When comforting those who are struggling under the weight of life’s difficulties, it is crucial to provide sound encouragement that will not only relieve the sufferer, but do so in a way that is in line with God’s truth. It is truly surprising how often the advice
or direction provided by those attempting to console others has no root—or extremely weak roots—in Scripture.

Several colloquial sound bytes work their way into contemporary Christian belief systems and damage a proper Christian worldview (i.e. Try juxtaposing “God helps those who help themselves” with Romans 5:8), but there is one particular destructive phrase worthy of attention that has recently grown in popularity and use:

“God will never give me more than I can handle.”

This idiom is often expressed as a reassuring response to life’s challenges as if it were a rock-solid promise that is fortified by biblical truth. When sharing one’s difficulties with a friend, it would not be uncommon to hear him or her confidently say, “Well, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” But is this true? Would God never choose to put you in a situation that is too much for you to manage?
Though this phrase may feel like a familiar passage of Scripture, its foundational premise conflicts with biblical truth, and its logical outworking actually supports an individualistic worldview, undermining what God’s word reveals regarding surrender and trust. The saying is most likely a poor paraphrasing from 1 Corinthians 10:13, where the apostle Paul states, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

The significant difference between this passage of scripture and the aforementioned phrase is that Paul’s words declare the Lord’s provision of an escape route in times of temptation, not necessarily his willingness to shelter people from overwhelming circumstances. Very often God does, in fact, give us more than we can handle in this life—though not without a greater purpose in mind.

God uses life’s circumstances to illuminate our need for him. If it is true that God never gives anyone more than he or she can handle, there would be no felt need for God. No one would seek help because, after all, human power would be sufficient for addressing the entirety of life’s concerns. Those who trust in humanity’s goodness refuse to look externally for assistance, believing that all the necessary strength for proper living comes from within the individual. This false gospel of self-sufficiency and humanism permeates Western culture and stands in opposition to God’s way of surrender and trust. Alternatively, when an individual comes face to face with the futility of his own power for managing life, he is compelled to seek a power outside of himself. Christians believe that we should put “no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3) when faced with life’s struggles, and instead rely upon the Lord, whose “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).

God also places individuals in painful situations in order to enhance their worship. While the way of the world is to deal with life’s problems by applying a “just try harder” or “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” strategy, God’s way is different. The world sees humanity as fully capable of withstanding the emotional onslaught faced from living life on this earth. Those who are in Christ, however, understand that God uses human ineffectiveness and desperation to turn weary hearts toward him. When entering worship services, participants may occasionally be invited to leave their problems and worries at the door. How foolish! It is precisely those challenges, crises, and concerns that cause the heart to cry out and recognize its need to rely more heavily upon the Lord. Authentic worship of God is increased when we begin to believe and trust that he is able to do what we are powerless to do. We should come into God’s presence along with life’s challenges, utilizing the feelings of stress and anxiety to draw us to our knees, acknowledge the deficiency of our own strength, and surrender our lives to His supremely capable hands.

Though God may certainly give you more than you can handle in this life, He will never give you more than Hecan handle. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This passage implies that Jesus is the source of our life, nourishment, and power, and that it is absolutely essential to remain connected with Christ at all times. When we are cut off from that source of energy and strength, we will undoubtedly encounter situations that are too overwhelming for us to handle through our own abilities. As Paul states in Philippians 4:13, we can indeed “do all things,” but only “through Christ who strengthens [us].” Perhaps the impossible situations in which we find ourselves are intended by God to destroy our sinful self-reliance and inspire us to renew our commitments to trust Him completely and abide with Him constantly.

Are you going through a difficult time? Do life’s struggles seem insurmountable? Have you come to recognize your own inability to change your circumstances? Praise God, for you are coming to a place of surrender. When you come to this point of desperation, you have a choice: You can choose to doubt God’s goodness and strength, thus returning to a futile reliance upon your own strength, or you can choose, by faith, to wholly surrender to God, trusting Him to provide everything you need to see you through life’s storms. And that is precisely where God wants you—completely and utterly dependent upon Him, who “will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Written by Tim Van Dorn, LPC