Last time I talked about how, in spite of this popular quote, God absolutely gives us more than we can handle. But why does He do this? If God loves us, why does He deliberately cause us to reach the end of our ability to endure? Isn’t that just plain mean?
Let’s think of it another way.
Pretend you have an important appointment a thousand miles away. You’re meeting with a potential employer in one week. You know God is behind this—your whole future depends on it—but your entire net worth is only a hundred dollars. You can’t afford a plane ticket. So, you pack your bags, pick up a map, spend your entire savings on some sturdy hiking boots… and start walking.
As you go along, you develop blisters. First the sun beats down on your blistering shoulders. Then rain drenches you to the skin. It’s a long trek, and you finished off the peanut butter and jelly sandwich you brought ages ago. Finally, somewhere in the middle of the desert, you run out of water. As you crawl toward a distant mirage, vultures circling overhead, you complain: “God, this isn’t fair! You gave me more than I can handle!”
And God answers, “I never intended for you to walk. You haven’t asked me for help!”
So you finally stop and pray, telling God that you can’t do this. It’s much too hard. You were just trying to obey, but you forgot to depend on Him. But now you realize you need His help. Would He please come rescue you?
At first you think the heat and thirst have made you delirious, but then you realize that a limousine really has stopped by the side of the road. The chauffeur is standing by the open door. Air conditioned air emanates from the plush interior. As you climb in and help yourself to an iced drink from the bar in back, your driver explains that your future boss had a bizarre dream that you needed a ride, and had taken it seriously. He had sent the limo, and they’d been looking for you for days.
I know, the story is a bit… sketchy? I might have exaggerated just a bit. But you get the idea. As long as we try to live life in our own strength—what we can handle—we’re going to continue to be overwhelmed. In fact, God will make sure of it. (Trust me, I have plenty of experience with this!)
That’s because He doesn’t want us living apart from Him. Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1? “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” (2 Cor. 1:8-9). The next sentence is the key:
“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
It’s very easy for competent people to rely on themselves. I’m pretty good at things like cooking, or putting together a PowerPoint presentation, or growing lettuce. And when I’m doing those things, I don’t automatically think of relying on God.
It’s when I’m faced with something I am not good at—figuring out taxes, or car repairs, or dealing with upset people—that I’m quick to call for help.
Yet, God wants us to rely on Him all the time, not just when we’re feeling pretty good about our abilities. Why? Because His greatest desire is to be with us!
One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
How do we “lean not” on our own understanding? The NIV (quoted here) says, “…in all your ways submit to Him.” Other translations tell us to “acknowledge” Him. To me, acknowledging God means that we give him a footnote. We decide what to do, how to do it, and for the most part, we get the credit. It’s like someone accepting an Oscar, and thanking those who made their achievement possible.
Since this verse means a lot to Pete and I, we looked up the word that was translated “submit” or “acknowledge.” To our utter amazement, it’s gnosis! It means “to know intimately” and is used in places like Genesis 4:1, which the King James bible states, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain…”!
When we have that intimate a relationship with God, it’s much easier to rely on Him in all situations. The result? “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
Maybe sign at the top of this page ought to say “God won’t give me more than He can handle”!
Thank you so much for this post. I absolutely hate it when people say “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” or “He’s never given me more than I can handle,” because in my life experience, that is NOT TRUE. I have had more than I can handle before. And while I can’t think of a Bible verse where God says He doesn’t give us more than we can handle, I can think of a lot of versers that say He will help us. I never noticed the 2 Cor. verses where Paul feels the same way, but when you are totally overwhelmed like that, you DO despair of life. Thank you for sharing those verses, and the meaning behind “acknowledge” in Proverbs 3. It has helped me understand this difficult topic a little better.
An insightful post, Leslie.
The Scripture that came to my mind as I read this: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless…”
Too much to handle?
Liz, John, thank you both for your encouraging comments!
Great post! I love your description of the guy trying to do it on his own, crawling across the desert. Been there, done that.