April 19, 2011

Urban Legends: God will never give me more than I can bear

Life is busy and demanding, and our lives can get full fast. We feel stressed and overwhelmed. There are many times when we feel like we’re on a treadmill that is going way to fast and the only way to stop is to jump...which isn’t going to have a good ending! Job, family, sports, social events, church...busy, busy, busy! Before you know it...one thing piles on top of another and we feel overwhelmed by all that is going on.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed?

It is a common feeling. You ask someone, “How are you doing?” And their response is, “Busy. Got a lot going on.” It has become my own mantra over the past few months. Full-time job, full-time family, planting a church, trying to get everything done, have a personal and social life...the calendar fills up quickly.

That is when today’s myth comes into play. If you are taking notes...Here is today’s myth. Fill it in there in your notes:

Myth: God will never give us more than we can handle.

You have probably been there. Struggling with all that’s going on...we feel pressured, stressed, overwhelmed by everything we are doing, and some well meaning person says, “Hang in there. God will never give you more than you can bear. You’re going to be alright.” Or, you begin telling yourself this, “God will never give me more than I can bear! So He must think I can do this.”

But that simply isn’t true.

This myth most likely from misunderstanding a really great Scripture passage found in 1 Corinthians 10:13. It says, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This is a great promise of God, but it does not say, “God will never give you more than you can bear.” It says, “God will never let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” You have to take this verse in context with what Paul is saying. What it says is that when you are tempted...when sin is crouching at your door waiting to attack...when Satan is trying to derail you from following God...there will always be a way to escape that temptation. It will be up to you to take it, but there will be a way out.

The myth that God will never give you more than you can bear is actually the opposite of what the Bible teaches. This phrase is more American Self-help Philosophy than Biblical. Rather than drawing attention to God it is more about you. “You can do it! God will never give you more than you can handle...so keep going even though you feel like you are going to blow out at any minute!” Since we all know that God will never give us more than we can handle...we push harder to keep going. It is a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of outlook with a touch of God. I can do it. I can do anything. I just work harder, push harder, and make it all happen.

And that is rubbish.

Today being Palm Sunday, the church typically looks at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week. And there is really no better place to start than with Jesus when we are debunking today’s myth. Sometimes we can get caught up in the “Godness” of Jesus and forget that He dealt with life in the same human way you and I do.

Jesus was facing more than He could bear. After being welcomed into Jerusalem with a triumphant parade and shouts of praise, he was rejected, mocked, beaten, and crucified. He knew He would be killed on a Roman Cross. He wasn’t surprised by what was happening, but it didn’t make it any easier.

The Pharisees were testing Him constantly; always looking for ways to trap Him. Despite three years with Him, the disciples still misunderstood Him and argued about who would be the greatest in His Kingdom when He overthrew the Roman Government. Judas was going to betray Him with a Kiss...the sign of reconciliation and friendship. His closest friends and disciples were going to deny him, abandon Him and flee when He needed them most...that sounds like too much.

Luke 22 shows Jesus with abundantly more than He could bear. Verse 41-42 says, “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’” Jesus knows what is coming. He knows what must be done...but He is asking God that if there is any other way for salvation to be accomplished...the agony is great...can we do something else. Isaiah 53:10 prophesies about Jesus, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer...”

Jesus stops praying, walks back to His disciples, and finds them sleeping rather than praying. He returns to prayer and verse 44 says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” I don’t know about you, but I have never prayed so hard that my sweat was like drops of blood. That is anguish. That is Jesus with more than He could bear.

Lest we think it is only Jesus...The Bible is filled with people who suffer with more than they could bear...Moses says he has been given more than he can bear in Numbers 11...the Apostle Paul says that he was given more than he could bear...even to the point of despairing for his life in 2 Corinthians 1.

In fact,

The Truth is God often gives us MORE than we can bear.

Why would he do this? Because He wants to teach us something very valuable in the “too much” of life.

You might say that God is in the business of giving us:

The Gift of too much!

When we try to convince ourselves that God will never give us more than we can bear...we are often trying to talk ourselves out of the desperation that comes from doing too much...from having too much stuff going on in our lives. We are adding one activity on to another. We are trying to do everything...to prove we can handle it. We don’t want others to know we are hurting inside. We want approval or applause.

Let me go down one quick rabbit trail...this is an important lesson to learn early on in your life. I didn’t, and I still need to. There is a big difference between God giving us the gift of too much, and us piling stuff on ourselves. Sometimes we place the blame on God when it is really our own fault. We need to learn to say “or” more often than we say “and” when it comes to the things we do. We are so caught up in doing this AND that AND this AND that. But true effectiveness in your life begins to take place when you use the word “or” more often. I can do this OR that. When we use “and” we are simply piling more and more stuff on ourselves and we can’t blame God for giving us more than we can bear when we are the ones adding more and more stuff.

Eventually we become so bogged down by doing this AND that AND this...that we are no longer effective in our lives. We are just moving from one thing to another. We need to less in order to be more...to be more present to our families...to be more present to God...to be more truly human. We can’t be what we need to be when we keep adding on more and more stuff to do.

So back onto the trail...We need the gift of too much. We need it because it teaches us several things:

1. Give something up.

This is really a question about priorities. One of the most influential books on leadership for me is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. And one of the most important of the seven habits is Begin with the end in mind. This is important because when you begin with the end in mind, you know where you want to end up. And when we know where we want to end, we have a better grasp on the things that will or will not allow us to end up there...it gives us the ability to set priorities.

When we keep adding and adding and adding more and more things to our life, what happens is not that we get better, become more effective, or become known for accomplishing all kinds of things...No, what actually happens is that we lose out on what is really important. We think we are gaining so much by doing more, when in fact we are losing hold of what is really important.

Jesus was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha...and we all know what happens around the house when company is coming over. Now imagine that the company is a local celebrity with a mass following. This man is Messiah who is getting ready to establish His Kingdom....there is a lot of pressure to make sure everything is right, and the proper hospitality is given.

Martha is cleaning and preparing the house, organizing the servants to get everything together, making sure everyone is comfortable, and then she looks in and sees her sister Mary just sitting on her butt doing nothing while she is doing all the hard work.

Martha would certainly like to be in there with Jesus too, but the food isn’t going to cook itself! So Martha, expecting a little understanding from Jesus, says, “Lord, there is alot to do, can you tell Mary to come help.

Luke 10:41-42 “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

One thing. Yes, there was a lot of necessary things that needed to be done. People were hungry. Hospitality of the day required certain things...but Mary sought after the one thing that really mattered. There are a thousand important things to be done...but only one mattered and Mary had chosen the right one.

In order for us to really seek after the things that matter...we have to learn to give up the things that do not. Do you really need one more sporting event for your child to participate in? Do you really need those extra hours at work? Do you really need to watch that show?

Have you decided what really matters? What end you want to reach?

God gives us the gift of too much because sometimes we just need to give something up...to let go, and prioritize what is really important.

The second thing we learn with the gift of too much is that we need to...

2. Hand something off.

I have always been a full-on, driven person. I have always tried to outwork those around me...do more...push harder. I have done this for several reasons; some good and some bad. One of the good reasons is I believe a leader should not ask people to do what they are not willing to do. You lead by leading. If I’m going to ask you to do something, I may not like to do it either, but I will demonstrate that I’m willing to do it.

The wrong reason...sometimes I don’t hand things off because I don’t trust people to do it right...to do it like I would do it. It is easier to just do it myself than to take the time to explain it to them and hope they get it right.

In Numbers 11:11-17, Moses is faced with a grumbling, whining people who wanted meat. “We would have been better if we had stayed in Egypt!” They complained. So Moses goes to the Lord and says...

“Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”

God gave Moses the gift of too much because He needed Moses to realize he couldn’t do it on his own. He was not strong enough to do everything. He needed to lean on others.

What I have discovered is that teaching and empowering others does take a little extra time...but it lightens my load. I don’t have to do everything. And, this is probably the most important part, when you allow others to do things you find that they are able to take part in the ministry of God and discover their calling. When I keep everything to myself, I am being selfish and depriving others of the ability to get involved in God’s Kingdom.

We ask people to volunteer around the church not because we need to fill a slot, but because we believe that when we are involved in ministry we grow as Christians and we find a place that allows us to our gifting and abilities to extend the Kingdom of God.

If I do everything, then really I am being selfish. I’m being arrogant to think that I am the only one who can do it. I am not leading as God has called me to do.

Sometimes God gives us the gift of too much because sometimes we just need to hand something off...to trust that someone else can do it...to let go.

The third thing we learn with the gift of too much is that we need to...

3. Lean on others.

In Mark 14:32-34, we see another view of Jesus praying in the Garden before His arrest. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”

Jesus once again reminds us that this is more than He can bear, and He is asking His friends to keep watch...to pray...to keep on the lookout. He needs them...and each time He returns they are not praying...they are not keeping watch...they are sleeping. Even Jesus needed the support of His friends to help Him bear what was happening.

Community isn’t just about being around other people. It is about being in a caring and loving relationship with others so that, in the words of Romans 12:18, we can “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What is that law? The law of love. Love in action means we are in a relationship with others that allows us to be open and honest with what we are carrying and allow them to help us bear the Gift of too much.

Let’s face it, we can’t do everything on our own. Our Westernized American culture has created this Lone Ranger cowboy mentality that still affects us all. We have to be strong. We have to be able to handle anything and everything. If we don’t we are considered weak.

So what happens is that many people struggle...silently. They hold it in and aren’t willing to share their struggles with other people.

Lori and I were talking about a lady she works with who’s friend committed suicide out-of-the-blue. No one saw it coming. Not his wife, not the kids, no one. He wrote a note saying he couldn’t take it anymore, and his family wasn’t really sure what he meant. And that isn’t uncommon. Thousands of people a year commit suicide and the people around them say, “I never saw this coming!”

Why? Because we are taught from a young age to hold it in, keep it to ourselves, and go it alone. Be strong. And so we keep things to ourselves and don’t get the help we need because we aren’t willing to appear weak to others.

While suicide may not be a thought for many of us...we still suffer through many things alone because we would rather suffer through and appear strong than to appear weak. If we are to obedient to God’s plan and desire for us to be in community, we must be willing to allow others to help us shoulder the load of too much.

God gives us the gift of too much because we have to learn real community, and allowing others to help us shoulder the “too much” of life.

The fourth thing we learn with the gift of too much is that we need to...

4. Press into God.

This is the most important part of receiving the Gift of too much. It reminds us that we can’t do it under our own strength, and we need to just allow God to take some of things we hold onto.

The Apostle Paul is not the first person I think of when I think of weak people. His writing is powerful. The things he did were courageous. He endured many hardships and trials. He is not a weak person, and yet we read this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. “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. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

Following Christ means letting go. It means surrendering. We must press into God, and learn to depend upon God through the regular practice of prayer, fasting, and spending time listening to God in His Word and in the Holy Spirit.

Paul knew he had to rely on God. He had prayed for God to remove a “thorn in the flesh” only to hear God reply “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Strength made perfect in weakness? Weakness is not something our culture values. We are repulsed by weakness...but God values those who admit they can’t do it alone. He is able to speak to those who aren’t struggling to handle everything. As long as we are striving and holding on to things God will not step in to act because He will not intervene where He is not wanted.


So we receive the gift of too much for several important reason...to learn to give something up...to hand something off...to lean on others...and to press into God. This morning you may be carrying too much...you have been given this gift.

You haven’t felt like it was a gift, but it is. Now you just have to implement what God is trying to teach you through it. Maybe you need to let something go...maybe you need to hand something off...you might might need to allow yourself to lean on others...but most importantly you need to press into God and rely on Him.
I am a card-carrying member of the Gift of Too Much Club. I still struggle to learn these lessons...but it has to start somewhere. We have to let some stuff go. Clean out the clutter of our lives. Do less so that we can accomplish more; more of the stuff that really matters.

Let’s pray,
Father, we see in the examples you have set before us...in Moses, Paul, and in your son Jesus, that we can’t do it all on our own. Give us the strength to admit our weakness. We relinquish control to you this morning. Just as our Lord prayed in the Garden that night, “Not our will, but your will be done.” Help us to seek your will.


  1. Why do you call it "The gift of too much" how do we know God gives us that, and if its a gift?? I loved the teaching on this, but The part of calling it "The gift of too much?" ....Well, Its just too much. Is calling it a God give gift legitimate?

  2. I think God allows it to happen...He doesn't cause it to happen. If we can handle everything on our own...we don't need the rest of what was said. We don't learn to give things up, depend on others, or press into God because we can handle things on our own when we don't have too much. But when we have too much, we either hold on to everything and lose control or we do something about it.