In this current series, we are taking a look at what I call “Hallmark Theology.” It is the kind of theology that is fluffy, sentimental and sounds good in the moment, but it isn’t true or is partially true and doesn’t have the power to correctly guide our lives. Our example last week was the idea that a person should follow their heart. We looked at the many reasons why that is a bad idea and why, instead of following our hearts, we should lead our hearts to the Lord, allowing Him to try them, train them and transform them.
Today, I want to challenge another Hallmark misconception. It is this: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That phrase is a common cultural go-to when we are seeking to comfort someone who is struggling. Sometimes we don’t know what to say, but we want to say something to comfort, so we say what we think sounds helpful at the time, something like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” We want to instill courage in the person. We want them to see themselves as an overcomer. We are trying to be encouraging, when in reality, that sentence, that sentiment is pointing people in the wrong direction. That phrase sounds as if God thinks we are actually strong, when in reality, God knows we are weak. That expression places the responsibility to deal with pressures and temptations on the person who is going through a difficult time rather than on God who can handle all things.
The truth is, God won’t give you more than He can handle. The Bible teaches us that God’s power is unlimited, and it is at work in us. The Bible teaches us that God’s grace is sufficient, and it can soothe and comfort us in any test or trial. God has committed to doing the heavy lifting for us. He hasn’t committed to keep us from intense trial or times of suffering, but He has promised to be with us in the midst of them and to ensure that as we let Him lead, we will overcome.
So, how did we arrive at the idea that God wouldn’t give us more than we can handle? In part, this conclusion is drawn from misquoting I Corinthians 10:13: I Corinthians 10:13 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
First of all, the emphasis here in I Corinthians 10:13 is on temptation, not on tests and trials that come in and through the human experience. The big idea in this passage is that when temptation comes there is always a way out. Temptation isn’t something we are supposed to handle or endure. It is something we are to escape from and move past. We aren’t supposed to manage, to handle temptation. We are supposed to flee from it.
Second, temptation isn’t something that comes from God. God will never tempt us to sin. James 1:13 says, When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.
God will never persuade or encourage you to do anything that results in advancing evil. He will never tempt you to sin. Satan brings temptation to us to undermine our faith.
God’s promise to us in the moment of temptation is that He will always give us a way to escape. God won’t allow us to be tempted without a way out. He won’t put us in a corner with no ability to choose the righteous option. I said this recently in a Wednesday night message about Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego who were thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had built for himself. Even though the consequence for not bowing was to be thrown into a blazing furnace, even though Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego could have tried to make a case for bowing in that moment by saying they had no other choice but to bow, they had and made the right choice. The way out for Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego was to go through the fire. And when they were placed in the fire, a fourth person appeared. It was Jesus Himself. The only thing that was burned were the ropes that had bound the three faithful Hebrew young men. They came out of the fire without even the smell of smoke on them.
When we are tempted to sin, to give in to the pleasures of the flesh or to a godless and permissive culture, when we are tempted to bow to the things of this world, we must turn and look to Jesus. He will show us an open door. You are never without options. He has promised to make a way for us. When we are tempted to cave, tempted to compromise our faith, when we are tempted to hide our Christianity, to blend in, God will always provide a way for us to stand, even in the fire, if we will look to Him. When Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego gave an explanation for why they would not bow to the gold statue of the king, their explanation included the power and ability of God to deliver them from any situation and their trust in His Sovereign plan to do what He would see fit. They knew, no matter what, that God wouldn’t abandon them, so they weren’t going to abandon God.
It is Satan who tempts us, to lure us away from our relationship and reliance on God. However, in the face of temptation, God has promised to provide a way out. So, saying that God will never give us more than we can handle and tying that to I Corinthians 10:13 is to twist Scripture because I Corinthians 10:13 talks about what Satan attempts to do in our lives and what God promises in response in those moments.
So, if temptation isn’t from God, but from the devil, what is it that does come from God that can feel hard to carry, and why would He ask us to walk through those experiences? Look at this passage from II Corinthians 1:8-9 to help us see what God might be up to.
For 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,
Right there, Paul debunks the idea that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Paul said, “I couldn’t handle what was happening. It was too much. It was more than I could deal with. It was beyond me.” It wasn’t just beyond his ability, but it was far beyond his ability. He was in the deep end, and he did not know how to swim. He went on to say, “It was far beyond our ability so much 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. II Corinthians 1:8-9
Ministry brought pain for Paul. Standing for Christ brought hardship. He felt as if he was doomed, as if he was dying, as if his life was over, but he declared there was a purpose for it all. He said it all happened so that there would be a move away from self-reliance to a complete dependence upon God in a way that people could see the power of the Resurrection at work in his life. Allow me to repeat that: He said it all happened so that there would be a move away from self-reliance to a complete dependence upon God in a way that people could see the power of the Resurrection at work in his life. I have said it several times recently…The Christian life, for someone who truly follows Jesus, is always a life on the rise.
People need to be able to SEE Christ in us if they will be convinced to follow Him. What is our witness if it is JUST words? What is our testimony if we can only say to someone, “Jesus Christ died and is now alive, and His power is at work in my life to bring resurrection to every part of my life?” But, if the resurrection power of Christ can be seen in our lives in times of suffering, seen instead of just heard, doesn’t that offer compelling evidence to people who need more than words but who need the witness of God at work in practical ways? If we could always handle what we face, who is it that people would be seeing in those moments? Us, right? But in situations which are beyond our ability to handle, they have an opportunity to see Christ at work!
So, Paul dealt with some intense pressures and troubles that were purposeful in the hand of God to enable him to learn to lean on and fully rely on God and to witness to others through his sufferings to the resurrection power of God in any circumstance. You don’t have to have a physical death in order to have a resurrection. God is moving by His Spirit to bring life to our minds, life to our spirits, life to our relationships, life in the midst of our grief, life to our perspective in terms of how we do live and live out our purposes. In addition to that, when we get into situations where we are beyond our ability to endure, God gives us the sticking power and staying power to respond supernaturally to our circumstances instead of just emotionally. People take note of us in moments like that. How we handle or shall I say, how we allow God to handle things for us becomes convincing evidence for the work of God in our lives.
In the verses that precede these in II Corinthians 1, we read about how God comforts us in our troubles and so that even in intense suffering there is intense blessing and fellowship with Christ in those moments from which we benefit. Yes, even the instances where we cannot handle what is being placed in our laps will serve to benefit us as we let God lead. Verse 5 talks about how our comfort abounds in those moments. Verse 6 speaks about an endurance that is born in those moments that enables us to go the distance with God.
I believe God purposely allows us to experience situations that are bigger than we are, that go beyond our ability to handle them, so that He can handle them and be seen in the process. One question we need to ask ourselves is, “Have we been faithful to allow God to handle the trials we face? Have others seen Him in our lives in those moments?” So, one reason God gives us more than we can handle is so that others see Him and the power of His resurrection.
Second, I believe God allows us to experience more than we can handle so that our personal faith is deepened. That is the part of II Corinthians 1:9 we have to embrace. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”
If you never have a trial or test, if you never have a need, if there is never pressure that goes beyond your ability to manage or navigate, what would you need God for? It is our trials and tests that drive us to explore the depths of His power, to seek the intimacy of His face and to know and follow His Divine purposes. Without God, you might “get through” a circumstance, but would you get through it to move into the Divine purpose for having to experience it in the first place? Without God you might “get through it,” but would you come out of it in a deeper relationship with God? Without God you might “get through it,” but would you experience the supernatural help that would ready you for the next time crisis would hit? Without God you might “get through it,” but would you emerge from it with a greater revelation of who God is? Without God you might “get through it,” but would your life offer the example to others that is supposed to become a routine and regular part of our lives as we follow Jesus? Remember, God isn’t just taking us somewhere, but He is transforming us in the process. A trial, in the hand of God, is a tool to shape us into the people He longs for us to become.
I believe God wants to use the difficulties we face to draw us closer to Him, transforming our relationship with Him and transforming us in the process. The goal of our transformation is that when people see us, they will see Jesus, that His life won’t be able to be distinguished from ours. They will be one in the same.
Now that our son has a big taste of new freedom, as he lives on his own in Huntington, and since things are going well, (or at least that’s the word on the street) since the classes are manageable, since he is enjoying campus life, since he is excelling in his studies, since his car is still running fine, since he has enough to eat, since his dog is healthy, and since he has little other “adulting” to worry about, we’re not seeing him or speaking to him nearly as much. We may get a text every day or every other day, but his need for us is suddenly diminished, appropriately so as he continues to forge his path. (I suppose.)
But I guarantee you, there will come some moments when the texts are more frequent, when he will come home to spend the night, when he wonders if we can meet in Barboursville, when he needs some assistance or advice, and as a result of those moments of talking and processing and prayer, he will grow and our relationship with him will deepen. There will be a deepening of him and a deepening of our relationship with him in moments of dependence. This is another goal, another reason why God allows us from time to time to actually be placed in circumstances that we cannot handle. It’s so that we can be reminded to be depending on Him.
Read on in II Corinthians 1:10-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.
What faith! To declare that you have set your hope repeatedly on the One who raises the dead! That is Resurrection life. That is what it means to transfer your reliance from self to God. That is what it means to be fixed on Jesus. When you understand that God has delivered you from distress, like once you experience that and know what it is to have God supernaturally strengthen you, to join you in the fire, to deliver you from the pressure, to make a way when there seems to be nothing but dead ends and no end to your suffering, when you see how God sees you through you, you will transfer your allegiance from self to the Savior and you set your hope daily on Him to do it again and again and again. There is a closeness in those moments that are hard to replicate when everything is smooth sailing.
Those Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and kings who became warriors for God’s purposes became so as they went through times of struggle. It was in those moments that God revealed more and more of Who He was and revealed more and more of what His purposes were for them.
I’ve had my share of struggle. I wasn’t prepared at 31 years old, as our firstborn was only weeks old, to become the only staff member at a large church in Cincinnati and to help them find their way after a devastating and nasty church split. My maternity leave was a whole two weeks because the church needed leadership. I wasn’t really at a place where physically I should have been able to return to work. I wasn’t equipped to take over the administration of the church. I had never led a Board Meeting in my life. I wasn’t trained to handle some of the preaching load due to only having a part-time interim. I wasn’t experienced in conflict meditation. Worship leading was what I knew. It was what I could do. It was in my wheelhouse. All the rest that I have just described, not so much.
I was tempted to run from the struggle. There were moments I thought, “Anywhere but here, Lord.” Just get me out of this pressure! Get me out of this mess! But in those moments of struggle, God was doing a new work in me. My heart for performance, for executing my “to-do” list was transformed into a heart for His people. God increased my capacity to love deeply. He drew Thom and I closer together as a ministry team. He gave me wisdom and words to share that helped steady a very volatile situation. He drew me into deep spaces with Him in prayer. He enabled me to have a spirit of perseverance. He cultivated in me a new sensitivity to His voice. He increased my ability to cover a multitude of ministry duties. I didn’t step up. I gave God room to step up in me.
That season, at least a year and a half, was beyond my ability to endure. Not only was God with me all the while, and not only did God enable me to be what I had never been, but God was preparing me for this work and all that has transpired as we have walked together.
The truth is, you and I aren’t made to handle trials. It’s too exhausting to try to meet expectations, to figure out answers, to process our pain, and to navigate uncharted territory. What we do have the opportunity to do is to hand our trials over to God, so that His purposes for allowing them, come to pass in our lives.
Jesus invites us to bring all of the overload, all of the heaviness, all of the weariness to Him. Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Those are the words of Jesus, the words of a Savior who doesn’t want us to live overwhelmed, but to live with the strength and confidence He will provide.
How do we accept Jesus’ invitation to allow Him to handle what we cannot handle? We have to admit our weakness, our limitation, our vulnerability, our inadequacy. Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” II Corinthians 12:9 The sooner we throw up our hands and admit our inability to do what needs done and invite Jesus to take over, the sooner relief will come.
This pandemic found me having to lead through situations I could not handle. Early on, I wondered if I was up to the task. I quickly learned I was not, but that God was. He has proven faithful. I have still dealt with unwanted circumstances, but God’s presence has given me joy and strength in the midst of stress and uncertain times.
If you are overwhelmed today, if you are dealing with more than you can handle, why not turn it over to the Lord? Why not let Him reveal Himself? Why not let Him take you to a deeper place of faith? Why not allow your situation to become a living testimony to the power of the Resurrection? Why not rest in what God can do instead of being stressed by what you can’t do?
Hallmark Theology says, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” The Bible teaches that God won’t give you more than HE can handle.” Who is ready to turn some burdens over to Him?