I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Our Unbearable Troubles
Pastor and revivalist Vance Havner once told a story about an elderly lady who was greatly disturbed by her many troubles--both real and imaginary. Finally, someone in her family tactfully told her, "Grandma, we've done all we can for you. You'll just have to trust God for the rest." A look of absolute despair spread over her face as she replied, "Oh dear, has it come to that?" Havner commented, "It always comes to that, so we might as well begin with that!"
The truth is that this world is full of trials and tribulations. Even the patriarch Job once said:
"For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward." (Job 5:7).
And when Christians go through terrible times, such as the death of a loved one, persecution for their faith in Christ, a major illness or any number of situations that can happen in this sin-cursed world in which we live, there is inevitably someone there who tries to make sense out of the situation for us. All Bible-believing Christians know that we serve an all-powerful, all-loving God who cares for us. However, sometimes what happens makes one wonder if God has abandoned us. When this occurs, you can rely upon that well-meaning friend who gives the old "Christian" cliche' that: "God will never give you more than you can handle." The trouble with this is that it is not found in the Bible and isn't true.
This fallacy is actually a misinterpretation of I Corinthians 10:13. This verse tells us that:
"No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."
Notice what the Apostle Paul is telling us here. He's not talking about any and all life situations. He is talking about a specific area which is the temptation to sin. Because of Christ's death and resurrection, sin is no longer our master. We now don't have to be slaves to it. (Romans 6:14-23). Indeed, Paul is telling us in I Corinthians 10 that, through God's power, there is always a way to escape and say no to sin.
However, that is a far cry from the teaching that God will not ever give us more than we can handle in life. In fact, He often does allow much more than we can, in our own strength, manage.
The truth is that we need to correct our theology of trials in order to have a more accurate view of the Lord and His working in our lives. Further, we must come to an understanding of why He sometimes allows His people to go through great struggles in their walk with Him and how He uses those troubles for our good and His glory.
I. Paul's Intense Suffering
1. His sufferings in Asia
To start with, we could point out many Scriptures where men and women of God endured great suffering that, humanly speaking, they couldn't endure. I think, for example of King David in Psalm 69 who makes a plea to God for His help and deliverance from his enemies. But the best place to give evidence that God sometimes gives us more than we can handle is to look no further than the Apostle Paul himself.
II Corinthians 1:3-10 tells us:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us."
2. His Thorn in the Flesh
We also have, in that same book, Paul talking about his "thorn in the flesh." He had been given such great revelations that God sent him this major problem, (whatever it was), in order to keep him from becoming too proud. It was so intense that the great Apostle prayed three times for the Lord to remove it. However, God chose not to do it. Instead, He said this to Paul:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9).
Paul probably, after much deliberation, finally came to this conclusion regarding his pain:
"Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Corinthians 12:9b-10).
II. Why More than We Can Handle?
So why does God allow more than we, in our frail human condition, can handle? When answering this we are not talking about the natural consequences of sin. That indeed brings intense pain and can have severe consequences. What we are referring to is the suffering of a true committed Christian following the will of God. So, if we are doing the Lord's will, why does God allow us to have so much trouble that we don't think that it is humanly possible to go on and make it through the trial? From the Scriptures, there appears to be at least six answers to this question.
1. To Teach Us to Depend Upon Him
Firstly, God gives us impossible trials to teach us to depend upon Him. This life was never meant to be lived independently from God. Only our Creator is the self-existent one who needs nothing and no one. All other creatures are dependent upon Him for the very breath that we breath and every beat of our heart. When all is going well, we can be proud and forget that fact. Paul's thorn in the flesh, as we have noted, was to keep him from becoming prideful.
The people of Israel, before they entered the promised land, also were warned of that very thing. Moses tells them:
"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).
Pride is a deadly sin because it makes us think that we don't need God. Our Lord graciously gives us more than we can handle to show us that we do, in fact, need Him.
2. To Help Us See His Power
The next reason God gives us impossible trials is to help us to see His Power. I recently saw a YouTube video of Crosby the Golden Retriever who had fallen through the ice in the Charles River in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The poor creature was totally helpless and was going to drown. Then entered the scene a group of dedicated firefighters, donned in suits to protect them from the cold, icy water. These men were able to slowly but miraculously pull Crosby to shore.
You can imagine what lead up to this. Crosby was walking across that ice, thinking that all was well, only to have it break and then to feel the numbing cold of the river water on his body. Then, instead of enjoying sniffing around in the great outdoors, he finds himself hopelessly engulfed in the river and in the fight of his life.
It seems to happen that quickly for us as well. It appears to be a normal day. Then all of a sudden, our whole world caves in and we are at a loss to know what to do. Then God enters the scene, miracles happen, and we are left giving glory to the only One who was capable of changing our situation.
As Paul aptly said of his own helpless plight:
"Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (II Corinthians 1:9). Indeed, it is God's power that is perfected and demonstrated through our weakness (II Corinthians 12:9).
3. To Deepen Our Devotion to the Lord
A third reason God gives to us impossible situations is to deepen our devotion to the Lord. We can see that Daniel did everything right when he became an exile in a foreign land. He was told to eat unclean food as a young man. And later, as an older man he was ordered to stop praying to God. However, Daniel refused to eat the wrong food that God had forbidden. And later he continued to pray despite the threat of being thrown into a den of hungry lions. (Daniel 1 and 6). These tests of devotion lead him to deepen his faith in His God and prepared him to do great things for the Lord which included dream interpretation and prophecy of future events. Trusting God in impossible situations will do the same for each of us. It will deepen our faith as we put our trust in the God of Daniel.
4. To Help Us to See and Fulfill Our Life's Purpose
Sometimes God also uses impossible situations in our lives to help point out our life's purposes. In the book of Esther, a plot was made to destroy all the Jews. Esther (a Jewess) was recently made queen and she had the potential of influencing the king in order to stop the plan. She was apprehensive, because of the king’s view of women, and a real possibility of her own death. However, she allowed the inspiration of the problem to reveal her purpose — she was queen ‘for such a time as this' to save the Jewish people from extinction (Esther 4:14).
5. To Help Spread the Gospel
Further, there are also times when impossible situations in our lives lead to the greater good of spreading the gospel of the grace of God to the world. The good news of Jesus Christ was spread rapidly by the early Christians largely by their persecution and martyrdom at the hands of those who hated Christ and the message that his followers were spreading. It was that kind of passion that forced Stephen to defend his faith. His passion led to martyrdom by stoning, but the message of Christ gained fuel! (Acts 7). Someone has said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." And you can look throughout church history and see that the more God's people were persecuted, the faster the gospel was spread. The Lord uses impossible situations like these to fulfill His purposes throughout the world.
6. To Help Us to Become Mature
A sixth and final reason why God might allow us to experience more than we can handle is to help us to become more mature, conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. No matter what the problem or challenge may be, the ‘testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness…that [we] may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’ (James 1:2-4).
There may be other reasons that God brings us to the end of our abilities to handle what He allows in our lives, but these six are sufficient to demonstrate that impossible situations do indeed serve a wonderful purpose for the believer in Jesus Christ.
Trust His Heart by Babbie Mason
In the end, the problem with promising people that God will never give them more than they can handle is that when He does allow it, many will lose faith or think that the Lord has abandoned them. The fact is that our Sovereign Lord may be leading us into a closer and more full relationship with Himself by demonstrating to us that He is capable of doing the impossible through bringing humanly insurmountable problems into our lives (Luke 1:3).
There is a song by singer Babbie Mason which sums up how a Christian should react to such seemingly hopeless situations. She sings:
"God is too wise to be mistaken; God is too good to be unkind. So, when you don't understand, when you don't see his plan, when you can't trace his hand, trust his heart."
Rather than saying that God won't lead me into something I can't handle, we should be saying that there is nothing that will happen to me that He can't handle. And even if what happens in my life leads to my death, He is the God of resurrection and life beyond the grave! All things will ultimately work together for my good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). His grace is sufficient for my weakness. He is in control. And that is all that I really need to know!!
© 2018 Jeff Shirley