“I won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds Jesus-y. How many times have I found myself saying it, to encourage somebody who is struggling, whilst at the same time thinking that sometimes he really does give us more than we can handle.
Stephen, stoned. Peter, crucified upside-down. Those are just the early ones. You just have to go on the Open Doors website to see the fate of Christians across the world today. Does that mean they did not or are not following God’s will? If he doesn’t give us more than we can manage, surely they must be? I look at my own life, and the decisions that we believe God has called us to make that have nearly broken us. If following Jesus is reduced to a positive lifestyle choice, it is not a good one.
It’s too easy a cliche to bring out that God won’t give us more than we can handle. The key verse usually (mis)quoted is 1 Corinthians 10.13,
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
This verse is about temptation, not suffering. Suffering is here in Romans 5.3-5
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Sometimes God gives us more than we can handle. That is a hard truth. So if your church tells you that he doesn’t, and that he will always give you the resources to carry out his calling; and that if he doesn’t then you must have misheard him… it’s not that simple. We don’t believe in a God who leaves us in the lurch. But we do believe in a God who will lead his followers to their death. Is that the same thing?
It is certainly a challenge to the temptation of the middle-class Christianity that says following Jesus will enhance your life and make everything go swimmingly. That is a danger especially at the charismatic end, and it is up to us to be aware of it. Sometimes we are called to plain old hard graft which prayer ministry will not ‘solve'; sometimes following Jesus will break us, or take us very near.
I think that’s why it’s called taking up a cross.
Can we handle that?