans 9:2 Paul expresses sorrow over the lost condition of his fellow Hebrews. The Corinthians, in particular, saddened him with their immaturity and carnality, and he expressed his sorrow to them: “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4). The needs of the world often caused Paul grief, but it was not an impotent grief. He was called by God to be a preacher to the Gentiles (Romans 15:16), and he faithfully did what he could to further the gospel of truth.

It is good to be sensitive to the needs of the world (Proverbs 14:21; 19:17). One of the characteristics of the wicked is their “unfeeling heart” (Psalm 17:10, NASB). But our sensitivity must lead to positive action. The needs of the world, as weighty as they are, can overwhelm us when we remain motionless in our sorrow. We click through stories of tragedy, feel an ache in our hearts, but do nothing. Because the needs seem so overwhelming, we cannot imagine that we can do anything about it, so we do nothing. However, taking action of some kind puts our sorrow to work. Christian humanitarian organizations abound that are dedicated to the very issues that grip our hearts. By serving, giving, and supporting Jesus’ hands and feet on earth, we can channel inner turmoil into outer productivity.

We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we can help someone. We may not be able to end world hunger, but we can feed one hungry child. We cannot singlehandedly stop human trafficking, but we can join our resources with ten thousand others to rescue some victims. We feel overwhelmed when we don’t know what to do. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). We should be sensitive to needs and then allow our sorrow to propel us to action. God does not hold us responsible for solving the world’s problems, only for being obedient to everything He has placed before us (Proverbs 3:27; John 9:4; 2 Corinthians 9:7). When we do that, we can entrust the rest of it to Him.