If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you have probably heard these words uttered by those close to you: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” They are uttered by well-meaning people to encourage us as we go through difficult trials. Indeed, I have said that phrase many times to others in the past. But there appears to be a Bible verse that may contradict that thought.
Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthian church: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hard ships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond
our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death…” – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9A.
“Far beyond our ability to endure.” Is it possible that, sometimes, God gives us more than we ourselves can handle? It appears that is what Paul is saying. His language is pretty straight-forward. “Under great pressure,” “far beyond our ability to endure,” “we despaired even of life.” That’s pretty intense! I have felt great pressure at times and even questioned my ability to continue on in the fight. But I am not sure if I ever got to the point where I despaired of life. Paul is painting the picture of a severe trial. These types of trials do not come our way very often (thank God!) but, when they do, they have a lasting effect on our walk with the Lord.
Why does the Lord allow these kinds of trials to confront us, trials “far beyond our ability to endure”? Why would he allow this great pressure and despair to grip our lives? Well, as we read the rest of verse nine, Paul explains it. He says, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.” So, there is a purpose for these trials! God is working in us and will sometimes bring us to a place beyond our ability to endure so that we will depend more fully on him.
We are raised by our parents to be independent and self-sufficient. No one wants a son or daughter that still needs his or her meat cup up for them when they are in their teens and twenties. It’s right and proper that we should become more self-sufficient and less dependent on others as we grow and develop. But not in the spiritual world. The Lord wants us to become more dependent on him as we mature in Christ. He wants us to rely less on ourselves and more on him. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, verses 11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Paul is equating growing physically like growing spiritually. But instead of becoming more independent, we need to become more dependent.
Why is that? Well, I think verse 12 gives us a hint. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” Mirrors back in Paul’s day were merely pieces of metal. You could see your reflection but it was not very clear. That is the analogy Paul is using here. We are spiritual beings stuck inside physical bodies. We do not always see things clearly, especially if we are not walking in the Spirit. Our reliance on God – who does see things clearly – helps us to avoid walking into the traps of the enemy or falling into pits that others have put in our pathway (or perhaps we may have even dug ourselves). Our reliance on God assures us that we will not stumble and fall. But, because of our pride – our sinful nature – we are not always dependent on the Lord. God, in his mercy, will allow trials into our lives to “get our attention” and keep us from stumbling. Sometimes those trials may even be “far beyond what we can endure” and make us “despair even of life”. But the end result is that we become more dependent on God and avoid harming ourselves in a devastating way.
So, as you go through some severe trails, cling to the Lord with all of your might. Follow the advice in Proverbs 3:5 – “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Focus on becoming more dependent on him in everything. Don’t try to figure everything out. Just trust him to see you through it. And he will see you through it because he is faithful and promised us that he would do so. Taking him at his word is the first step in becoming totally dependent on the Lord.