When troubles strike

Pastor Tom Jeske

“Remember,” repeated my friend, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That felt certain, the way a door closes on an expensive car. But was it true?

If God never gave people more than they could handle, why would they need God? Always strong, ever brave, never at a loss for an answer—had I been that person? May I be reasonably sure that I will be a friend, father, and neighbor who never fails and always handles every situation? Do I just need to lean my head back against the wall, close my eyes, take a few cleansing breaths, and call to mind this cool clear universal truth to chase away my fears as I reload?

Does “God will never give you more than you can handle” serve as an honest last line for all the different chapters of your life? What would be the sense of singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” if I hadn’t needed to run inside that fortress, bent over, hands on my knees, chest heaving, and catch my breath? “God is our refuge and strength” would be unnecessary except for the fool who forgets that he is a match for the worries of the day. We hear God saying, “Get back out there, soldier, and face your fears. You can do it all.”

Rather, the Scriptures and experience teach that God is always giving people more than they can handle. It’s in his fatherly interests to permit a human being to be overwhelmed. The question is not, “Will I be swept off my feet by powers beyond my control?” but rather, “Where will I turn when my strength is no match for my troubles?”

What about a biblical source for “God will never give you more than you can handle?” We find a near match in 1 Corinthians 10. One of Jesus’ apostles is addressing a congregation of Christians. They lacked love for one another. Instead of following the path of love, they gave in to the temptation and splintered themselves again and again over issues.

Paul reminded them that they were indeed Christians. They had baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But God did not give them forgiveness and freedom so that you may live as if “once saved, always saved” . . . or look at grace as a license to sin.

Paul cites half a dozen episodes (v. 6-10) in the church history of Old Testament Israel. To read these examples is to feel an icy hand of God’s law on the back of your neck. God is not mocked. ‘If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (v. 12). Many Israelites who had once carried the name “God’s chosen people” did fall. The fearful wrath of God still operates against self-satisfaction and hard hearts. Scorn it at your peril!

We don’t always stand tall, able to handle every trouble, pain, distress, or difficulty. When we think we can, we forget the grace—undeserved and free—that God offers to us. God overwhelms us with life, death, and trouble at times. Take comfort for Christ’s sake: “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (v. 13).

“God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace” (Martin Luther, The Seven Penitential Psalms, 1517, as quoted in Day by Day We Magnify Thee). God does not save his children from temptations; he turns them toward Christ in the thick of them.

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Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE