Confronting the lie

Confronting the lie – “God will never give you more than you can handle!”

One of the things that is commonly said to “encourage” people who are going through difficult circumstances is: “God will never give you more than you can bear.”

“Everything will be alright; God wouldn’t have given you this trial if He didn’t think you could handle it.”

It’s a sweet sentiment – people who say it honestly do care and are concerned about the person they are speaking to – but it simply isn’t true!

There is no verse in the Bible that says “God will never give you more than you can handle/bear.”  There is one that sounds like that, but 1 Corinthians 10:13 doesn’t really say what people thinks it says:

1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” NIV

Paul says that God will not allow you to be tempted by something you can’t resist, to be overwhelmed by Satan’s temptation to commit sin.

That is a far different thing from claiming that you will not have to bear a burden that you cannot bear. That idea just isn’t Biblical.  If anything the exact opposite is true.

1 Corinthians 10:13 actually teaches that even in temptation, there will be times we find ourselves in situations we can’t handle and that in those times the only way out is through Him.

There are many trials that can overwhelm us, shake us to our core to the point where we wonder how we could ever possibly survive it!

Kayla Lemmon, January 5, 2014: “I lost my Dad to cancer last month – it was absolutely horrific. Every day leading up to his death was like walking through every level of hell – slowly – for lack of a better term. There’s no other way to describe it. The images – the sounds – the sleepless nights – the cries for God while we look on, helpless – the torment of rubbing morphine in his cheeks, praying it’ll absorb – but to no avail. The horrible, wrenching pain that came with lifting him up, laying him back down, lifting him up, laying him back down – because he became so restless and cried out for “home” every few minutes. And all along, in the back of my mind, I reminded myself that millions of people go through this, and have already gone through this, very thing. And it is simply unbearable. If you disagree – it’s because you haven’t been there. This trial was so consuming that I hate to even put it in the past tense – sometimes it still consumes me. Yesterday, at my Dad’s memorial service, it consumed me all over again. I’ve suffered from nightmares where I relived the memory over and over mercilessly – I sometimes see his face on strangers that pass and worry that I’m going crazy. I cry over sad songs in the car and torture myself with stacks of pictures and yellowed photo albums. It’s beyond just missing him. And even with a firm testimony of the gospel and with peace that he is exactly where the Lord prepared him for, it is still too much for me to handle at times. It steals my breath–and it can steal my joy. So, the other day, I turned to the scriptures. I needed help.”

“I wanted to know where that phrase was that people kept repeating to me in church and at work and over the phone. Why did the Lord “trust me so much?” Why did He think I could handle these kinds of trials?”

“And then I realized: I couldn’t find that quote because it isn’t there.”

“It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says God gives us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens – not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it says this:

Matthew 11:28-30: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens (heavy laden), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” NLT

“Christ is speaking to those of us who are carrying burdens much too heavy for our own shoulders. In this one verse He tells us why God allows us more than we can handle – so we will come to Jesus – so we can trust Him enough to hand over our heavy, crippling burdens and let Him carry the load.”

“I suppose it’s because of pride that I always thought I could just do things on my own. I’m strong, I’d say. I’m a tough cookie. I can help others through their tribulations while carrying mine all by myself. I was wrong!”

“I’ve come to learn – slowly but surely – why I need Him. I didn’t really know what needing Him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart – or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear.”

“Those are the times that taught me that Jesus is not just a convenient symbol of love! No, he’s the very air we breathe. And He’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply unbearable!”

In addition to that quote not being in the Bible, we can find plenty of quotes that mean the exact opposite that are in the Bible! Throughout scripture, we encounter people overwhelmed by what is happening to them, such as Job and David:

Job 3:11 – “Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?” NLT

Job 6:1-3: “Then Job spoke again: “If my misery could be weighed and my troubles be put on the scales, they would outweigh all the sands of the sea.” NLT

Job 7:11 – “I cannot keep from speaking. I must express my anguish. My bitter soul must complain.” NLT

Job 7:15-16: “I would rather be strangled— rather die than suffer like this. I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” NLT

Job 10:1-2: “I am disgusted with my life. Let me complain freely. My bitter soul must complain. I will say to God, ‘Don’t simply condemn me—tell me the charge you are bringing against me.” NLT

Job 10:18 – “Why, then, did you deliver me from my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?” NLT

Job 14:1 – “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble!” NLT

Psalm 38:4 – “My guilt overwhelms me – it is a burden too heavy to bear.” NLT

Psalm 38:8 – “I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.” NLT

Elijah was told by an angel: 1 Kings 19:7 – “…Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” NIV

That is quite different from saying “God didn’t give us any burdens we couldn’t bear.”

Donald Grey Barnhouse – “If God wants you to trust Him, He puts you in a place of difficulty. If He wants you to trust Him greatly, He puts you in a place of impossibility. For when a thing is impossible, then we who are so prone to move things by the force of our own being can say, “Lord, it has to be You. I am utterly, absolutely nothing.”

“I might add that until we reach this point we are going to continue feeling disappointed and rejected because of our continued failures. May He help us to put our complete trust in Him!” 

That is precisely the point that Paul makes in this passage:

2 Corinthians 1:8-9: “We want you to know, Christian brothers, of the trouble we had in the countries of Asia. The load was so heavy we did not have the strength to keep going. At times we did not think we could live. We thought we would die. This happened so we would not put our trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead.” NLV

Notice what Paul is saying – “We thought we were finished – dead!”  We knew we couldn’t handle our trouble – it was beyond our strength.  This happened so we would not trust in ourselves but in God.

Later, Paul will write it is when he is weak that the strength of Christ is seen: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: “…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” NLT

In other words, when we can’t do it any longer!  When we are fed up!  When it has become too much!  When we have nothing left.  When we are empty!  When it is beyond our capability to deal with it!  Then, in that moment, the strength of the God of resurrection will be seen.  What Paul reminds us of is that our trials and sufferings are not a measure of how much we can bear.  We may often encounter sufferings that are more than we can handle. However, it’s not about us – it’s always about God!

Realizing the simple fact that God can and will give us more than we can possibly bear, actually makes it easier to understand – it makes more sense that way.

Until we get to that point, we rely on ourselves thinking we can handle it and take care of the problem – we think wrong!

And don’t forget Jesus:  Matthew 27:46 – “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” NKJV

We forget sometimes that Jesus suffered an unbearable burden on the cross – pain, humiliation, injustice, violence – death! Maybe part of the problem is that to us, the cross is just a pretty shape that’s easy to draw!  But the cross was an instrument of torture, death, and injustice – a method of death where the victim’s own diaphragm collapses and the person suffocates to death; his body literally unable to bear its own burden.

The cross reminds us not only of the brokenness of the world – it also reminds us that in those times of suffering and pain, we are not alone.  God stands with us in the suffering – He is in it with us!  God’s intent in allowing suffering is never to push us away from Him but to always pull us into a closer relationship with Him. Hebrews 2:18 – “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” NLT

Even though it’s not true, many Christians today actually believe this – “If God never gives us more than we can bear, and I am being crushed under my burdens, then what is wrong with me?  What am I doing wrong?  Why isn’t God helping me? I must be a failure, a bad Christian!”

One person said: “I have been having a very hard time and feeling like a failure as a Christian because I felt like I am not strong enough. I lost my sister to cancer and then my baby sister in a wreck and this June I lost my oldest child and everyone kept saying God would not put more on me than I could bear.”

It is cruel and harmful to tell a person that “God will never give you more than you can bear.”

Could you imagine saying to an inmate at Auschwitz, “Don’t worry; God never gives you more than you can bear!”

Or a woman whose children are killed by a long buried landmine while they were playing; or a refugee who survived the massacre of her entire village; or someone who has just been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness; or someone overwhelmed by grief and loss; or a man who lost his wife and child in a car accident; or a girl whose innocence was robbed from her when she was molested as a child; or the person crushed under the weight of depression, anxiety, debt or other afflictions; or the parent who just learned they have a terminal illness and they still have young children; or the person struggling with grief from the loss of a long time spouse!

There are all kinds of things that happen that we cannot bear.  Sometimes our lives come crashing down around us. We know this from experience; we know this from the Bible:

Romans 5:3-4: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” NLT

James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” NLT

1 Peter 4:12-13: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” NLT

1 Peter 5:8-11: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” NKJV

Sentimental Christianity is useless when we are going through our fiery trials – I certainly have no answer.  But we know God does, so we cry out to Him for help! When we are going through the fires of pain and hurt, we pray to God hoping He will do something, we expect Him to do something – we don’t know what, or when, but we expect God to heal us, to restore us, to change the situation, to do something!

Sometimes the answer and/or relief doesn’t come like we want it too, so we ask these types of questions of God: Why? Why not step in? Why not act? Why wouldn’t you make it right? Why couldn’t you part the clouds and provide a moment for us to catch our breath? Why everything at once? Why?

Asking those questions requires courage because, in the end, it is very unlikely they will be answered.

It has been said that the real pain of suffering is not the actual hurt and pain that we go through – martyrs have proven that physical suffering can be endured.  The real pain is that it seems that God is not listening and seeing what is going on.

We ask, Where is God – why is He avoiding us – why won’t He answer?  C.S. Lewis asked this question in his book called ‘A Grief Observed’ (as he watched his wife struggle and die with cancer) – “Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, if you turn to Him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.  You may as well turn away!”

It may seem like God is not answering, but He is: Psalm 34:17-19: “The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” NLT

He never leaves us, He never forsakes us, He is right here with us all the time, regardless of what we are going through!

1 John 5:4 – “…And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” NKJV

Faith is a lifelong journey of facing the struggles of the world and moving forward with hope.  However, our faithfulness is not demonstrated by how easily we are able to bear the burdens that come our way.  Our faith is demonstrated by our recognition that we “cannot bear the loads of life unaided” – we cannot bear the burdens ourselves – we must trust in the Lord Who bears them with us.

Our problems do not magically disappear because we have become followers of Christ (they may increase)! However, we are promised that in those sufferings we are not alone. God does allow us to suffer things we cannot bear – alone!  But we do not have to bear them alone!

Isaiah 43:1-3: “…Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” NLT

When people tell me that “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” this is what I say, “I’m sorry, but I know for a fact that He DOES give me more than I can handle! However, He has never given me more than HE can handle.”

Jeremiah 32:17 – “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” NKJV

So long as the Church exists, so long as the faithful gather in a community to pray, to worship, to reflect, no one has to bear their burdens alone. The church is not an “everyone-lift-yourself-up-by-your-spiritual-bootstraps community.”  It is not one that says that the Lord helps those who help themselves or that God never gives you more than you can bear.

The church is a place where you can come and say, “I have a burden that I cannot bear” and instead of being judged for having a weak faith, you are surrounded by a network of love and support that will bear that burden with you.

Galatians 6:2-3: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” NLT

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