I can’t even count the number of times someone has said to me, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” as if the saying of it would magically cut the situation down to size, or at least bolster their flagging spirits enough to overcome. And I really hate to burst the bubble, but the fact is that every day Christ-followers face circumstances that are too big, too much, too overwhelming for any sane mind. Chemo that makes you weak and nauseous. Spouses that break faith. Babies that come too early. Pain that wakes you up at night and hounds you during the day. Children with seizures. Raging fires that swallow up whole towns. Three-year-olds with tempers the size of Wyoming, and teenagers that are bent on doing life their own way. Siblings that act like you are the enemy. Parents that cannot live on their own any more. The power of addiction. The dark valley of grief.
If we are honest, there is a whole world of things that we cannot control, and that leave us feeling rather helpless and confused about what to do next. And yeah, telling myself that I can handle this because God gave it to me really doesn’t help. Since when is He in the habit of limiting Himself to my own small resources?
Jesus never spoke as one delivering self-help goals– or even inspiring ideals. In fact, Paul admits freely that the gospel does not make sense to the human mind: “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Jesus’ teachings were life-changing and difficult, and He understood that He was turning the world upside-down for the sake of Heaven’s reality. And yet Jesus meant for us to take Him at His word, to put into practice what He taught us.
And I can hear the echoes of all His impossible-seeming standards: “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)…. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)….”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)….”Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”(James 1:2). There’s not a one of them that I can handle, no matter how much I psych myself out about being a new creature. Oh I can fake it for awhile…put my best foot forward and be the saint people expect to see. Or I can rationalize that these are good things to strive for but maybe not meant for everyday life. Or I can even dodge a sense of failure by comparing myself to those around me, rather than to the standards that measure me short. But when life really gets tough the only way to handle anything is just to come running to Jesus and confess very honestly that this is too much for me.
That is exactly the point, and the answer is right there after all: “If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) A long time ago, someone’s well-meaning emphasis on productivity gave me the idea that Jesus was talking about the work of ministry here…good works and what you can accomplish for eternity. Focusing on what we can do for Jesus is probably a good motivational tool, but I have found that His power, His presence is actually what I need for Life itself.
It’s more than knowing what resources to turn to, when I run out. It’s letting God make me new on the inside, choosing to rely on Him instead of myself, trusting that He knows what is best in all those impossible things. It’s living out the truth that the Church-planter Paul talked about: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3)
Maybe all those situations I can’t handle and all those big commands are supposed to be just that impossible, because God isn’t looking to hand out super-charged batteries to help me accomplish what I want to do. He wants to live in me with His resurrection power, to accomplish what He wants to do. So when I can’t figure it out myself, or make things happen with my own strength and determination, then there’s nothing left to do but draw on God’s strength and seek His face, and I am right where I should be. His promise still stands: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
He knows that the best way to live is in utter dependence on the Christ who has already overcome– the One who made you and loves you with an everlasting love– and in Him you can do all these impossible things.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
“Give me faith to trust what You say,
That You’re good and Your love is great;
I’m broken inside, I give You my life,
‘Cause I may be weak
But Your Spirit’s strong in me.
My flesh may fail;
My God You never will.”
(Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)