I am about to enter a fairly busy few weeks, with the craziness of Christmas not too far away, so the question of how much I can handle has been on my mind. Each one of us only has a certain capacity for things we can deal with at any given moment. There’s only so much we can carry at once. That’s not only a question of busyness, of the sort that has occupied my thoughts recently. We can become overloaded with worries and concerns, battles and struggles, difficulties and sufferings. The ups and downs of day-to-day life can easily make us feel as if our hands – and our hearts – are completely full.
We can feel as if life is just too much for us to manage sometimes. As a Christian, that raises an important question: does God gives us more than we can cope with?
I’d like the answer to be ‘no’ and it would seem I have good Biblical reasons to think that. Consider Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”1 Corinthians 10:13
That sounds like a tremendously encouraging word, doesn’t it? God won’t let us go beyond what we can bear. He knows our capacity and makes sure we are not stretched beyond it.
That is certainly true, but it is important to note that Paul is talking very specifically about temptation here. God’s faithfulness means that we are never in a position where we face temptation we cannot deal with. Now I have certainly felt as if that weren’t true at times! But as Paul goes on to say in the next part of the verse: “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Our ability to endure temptation doesn’t rest in our capacity, but in God’s ability to meet any temptation. We are never tempted beyond what we can bear, not because we are so capable, but because no temptation is beyond God’s ability to help.
So does God ever send us more than we can manage? Are the troubles, difficulties and worries of life ever more than we can cope with? Perhaps at times they are. In fact, the evidence to suggest this comes once more from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians:
“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
Paul is completely open and transparent about the struggles he faced as he preached about Jesus in the province of Asia. He encountered great opposition, persecution and threats to his life. This, says Paul, was ‘great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure”.
Here is the (seemingly) omnicompetent apostle Paul saying that he had reached his capacity and beyond. What God had sent his way was more than he could handle, was more than they could endure. Paul finds his hands full and cannot take any more.
Why is this? Why does Paul find himself in this situation? Why do we find ourselves at times overwhelmed with life’s troubles, at the limit of our capacity, beyond our ability to endure?
Paul’s answer is this: “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9). If God allows us to go beyond our ability to cope, it is so that we no longer rely on our ability to cope. If our hands get too full, then we are to place those burdens into the hands of the One who has infinite capacity, our loving heavenly Father.
So, does God give us more than we can manage? Yes, sometimes I believe he does. But he never gives us more than He can manage, and that is the important point. At times we will find ourselves overwhelmed, over capacity and over our heads. In those moments, God calls us to rely on him, give our struggles and our burdens to him, and allow him to take them from our faltering hands.