James 1:12-18, 1 Peter 5:7-11, Psalm 23, Half Truths by Adam Hamilton
God won’t give you more than you can handleHave you ever had one of those days, weeks, years or maybe even decade’s where Murphy’s law seems to be the rule of law? Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Nothing seems to be going as planned. Sickness, job loss, divorce, bankruptcy, natural disaster, cancer, suicide, mass shootings, or something that seems to rock your world happens over and over again. It seems like you just can’t catch a break, one thing after another and you find yourself struggling to keep your head above water.
Most people have experienced something like this on some level or another. Maybe not to this extreme but hardships and difficult times are part of living. If you have ever found yourself thinking this, you have probably had someone with kind intentions and a sympathetic voice say something to the effect of “Don’t worry honey, things will get better. God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Maybe you have even whispered these words to yourself as a way to gain courage at a particularly difficult moment. And, sometimes this works. Some people do find true comfort in the belief that God knows our limits and will intervene somehow before it gets too difficult.
But for others; when they hear these words, instead of gaining comfort, it makes them want to haul off and smack someone! They feel like they have been given more than they can handle! They just can’t do it any more, they see no light at the end of the tunnel and in fact the tunnel just seems to take them deeper into the abyss instead of out to safety.
The reason this can get such a harsh response is because it assumes that God is in fact the one placing these burdens on our lives. Somehow God is using these situations to test our faith, our resolve and our willingness to rely on God. This is not an idea that draws us closer to God but instead is something that can push us away from faith. It causes us to ask the question- what kind of God would do that? Maybe that is the question you find yourself asking as the events of this past week have unfolded. And as we remember the events at Emmanuel Church from one year ago where 9 people were killed during bible study.
What kind of God would send a deranged extremist into a place of joy to murder 49 random people? What kind of God would allow an alligator to snatch a child while playing in the water at Disney World the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth”? What kind of God would cause depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and other mental illnesses? What kind of God would cause cancer?
The problem with the phrase: God won’t give you more than you can handle is that it isn’t God who does this at all. The scripture which we read from James today tells us; God does not test us. God is not tested, nor does God test. It is life that tries, tempts and it is our own sin that often puts us in difficult positions and makes us believe we should be able to do it on our own. It is part of what it means to live in a broken world. It is part of what it means to live in community with broken people, fear, uncertainty and stress.
In Bible Study Tuesday night we talked about how sin has proliferated the world we live in. We discussed how our desire to be the best, buy the cheapest food or clothing and win no matter the cost, leads to dire, evil and usually unintended consequences.
It is a side effect of what it means to live in a world where more emphasis is placed on individuality and self-sufficiency than community and interdependence between individuals and even between cultures and nations.
Even this line of thinking can lead us down a spiral of despair. O poor pitiful me. Look how hard my life is. Look at everything that has gone wrong and there’s nothing that can be done about it!If you can’t beat ‘em, Join ’em! Right?
But the word of God is never intended to tear us down and leave us there. There is always hope when our focus is on Christ. We are reminded in scripture not only in 1Peter but also in 1 Corinthians, Psalms and even in the life and presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us that we are not called to face this world alone or without hope.
The most beloved Psalm, Psalm 23 brings us comfort by reminding us that even when we face difficulty, we are not alone, God is with us, walking through the valley of darkness with us, facing the trials of life with us. Not causing them or preventing them but walking with us through them and being our light in those dark moments.
The letter of 1 Peter as well as Paul’s letter in 1 Corinthians 10 both tell us that nothing happens in this world in isolation. There is never a trail, a temptation or a sin that is new, that someone else hasn’t faced and overcome. We are to look to them for guidance, learn from others mistakes and successes, reach out and ask for help. There is no shame asking for help, for a listening ear, for support and comfort as you face the trials of life. We all need a help from time to time in life and we aren’t called to suffer through it alone.
Although we live in a world that says to buck up, deal with it and just get over it- God tells us to lean on one another, support one another and love one another. It is why groups like AA have proved to be so effective- the participants know they can’t do it on their own. They need sponsors and peers who have been through it before and have the tools to help someone else navigate the world of sobriety. It is why cancer support groups, smoking cessation groups and weight loss groups are more successful than trying to do it on your own. We need each other.
It is why we have church. Sure people can go for a hike and experience God but a tree or a mountain vista won’t help when you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to drive you to your chemotherapy appointment. We need to be reminded that we have a God who loves us, is there for us, watches over and protects us. A God, Jesus Christ, who loves us so much that he chose to live among us- to experience the heartbreak, physical and mental illnesses that life brings. We have a God who loves us enough to walk beside us, give us strength and encouragement when life gets too hard, and a God who sends people to walk with us and be there for us when the weight of the world gets too heavy to bear.
God sends these people to us, but God also sends us to be these people. Last week after the shooting in Orlando, the outpouring of love and support was amazing. We heard stories of people who helped pull the injured to safety and keep them comfortable until help arrived. We heard stories of people pouring out to donate blood for the victims still being treated at local hospitals. Stories of the Employees at Chick-fi-A who came in on their Sunday off to donate food to those at the blood banks. Churches near the club opened their doors all hours of the night for prayer, worship and counseling. Letting people know that it didn’t matter who they were, they were loved by God and were not alone in their suffering.
This is one of the reasons you give to the church- so that the church can be there for those in need- to buy groceries or pay a power bill, to visit in the hospital, to help someone who lost their home to relocate. To meet not only your spiritual needs but the spiritual and physical needs of those in the community too.
As we encounter people who are facing difficulty, the response God is calling us to give is not: I am praying for you- I know God won’t give you more than you can handle- but instead- I am praying for you and what can I do to help. It maybe something as simple as filling up a gas tank, picking up a gallon of milk or washing a load of laundry or it could be a hug and a listening ear. We don’t have to try to offer solutions and fix someone’s problems. Some times what a person needs is just someone to be present, to hold their hand and cry with them.
This is the message of Jesus and the true message of scripture. You are not alone. God is with you, and we are called to be there for each other. To be the physical presence of the peace of Christ in a troubled world. As we face this world and all its ups and downs together. We are not alone and you don’t have to handle it on your own. God give us the strength to face this day, the courage to ask for help when we need it and the willingness of offer true hope to others in their times of weakness. Amen