Amidst a variety of Christian platitudes stands the timeless half-truth, “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
There is a sense in which this is theologically accurate–if we view it on the basis of 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (NKJV)
We have a promise here from God that no temptation we face could ever be strong enough to force us to sin. When we sin, we can never use excuses like, “It was just too tempting” or “I couldn’t help it” or “It was inevitable that I would fall into it.”
So in that sense, yes; God never gives us a temptation that is more than we can bear. But there is an important caveat to keep in mind.
As sinful human beings, we are so prone to rely on ourselves and our own strength. I understand this struggle well. My flesh loves pride and self-reliance, and it is certainly an indwelling sin of mine that I must constantly put to death. In order to sanctify me and make me more like Jesus, God has, in His goodness, given me various hardships to bear. These times of suffering, including long periods of debilitating anxiety and depression, have done much to help humble me, though I know I still have a long ways to go (and much more pruning to endure)!
Despite how hard it has been, I am thankful to the Lord for putting me through the fires of affliction. He has sanctified me and taught me obedience through them (and continues to):
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word. …
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes. (Psalm 119:67, 71)
Yet I know that without His strength empowering me, I surely would have perished in my suffering–or worse, would have blasphemed and departed from my God. The pain I experienced was too great for this weak heart of mine. And even if I had hung onto my profession, without God’s grace, I never would have borne fruit in it. I would have become like a dry, withered branch to be thrown away and burned. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:5).
Our tendency toward self-reliance is what makes sayings like “God never gives you more than you can handle” potentially dangerous. It can sound as though God looks at us, sees how strong we are, and then gives us a trial and says, “You got this, you go girl!” But in reality, that is not at all what He does. Rather, He sees how weak we are, and He both promises and grants us sufficient grace to persevere and glorify Him.
I want to share a personal story of a time in my life when God showed me just how weak and incapable I am, but how infinitely powerful He is–especially towards the helpless sinner who trusts in Him.
(Note: This may be a sensitive topic for some readers. But I believe that anxiety and depression are important issues to address in the Church as they are widely experienced by true believers, yet often considered “taboo.” If you are suffering, please take care of yourself–body and soul–and reach out to your loved ones, church elders, and medical professional for help.)
* * *
Alone in a hospital room at 4 A.M., I listened to the hums of the machines all around me and prayed I would hear the sound of footsteps near my door. It had been hours since I had seen my nurse–or anyone else, for that matter. As a then-single woman with no family nearby, I had come to the hospital all by myself, for severe abdominal pain (which I found out years later was my undiagnosed endometriosis flaring up). Thanks to medication, those pangs had long since subsided. But as I waited to be released, I faced a different problem. One that was far, far worse. An arch-enemy that threatened to destroy my life. And that enemy was…
(Or, so I thought.)
I had been suffering from panic attacks–severe, uncontrollable experiences of dread and fear that grew worse and more frequent every day. They left me crippled and nearly agoraphobic (unable to leave my apartment). Certain places–especially where I had previously had an episode of panic–were almost guaranteed to bring on another.
The hospital was one of those places. The ultra-bright florescent lights brought back memories of my last attack. The beeping of my heart monitor, sleep deprivation, and the Twilight Zone feeling of the sterile, white hallways… Add to these the dark, intrusive thoughts that plagued my mind, and it was a recipe for panic disaster.
Everything is empty and meaningless, said the enemy in my mind, hitting me with more than words–with a stab of dread to my soul. Deep despair swept over me like a wave. I began to drown in it.
Distantly, I heard the voices of nurses happily chattering about their weekend plans. I remember feeling like I was in a dream. No, a nightmare. I lost attachment to reality. How could they be laughing at a time like this? Don’t they know I am on the verge of death?
The enemy latched onto that thought: Your life is not worth living. You cannot survive this. There is no more hope.
I was terrified and began to tremble. My heart pounded in my chest. I heard the rapid beeping of the monitor as my pulse raced faster and faster. I wiped my sweaty palms on the stiff hospital sheets and tried to breathe. I wanted to jump out of my skin.
Panic–or was it someone else now?–demanded: Pull the IV out of your arm. Another stab of dread. Then the most desperate message of all:
End your life.
To be clear: my soul did not want that. No part of me wanted it. I was utterly horrified at the thought! But it pressed into my mind with incredible force. Where was it coming from? Who was “speaking” to me? Could it be, not just panic, but my soul’s mortal enemy–Satan himself?
I felt as though the jaws of Death were gaping wide open at me. That I was standing on the precipice of a dark chasm, and an evil wind was pushing at my back: Fall in.
Then suddenly, in that darkest moment–before I could even ask for it–help came. I was utterly powerless on my own, but the Lord filled me with His power. He caused me to lift up the shield of faith against those fiery darts.
“No,” I said, out loud in the empty room. “There is hope! Jesus died for my sins, saved me and gave me new life! He loves me!” I hardly knew what I was saying at first, but the Spirit brought to mind the Word that I had stored in my heart. God gave me strength to preach the gospel to myself.
With vicious intensity, the enemy responded in my mind: That won’t help you now. That’s just an empty message. It has no power.
Out loud once again, I declared: “It is the only thing that will help me now. Oh Lord, you’re the only One who who can help me now. You’re the only One… please help me.”
And then it happened–God’s extraordinary deliverance!
The very next thing I remember is waking up. Somehow, right in the midst of the most intense panic attack (and temptation) of my life, I had fallen asleep! Not only that, but while I slept, my nurse had finally come back, turned off the horrible florescent lights, and put a warm blanket on me.
The first words on my mind as I woke? A comforting word from my Lord:
He gives to His beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)
Tears of thankfulness and joy sprung to my eyes. I could hardly believe the way God had rescued me from such an incredible trial!
When I finally returned home an hour or so later, exhausted but rejoicing, I had a deeper understanding of the truth that we are “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). I knew I had overcome the evil one that night, but only by the power of Christ and His Word. I was utterly helpless on my own. Jesus, who knew what it was to be tempted, had empowered me to use the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, just as He did against Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4).
God had, in His sovereignty, given me more than I could handle in my own strength. He showed me my weakness, and how desperately I need Him. But He also showed me that there is nothing too hard for the Lord, no darkness so dark that it can keep the Light from breaking through.
I hope and pray that regardless of what kind of trial you are in–whether it is depression and anxiety, marriage issues, job stress, grief or loss–that the Lord would draw near and remind you of the truth: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). May He uphold us to exercise faith, plead His promises, resist the evil one, and stand fast in the Lord, knowing someday soon, our faith will become sight. Eternal glory awaits!