I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
“God will never give you more than you can handle.” We’ve all heard it, I’m sure. Probably dozens of times. We probably have even said it ourselves more than once. And it sounds so right. We want to believe it because it sounds so good. So reassuring, isn’t it?
Yet, when said to us in the midst of struggles that feel overwhelming, it actually can sound…well, condescending. In reality, those words, even that sentiment, are not to be found anywhere in the Bible.
Yes, God certainly will give us more than we can handle. In fact, we need only look at the trials and struggles of the Apostle Paul to understand.
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 (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
The concept that God will keep us from difficulties that are beyond our own human ability to handle is simply false at best, and misleading at worst. But take note of what Paul wrote immediately following those words.
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 (v. 9).
That bears repeating. “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.” In other words — there was a reason God allowed these overwhelming events to happen to Paul, and Paul recognized it.
Yes, God will indeed give us more than we can handle in our own human strength. He will even do so with purpose and intention — that we might learn to turn to him in our despair. That we learn to lean on him, and not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
When We Feel Overwhelmed
Every one of us feels overwhelmed at times — sometimes because of our own actions, other times as a result of events over which we have no control.
We each face daily pressures from family responsibilities, jobs, finances, school, friends, temptations — or more commonly, some combination of all the above.
These pressures can seem to pile up until they are…overwhelming. Other challenges are not as common to our daily lives, but no less real — the death of a loved one or a troubling diagnosis, just to name two examples.
Often, we find ourselves then questioning God. Why me? Why this? How could you do this to me? Or we retreat into what we believe is a shell of protection — only to find the problems remain when we emerge. We then try to re-engage and find we fall deeper into despair over the issues we face.
We work harder at solving whatever the challenges might be. We seek solutions. We exercise more. The list is endless. And when those don’t work, we seek advice from others — unfortunately, too often in all the wrong places.
Christ never promised a perfect life or clear sailing when we came to him. In fact, his promise was quite the opposite — he promised we would have trouble.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Fortunately, the Bible speaks directly to our feelings of being overwhelmed. Moreover, we are given some pretty good role models to follow.
Look to Scripture
Scripture is full of the life stories of many who faced overwhelming challenges in their lives, yet all persevered through their faith in God. Noah; Moses; Job (boy, there’s a good one); and so many others. And, of course, David.
King David always seems to be the shining example to us of courage and bravery, held together by his faith in God. After all, he slew the giant Goliath without a thought of fear. Yet…so many of David’s psalms seem to strike chords of anxiety and anguish.
Like us, David too dealt with the feelings of being overwhelmed. His agony is so often unmistakable. Yet, each time, as he turns to God, those feelings of torment and pain turn to praise.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me (Psalm 13).
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe (Psalm 61: 2-3).
Yet, perhaps Jesus Himself offers us our best example. In the Gospel of Mark, before his arrest, trial and crucifixion, Jesus described himself as feeling overwhelmed.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him (Mark 14:33-35).
Throughout his ministry, we often see the sinless Son of God get away from the large crowds —even retreating from his disciples — to spend time alone with the Father.
After learning of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus sought solitude and was followed by a multitude of people. That night was the very same that Jesus walked on water.
What Do We Do?
If one thing is certain, Scripture makes clear that the life of a believer is going to be full of troubles. We will inevitably face conflict, adversity, sorrow, sickness, and yes, death — our own and that of loved ones. Life is a fight.
Chronic illness; physical pain; caring for a loved one who suffers physically or mentally; injustice; wrongs or betrayals done to us — or by us. Even past regrets or failures.
Yet through all of this, we still do not grow closer to the Lord through prosperity, as our own sinful pride then leads us to feel as if we don’t need him. Let us then use those moments to step closer.
To recognize our need for him. During those difficult times, let us lean not on our own understanding. Let us do as David, and as Jesus did. Let us turn to the Father for his strength, his understanding, his peace.
Take the time to step away. Retreat for a bit. Re-read your favorite verses or your favorite Psalms. Reconnect with your Father, who is always there for you.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise — in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 13:3-4).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6).
For emphasis, it bears repeating, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Just because we love the Lord does not mean we will be safe from the storms of life. Yes, God knows when we are overwhelmed, and while he does not promise to keep us from those moments, he does promise to be there with us through them.
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Greg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected] and on Facebook.