Monday, April 27, 2009

“God will not give you more than you can handle.”

I’ve heard people say, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” That’s a nice sentiment, but I don’t think it’s true. It’s meant to be reassuring, and it sounds that way, but if it’s not true, it’s worthless.
The sentiment misquotes 1 Cor 10:13, which says, God “will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.” The mistake is to conflate temptations and burdens when we should keep the two distinct. Temptations can certainly weigh a man down, and burdens can certainly birth temptations, but while they may be connected, they are not identical. In the case of temptations, I think God promises to guard us from them because failure in the face of temptation is sin. Failing to resist temptation damages our relationship with him. This is not always so with burdens.

No, I believe, God will give you more than you can handle. Sometime burdens will be heavier than you can carry.

I think Paul would agree. In 2 Cor 12:7-8 he wrote, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me. . . . Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.” That burden—that thorn—was too much for Paul. So how can I believe that God won’t give me more than I can handle? I get the impression that God’s not necessarily interested in proving that I’ve got what it takes to make it in this world. No, I think God’s interested in giving us opportunities to screw it up trying.

How can God be glorified by a bunch of failures? It doesn’t make much sense. But that seems to be how it is. Plenty of others have faced more than they could handle too: Joseph got stuck in a prison, the Israelites got stuck between a river and an army, Ezekiel wasn’t allowed to weep for his dead wife—the disciples bailing a sinking ship, Stephen stoned to death, Peter stuck in prison. They couldn’t hack it. They needed a God who could.

I find that a whole lot more comforting. I like knowing that God will give me more than I can manage. Why? Because it will force me to depend on him more. Instead of pushing me away from God the way sin does, burdens can pull me closer. That’s what I think God is more interested in—more than making life easy. And honestly, you have to work really hard to make life easy. Even then, there’s no guarantee.

Like I said, there’s an important difference between temptations and burdens. Now, burdens certainly do sometimes tempt me to abandon God. And even if God gives me the burden, that doesn’t mean he’s tempting me. “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.” The burden is not the source of temptation, it’s how my heart responds to the burden. That’s why James can say, “When you are being tempted, do not say, ‘God is tempting me.’ . . . He never tempts anyone.” My heart’s the problem. It’s just bent on making burdens into temptations.

As for burdens, when God gives us more than we can stand, he doesn’t leave us to struggle. God offers us his strength—not our own—to bear it. Instead of transforming the burden into a temptation, my heart can draw near to God for strength. Drawing near. That sounds like something God would want.

It’s not necessarily about escaping the burden but about relying on God more for strength, and knowing him better (loving him, even) in the process. Burdens can pull us into deeper dependence on him, allowing us to discover that “God is faithful.” That’s 1 Cor 10:13. We get a chance to see God in action—a personal sort of knowledge. The God who can hack it. Paul saw it too. After all his begging, God assured him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

If I had to pick between hearing those words and having burdens I could manage on my own, give me those words any day. Give me that assurance. Those words describe, I think, how God can be glorified by a bunch of failures, hearts bent in the wrong direction, and clinging to God for all they’re worth.

Believing that God won’t give me more than I can bear is a dangerous thing to believe because when that burden has me pinned to the ground, I will begin questioning God and maybe even give up on him—let go. All because I don’t have the right expectations of God, believing he’s promised something he never did.

As burdens go, Jesus himself said a few words about them. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, 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.”

You don’t have to carry your burdens alone. And hopefully you don’t think that you can. You can’t make it in the world, and Jesus is ready for you to stop trying and get some rest. God will give you more than you can stand. But Jesus came along to take the load off your shoulders, to carry the weight, and pull you along toward God. Oh sure, you may be holding on to God for all your worth, but don’t think you’re really the one with the good grip.

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