Bad Lip Reading: God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Bad Lip Reading”

When times get tough for people around us, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what to say. We often resort to trite sayings like “God never closes a door without opening a window,” hoping to offer comfort and a sense of direction in times of uncertainty or disappointment. But since sayings like these are often misattributed to God and His Word, is the saying even true? When God does seem to close a door, how can we make sure that He’s the one guiding us to our alternate destination?

Next Steps:

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

Audio of the Message I shared at Gateway South:

Here are notes from the message Robb Overholt shared:

Things many of you may even think are from the Bible but are not…so today we are talking about the misnomer “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I hear that said all of the time. And it sounds amazing. Just one problem, it’s not in the Bible.

You might even say it’s like a misunderstood song lyric. Because the Bible does say this:

“God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear…” 1 Cor 10:13

Which has often been susceptible to Bad Lip Reading, and misunderstood as “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But they are very different statements and need to be understood in the proper context.

The promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is not about God not giving us more than we can handle, it is about God not allowing temptation to overwhelm us without Him providing a way of escape so that we can endure the temptation and not fall into sin.

So that statement is about temptation, not about trials, or sufferings.

This is very critical to understand because many people may feel that when life gives them more than they can (honestly) handle they may conclude that God has let them down. They may even repeat this phrase:

“God won’t give you (or me) any more than you (I) can handle,” because they don’t want to believe that God would let them down.

But this is not something that God has promised. I think that this is one of those phrases much like “God helps them who help themselves” that people repeat so often that they assume it is in the Bible but it actually is not.

I can tell you for an absolute fact that life has brought me more than I can handle on many occasions. I am sure the same is true for many, if not all, of you. When you are overwhelmed by the circumstances of your life, should some well-meaning person comes along and say, “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle…” well, you may kind of want to punch them in their face and see if they can handle that … Why? Because that type of rhetoric is not actually helpful at all. Not only because it sounds trite, but also because it’s not true.

The cultural Christian answer to suffering has been far too trite. “God will never give you more than you can handle” has kept some of us from trusting God because we have faced far too many times WAY more than we could handle and God seemed to be distant or nonexistent or even willfully ignoring our pleas for help.

I want to look at a moment in the Scriptures when someone with great faith faced a situation way beyond what he could handle. Looking at this story can help us understand what the Scriptures really do say to us in the midst of our suffering and in the midst of a world that is suffering.

For starters, how do you explain John the Baptist?… Of whom Jesus said, “There is no one greater born among women” (which is everyone, by the way). How did John’s story here on earth end? Beheading.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, John the Baptist was a prophet sent as a forerunner to Jesus, to point the people of Israel towards their long promised Messiah. And he had done just that…

Yet John was not liked by the religious leaders. He was an outcast relegated to the outskirts of the city.

One day, when Jesus approached him at the Jordan river near Bethany, John couldn’t contain himself and shouted out: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

With awe, and probably trembling hands, John had baptized his Lord, Jesus. And then saw the Spirit descend and remain on Jesus.

But eventually he would sit in Herod’s filthy prison. John the Baptist was arrested for simply being John the Baptist. He had not done anything illegal. He was genuinely being persecuted for his faith. Herod was a wicked King of the region. John had expected this. Prophets who rebuke sinful kings, which John had done many times, usually do not fare well in the end. Unfortunately, he was no exception. Herodias, Herod’s bride, wanted him dead. John could see no reason why she would be denied her wish.

What he hadn’t expected was to be tormented by such oppressive doubts and fears. Since the day of his proclamation on the Jordan, John had not doubted that Jesus was the Christ. But stuck alone in this putrid cell he was assaulted by horrible, accusing thoughts.

What if he had been wrong? There had been many false prophets in Israel. What made him so sure that he wasn’t one? What if he had led thousands astray?

There had been false messiahs. What if Jesus was just another? So far Jesus’ ministry wasn’t exactly what John, and others, had always imagined the Messiah’s would look like. Could this imprisonment be God’s judgment?

So he sent two of his closest disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Luke 7:20

Jesus’ response was/is stunning. Jesus was familiar with John’s sorrows and grief and the attacks that Satan brings on people when they are weak and vulnerable. Jesus loved John.

With John’s faithful friends present, he healed many and delivered many from demonic prisons of their own.

Then he turned to them and said, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Luke 7:22 

John would certainly recognize Isaiah’s prophecy from long ago in those words. This promise would bring the peace John needed to sustain him for the few difficult days he had remaining.

When Jesus had sent John’s friends away, he said something stunning about John: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” Luke 7:28

This, right after John questioned who Jesus was.

God does not always answer with the speed we desire, nor is his answer always the deliverance we hope for. But he will always send His grace and that will always be sufficient for those who trust him. That He has promised.

Today, I am submitting to you that God will definitively give you more than you can handle, or at the very least, allow life to happen in ways that result in you, me… all of us sometimes feeling very overwhelmed… and that that is a decidedly good thing for you and for me.

So what I am going to do is make this more personal. Rather than pointing my reasoning at you, I am going to explain how I have experienced this truth. In fact, I am going to give you three beneficial reasons why God allows life to throw me some pretty wicked curve balls.

  1. If God didn’t give me more than I could handle… or allow life to do so…

I would never ask for help and understand the benefits of community.

First a confession: Left to my own devices, I don’t like to ask for help. I like to go it alone and be the sole provider for me and mine. I’m a fierce individualist. A product of Western civilization and a citizen of America… who doesn’t like to feel dependent on anyone or anything. I have issues, people.

God helped us through those moments by sending others into our lives to help us. Sometimes God sent us out to ask others for help.

We are all people who need help at some point in our life, and many times, in some bizarre fashion, that positions us to become better helpers of others.

  1. If God didn’t give me more than I could handle…

I would never entrust Him with my circumstances as I would always  choose myself as the primary navigator of my life.

One day, I was having one of those Psalm-like prayers with God. The Psalms are a book in the Bible where the authors are at times noticeably shaken up, wondering if God has abandoned, cursed, or afflicted them. If you’ve ever been through something that you didn’t think you could handle, you’re not alone, according to the Scriptures

American Philosopher Dallas Willard once said, “God’s address is at the end of your rope.”

One of the many things I love about Jesus, is he is very upfront about things as it pertains to this life. He once said, “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

Sometimes rather than deliver us from our trials God chooses to be with us in our trials.

We are all people who need help at some point in our life, and many times, in some bizarre fashion, that positions us to become better helpers of others.

Which leads me to reason #3:

  1. If God didn’t give me more than I could handle…

 I could never be a part of something bigger than myself.

This is something that I have always longed for, but cannot achieve when left to my own selfish devices. Just about everyone I know longs to take part in something bigger than themselves.

The Bible tells us:

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

And I get to be a part of it… Something way bigger than I could ever do on my own or by myself. And my part is something that seems as if it were created for me.

I know things aren’t always great, and I know that many of you are going through a lot of less than great circumstances right now. But God will expose even the smallest of light, especially in the dark places.  And I really want you to consider that as we prepare to close with a song.

I remember the first time I came across the backstory of the beautiful hymn, “It is Well.”

The song’s author, Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888), was from Chicago. He had established a very successful legal practice as a young businessman and was also a devout Christian. Among his close friends were several evangelists including the famous Dwight L. Moody, also from Chicago.

Spafford’s fortune evaporated in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Having invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, he lost everything overnight. In a saga reminiscent of Job in the Scriptures, his son died a short time before his financial disaster. But it would get worse.
Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Moody in a campaign in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled. He expected to follow in a few days.

On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, ‘Saved alone.’

Spafford left immediately to join his wife. This hymn is believed to have been penned as he approached the area of the ocean thought to be where the ship carrying his daughters had sunk.

And with these words,

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul”

To begin to understand that I could say, that you might say, in the midst of your circumstances, regardless of what they are right now or have ever been “I may not always feel well… things may not be well… but IT is well with my soul…” unbelievably beautiful.

For more resources:

Responding to Suffering

How Do We Know God Cares?

Scars Show That You Survived

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