What is it that we always say to encourage people going through a hard time?
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
But guess what?
It’s not true.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered . . . We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despaired of life. Indeed, in our hearts, we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
The truth is, God can and does allow us to be in situations that are far beyond our ability to handle, to endure. Situations where you feel like you are backed into a corner with no way out, where you have no idea what to do next, where you despair of life and feel like the angel of death is breathing down your neck, literally or figuratively.
But what do we usually do when we face these situations?
We tell each other, “Don’t worry. God won’t give you more than you can bear. You can handle this.”
And we try our best to fix it or make it work. We want to show God what good, strong, capable, faithful Christians we are, as we try to bear up under the heavy load He has placed on our backs. And we trudge along, painful step after painful step, with a grin plastered on our faces so that we don’t disappoint Him.
But eventually, we begin to despair, the load becomes too heavy, and we falter. But we dig down deep and find a little bit more strength to carry on. And we keep going.
But eventually, after carrying that burden far too long and using up all of our strength and wisdom and stamina, we collapse in a heap. We drop the burden and fall down and curl up in a ball, berating ourselves for being such a failure and disappointment.
And we expect to hear God say, “You weakling. I gave you a burden, and you couldn’t handle it, could you? What kind of Christian are you?”
But if you stop listening to those thoughts from your own head and from the Evil One, you will hear God’s voice.
And He says, “Finally!”
“Finally, you are right where you should be, where you should have been from the beginning. Because when you fell, you fell into My arms. You were never meant to carry this burden alone. It’s too heavy for you. You were always meant to fall on Me and let Me carry you while you carry it.”
So why do we put this pressure on ourselves to handle it all? Why do we keep thinking that God will never send a burden we can’t bear so we better be able to handle every circumstance we encounter?
The thing is, I don’t see any verses like that in the Bible. I don’t see any that say, “Thou shall always be strong enough to carry thy burdens, without any outside help. By this, you show yourself to be a faithful, capable servant of God.”
Instead, I see this:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46: 10)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
I think that our problem is that we are misinterpreting 1 Corinthians 10:13:
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.”
But that verse is not talking about difficult life circumstances or painful trials. It is talking about temptation. It is saying that God never allows a temptation to be so great that you simply had no choice but to give in and sin. There will always be a way out. You will always have the opportunity and responsibility to do the right thing, to not give in to a temptation.
But it is not referring to stressful life situations. It is not saying that you will never be given more stress or work or burdens than you can handle. It does not say that you will never be broken by a trial, that you will never find yourself incapable or at a loss, that you will never desire to just give up and collapse in exhaustion and confusion and hopelessness.
As 2 Cor. 1:8-9 shows, we will indeed face things that are beyond our ability to handle, that will make us want to roll over and die. It’s how God teaches us to fall on Him, to need Him.
When we face situations that are beyond our ability, the best thing we can do is to stop acting like we can do it all, like we have to do it all, and to admit our helplessness to the Lord. Fall at His feet in humility and fall into His arms, trusting that He is big enough. We were never meant to carry those burdens alone. We were never meant to be strong enough. We were always meant to be too weak to do it on our own. Because that is when God’s power shines. That is when He does His best work, when we let Him be our strength in our weakness. And that is when it becomes more about God’s glory than about our own accomplishments.
The Israelites knew this.
After Moses led them out of Egypt, they found themselves up against the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army coming after them and no way out. But what seemed to them to be an impossible situation - hemmed in all around with Pharaoh’s army bearing down on them - was actually set up by God. God chose this to display His most awesome “event.” And in order to make it the grandest display ever, He waited until the last possible second. Despite appearances, the people were never really in harm’s way. They were right where God wanted them to be.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephron. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 14:1-4)
This gives me courage when I want to despair, when I see no way out and I begin to wonder where God is. He’s in it all along.
I think of an ant farm being picked up and moved to a different place. The little ant’s world is shaking. Nothing feels stable. The little ants don’t know that someone big and strong is holding it up and purposely moving it to a better position. All they know is that their world is falling apart, and they are freaking out. (Humor me here!)
What an unnecessary waste of emotions and energy and fear! They were never in danger, no matter how uncertain it felt. They just didn’t know it because of their limited vision.
So many times, I am such a little ant!
God gives us more than we can handle.
And He does this so that He can shine. But we need to fall on Him. We need to do the thing that freaks us out the most - admit we are weak! Admit that we cannot do it on our own and that we need Him. And we need to know that this is okay. It’s exactly what God wants us to do.
I think that a toddler shows they are growing up when they get to the point where they can say, “I know what I’m doing. I do it myself. I’m strong enough and I don’t need your help.”
But an adult – a Christian - shows that they are growing up when they get to the point where they can say, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t do it myself. I’m weak and I need Your help!”
Would a good, loving, strong Father do any less than rush in and help His children when they call on Him in faith and in need?
What was it that Moses told the Israelites when they were freaking out as Pharaoh’s army cornered them against the Red Sea?
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
Be still! They only had to be still. Stand firm, firm in their faith that God would handle it. And the Lord would do the fighting.
Psalm 46:10 echoes this: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Once again, be still!
As long as the Israelites trusted and simply stood still and firm in the Lord, they were safe. And God would be glorified! It was in His hands all along, even if they couldn’t see it.
This encourages my soul. I don’t see the big picture, but I don’t have to see the big picture. Because I can trust that God does. And I don’t always know how to handle things, but God does. And I don’t always have the strength to carry on, but that’s okay because God is strong enough for both of us.
My job is just to fall on Him in trust and humility, to admit that I can’t do it on my own and that I need Him, and to remain still in Him, firm in my faith.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Our hope is in Him. Not in getting our way or in getting out of the trial or in finding what we are looking for in something else. Our hope is in Him! And as we hope in Him – as we wait on Him and trust Him with our situation and trust that He will make our paths straight, make all wrongs right, and eventually make something beautiful out of our messes – we will find the strength to face each day, each trial.
But hoping in Him doesn’t include excessively worrying over our circumstances, groaning about the trials, trying to make things happen in our own strength, trying to force God to answer or move before it is time, focusing on the negatives and the impossibilities and all the things we want but don’t have or have but don’t want. That only saps our strength, a little every day. And it gives the devil more of a foothold in our lives.
But learning to find our hope in Him (and I do mean learning because it is a process of letting go, learning to trust, and changing our thinking) will bring a certain deep assurance that He is still on the throne, even if life is still messy. It will bring a stillness, even in the midst of storms. It will bring contentment and peace, even when things are not the way we want them to be. It will bring joy in Him, even if we are not necessarily “happy.” It will help us learn to walk by faith, to live in reverent fear of the Lord, and to trust Him in genuine humility, allowing Him to be God in our lives.
And this hope will allow us to run our “life’s race” without growing weary . . . to walk through each boring, tedious, redundant day and each stressful, challenging, heartbreaking day without growing faint . . . and to – someday - get enough height to rise far up and effortlessly soar above our daily circumstances and the mire and the discouragement. All because we are facing each day in His strength, because our hope is in Him.
We are right where we need to be as long as we are in His arms and walking in daily obedience under His guidance and putting our faith and hope in Him as we grow closer to Him through His Word and prayer. He will handle each day for us. He will carry us while we carry the burdens He gave us.
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:16-17)
So what burdens are you bravely trying to carry when you should really be admitting your weakness and falling down on Him?
It’s what He’s waiting for. It’s why things are so hard. Because He wants us to need Him. Really need Him! Because He can handle it. And He wants to handle it for us because He loves us and because He sees the big picture when we don’t. He doesn’t ask us to be capable or strong enough and to make things happen; He asks us to trust Him and be still and watch Him do the impossible! He will make our paths straight. He will care for us. He will be glorified!