Devotional - God Will Often Give You More Than You Can Handle


Pastor Matt Burden, Second Baptist Church


As a pastor, I often talk with people who are struggling through difficult situations. And every now and then someone will tell me, “I know that the Bible says that God will never give me more than I can handle, but this situation feels like too much to bear.” I try to take care to gently correct the first part of this common sentiment. Why does it need correction? Because it’s not only wrong, it might even be spiritually dangerous.

The phrase "God will never give you more than you can handle" is a misquotation of a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 10:13—“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” This verse, when read in context, is clearly addressing the fact that God will not leave us defenseless against a temptation to sin. There is always a way out, always room to say no to sin. But take note—this verse is clearly not referring to circumstances that put our emotional stamina to the test. That's what most people are talking about when they say "God will never give you more than you can handle," but this verse is not about that at all.

In fact, there's another verse from the apostle Paul that directly contradicts the idea that "God will never give you more than you can handle." It comes from 2 Corinthians 1:8, where Paul says, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life." It's pretty plain there--God allowed such difficult circumstances to come up in the course of Paul's missionary work that it was "far beyond his ability to endure," i.e., much more than he could handle.

So, we've established that this commonly-heard phrase is unbiblical. Now let me tell you why it's spiritually dangerous, aside from the fact that it assumes that God himself is the one who actively sends painful circumstances into your life. One difficulty is that the phrase implies an inward focus rather than a Godward focus to our lives. It suggests that what's really important is your individual ability to handle difficult circumstances, that your own strength of will is enough to surmount anything that God or the world might throw at you. This is, quite frankly, an unchristian idea. The true Christian attitude toward the trials and difficulties of life is to have the humility to be honest about our brokenness and limitations; to cry out, "God, I need you--I can't do this on my own."

The truth is, God regularly gives us more than we can handle. And I'm not talking just about the big, all-consuming tragedies that can befall us in life. Even in the normal course of events, we are often brought up against the stark barrier of our own insufficiency. I'm a father of young kids, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that raising them--as great a set of kids as they are--is literally more than my wife and I can handle. It pushes us out of our self-reliance--we have to learn to lean on each other, on God, on the fellowship of family and friends. 

And that's the whole point, I think. We live in a world where terrible, unspeakable things happen. Why doesn't God simply remove these trials from our lives? We don't know all the answers to that question, and we probably won't know them in this lifetime. But we can say at least a little bit--that trials of this kind serve to wean us off our delusions of self-reliance and throw us on the strength of God and his church. And, really, where would you rather be? Stuck in the narrow limitations of your own willpower, or able to lay yourself down on the endless compassion of our unending God? As Sadhu Sundar Singh once said, "From my many years' experience I can unhesitatingly say that the cross bears those who bear the cross."