The past decade has brought much grief, sorrow, heartache and pain into my life and into the life of my family. From my childhood until today I have heard folks say “The Lord won’t put more on you than you can handle.” Before all these various trials came my way, I often spewed out that spiritual sounding quote in a lame attempt to comfort those enduring their own trials. I naively believed this nonsense until the circumstances in my life had become overwhelming, the losses too great and the pain unbearable, and now the financial losses have brought us to the point of bankruptcy.
In recent months I realized everything was crumbling, and my world was falling apart. Someone said “that tired, old phrase often sounds more like a taunt than a comfort. When we are down and out and feeling discouraged, hearing those words can cause us to feel like we are not measuring up. It causes us to ask, ‘If I am supposed to handle this, then why can’t I handle it?’” I indeed have reached the point of asking that very thing.
More than once I cried out “God, I can’t handle this anymore. I don’t know what to do, but I can’t do this.” I repented and asked for forgiveness for every sin of omission, commission, and everything else I could think of. Yet the more I prayed, repented and cried out to God, the worse circumstances have become.
To be honest, the past couple of years, if someone had come alongside me during that time and tried to reassure me by saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” I may have punched them square in the face. Not exactly a Christ like response to be sure, but to put it in context, in the midst of all those emotional trials, in 2012 I took the “Holmes- Rahe Stress Inventory” to see what my stress level was. Using this inventory, if you had a score less than 150 there is a slight risk of illness. A score of 300+ you are at risk of illness and a score of 150-299 the risk of illness is moderate. Well, I scored well over 600 points at that point in time. That score is more than twice the level of stress to cause illness and it was unbearable.
In March of this year I lost my job that provided a livable wage for me and my family, and had to take a job that pays far less and in August of this year I lost a major website client that was what literally put food on our table. Since 2011 our family income has dropped 40%. This year alone, my income has dropped 33% to where now there is nothing at all left to buy groceries for our family of six. Recently friends have stepped up and some donated money and some brought us food, so for the moment our pantry is full. Thank God for friends like that.
What I have finally come to realize is this: God never said He wouldn’t give you more than you can handle. Search the Bible, that verse is not in there. (and neither is the verse that says “God helps those who help themselves”) There are, and will be, times in life when you will either feel like you are in over your head and there is no one to help you, or the loss and pain you encounter will become unbearable. So, the words “The Lord won’t put more on you than you can handle.” that are meant for encouragement can often serve to create discouragement. Worse yet, this phrase often tempts us to ignore our suffering and pretend it’s not there. It can lead us to believe the lie that we can do it ourselves; that we can handle it. Which raises the question, “If we can handle anything that comes our way, then why do we need God at all?”
We need to realize that sometimes we can’t make it on our own. In those moments when we feel our spirit is crushed into the ground and are lonely and heartbroken, rather than stand and proclaim that we can handle it, we should imitate the Lord Jesus. The night before Christ was crucified, He cried out in the garden, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). What Jesus was saying to His father is this, “This is too much for me!” We see this crying out in anguish in the Psalms, too. The Psalmists ball their fists in rage, and shout at God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22) In their sadness they say things like, “darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88).
What verses like these teach us is that it’s alright to feel like we can’t handle it, or feeling like we are going to give up. It’s alright to cry out, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death.” And when we do this, we find God—the one who, in the person of Jesus, suffers with us. When we become aware that life will give us more than we can handle and come to grips with this, we find a promise: God is faithful to meet us in the mess and in the pain. Then we learn to recognize our constant need to depend on Him. This is why Peter instructs the Church to cast our fears, worries, suffering and pain on God. 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) says “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
So where did the notion that God will not give you more than you can handle originate? The only verse that comes close is what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) Paul says “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Make no mistake, the Apostle was talking about temptation, not trials, loss, pain, or any other tribulation. In fact, Jesus told his diciples in John 16:33 (NKJV) “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The writer at Living Truth Christian Fellowship had this to say… In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 Paul wrote: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.”
May I be so bold as to say that I think God allows us to be in situations where we can’t handle it and when it is beyond our strength so that we might depend on Him more! Notice that Paul said that this affliction that came to them in Asia “burdened (them) excessively” and was “beyond our strength.”
The NIV puts it this way: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8B NIV).
And he concludes that this was…“in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God…” (v. 9)
It appears that God will give us more than we can handle so that we will give Him the handle to steer our lives! The point is that the key to the Christian life is not trying to be strong in ourselves, but rather letting God’s power and strength fill and empower us through the inevitable difficulties of life and even Gospel ministry. Think of people like Moses (Exodus 3:11-12), Gideon (Judges 6:15-16), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5-9), David (2 Samuel 7:18), Peter (Luke 5:8) and Paul (2 Corinthians 2:16, 3:5-6, 4:7-11, 12:9-10). They were all given tasks and tests that were much bigger than themselves. In fact, many people in the Bible were overwhelmed with what God called them to do. God would often remind them that He was with them (see Joshua 1:5-9) and would supply what they needed. Over and over again God took His people into situations that were humanly impossible so He would receive the glory (see Judges 7:2, cf. Exodus 14). It was much more than they could handle and that was the point! God’s power showed up to see them through (see Daniel 3:16-30). Where they were weak, He was strong (Exodus 15:2).
What we can be assured of is that when we go through these difficult trials God will be with us (He will also use those trials to develop perseverance and proven character, (see Romans 5:3-4, Romans 15:5, James 1:2-4) and He will use our experiences of His strength showing up in our storm to comfort others who are going through similar stuff. And we can say to them from experience ‘you will make it through.’
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NASB) says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Paul wrote later in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NASB): And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.“
When life hands us more than we can bear, we can now rest in the knowledge that God can handle it. Nevertheless, if we’re honest, even this statement can become a tired old phrase. Because when it really hurts, God can, and often does, seem very far away. Here is where you and I come in. We need each other to move ahead, and we need much more than tired old phrases and spiritual sounding cliches. In those times when life becomes unbearable, we need to be willing to walk alongside one another. If we do this, we put flesh and bone on the person of Jesus. We will be with one another in the midst of suffering, helping each other carry the weight. Which means, that we, as the Body of Christ, have an opportunity.
When we are willing to sit in the pain, to walk with one another when life’s path is difficult and to shoulder one another’s burdens when they are too heavy, we become an embodied promise. We become living proof that while life can sometimes be too much, through the goodness of our loving of God displayed within us, we can move forward together. Galatians 6:2 (ESV) says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Be Jesus to those in your life.