Preach on July 23, 2017
Rev. Shawn Coons
9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
This is week 3 of our series on Half Truths, where we are looking at sayings that Christians often say, and that many think are found in the Bible, but when we look a little closer we learn they may not be as true or even as Christian as we first thought. This series is based on Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book Half-Truths. We’ve talked about “everything happens for a reason,” and “God helps those who help themselves,” and this week we are tackling “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
With each of these sayings, I’ve begun by acknowledging that many of us may have said this before, and when we have we mean well. Often we might say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” to someone who is dealing with a lot of adversity. Maybe one hardship piled on top of another. And what we mean when we say it, is something like, “You’re strong. You’re touch. You can do this. You are up to the challenge. You will get through this.”
And there is nothing wrong with want to be encouraging, wanting to give someone hope in tough times. Isn’t it natural to want to tell someone that “this won’t defeat you, this won’t overwhelm you. God is in control still and he loves you and wouldn’t allow you to be defeated by this.”
There is even some scriptural support for this. 1 Corinthians 10:13
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
“God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” That sounds similar to “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” So let’s explore this verse a little bit more. It was written by the Apostle Paul to the Christian church in Corinth a couple decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Corinth was a crossroads, Corinth was a very cosmopolitan town, with lots of activity and lots of people from different places and backgrounds. The people there would have been labeled pagans in New Testament times, meaning they weren’t Jews of Christians.
The Corinthians would have worshipped a host of various gods and goddesses, and in a host of various ways. Idolatry, drunkenness, temple prostitutes. It is these “pagans” that make up the first Christian church in Corinth, and in following Jesus they were called to give up their former religious practices. The problem was, that they were tempted just by being in Corinth, where all these practices were still happening. So these early Christians struggled with sexual immorality, gluttony, drunkenness.
It is this situation that Paul is addressing. In the Half-Truths book, Rev. Hamilton writes:
The context for this verse in 1 Corinthians is self-discipline in the face of temptation with the hope of avoiding sin, particularly the sins of sexual immorality and idolatry.
Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians that their experience is not unique. Just as the Israelites were tempted, so too the Corinthians will be (and were being) tempted. In fact, we’ll all be tempted. Jesus himself experienced temptation. This passage is not about God declining to give you more burdens in life than you can handle. It is about God helping you when you are tempted…Temptation is indeed a test of your resolve, your character, and your faith. And that is what Paul is talking about here—not about adversity and the difficult circumstances that come into every life at some point.
There is something Paul is saying in this passage, but there are at least two things Paul is not saying. 1) Paul is not addressing tragic circumstance, hardship we may face, loss, pain, suffering. Paul is addressing temptation to former practices that are sinful or otherwise destructive. 2) Paul is not saying that God is authoring all sorts of hardship in your life. That God is making bad things happen to you. Paul is not saying “everything happens for a reason.”
When I was in middle school and high school, I was very involved in my youth group, it formed me in some very important and positive ways. But I also received some messages about Christian faith that weren’t so helpful. One of those messages is that God uses trials and tribulations to strengthen and refine us. Like a blacksmith who purifies a metal by heating it in the forge and then hammers out a strong tool through brute force. I was told that the hardships we may face could be God refining us and strengthening us. There are several problems with that that we could go into, but let’s just say for now that metal doesn’t suffer or feel pain, and God doesn’t treat us like objects.
That’s not what Paul is saying in this verse. Paul is saying temptation is real. That we are tempted to do things that are not good for us, or others, or often both. But those aren’t tests from God. There aren’t from God, usually they are from ourselves, right?
This past week we were having waffles for dinner, and we realized we were missing a key ingredient. Chili. Ok, when we have waffles we have several different kinds. Just plain waffles, sometimes with chocolate or butterscotch chips, topped with bananas, but we also have chili waffles. Trust me, it’s good. But anyway, we didn’t have any chili so I ran to the store to get some. Like many of you, I’m on a constant quest to improve how I eat. And I knew going to the grocery store at supper time, when I was hungry, was not a good time to avoid temptation. So I resolved going in that I was just coming out with a can of chili, and nothing else. And so I came out with a can of chili, and this box of Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts.
God didn’t put this box of Pop Tarts into my life to test me. God wasn’t sitting around saying, “War, poverty, racism, greed, what should I be doing now. Oh! Shawn’s going shopping, quick get the Pop Tarts!” I was the author of my temptation. And God had already given me what I needed to avoid it. Now that was a small temptation, right? And unfortunately, we are all at one time or another, prone to giving into bigger temptations, with more drastic consequences than a few calories.
We may be tempted to drug or alcohol abuse, cheating at school infidelity, self-harm, dishonesty at work, silence or apathy in the face of injustice. But when we are tempted to these destructive choices, God has provided us with a way out. Paul is saying that we are not on our own in the face of temptation, even if it doesn’t feel like it we have a choice of what to do next.
Let’s face it. There will be times where it feels like we have no choice, like we are powerless to choose what’s healthy for us and that the destructive choice is just too strong. But even in those moments God gives us an alternative. Sometimes that only choice we have is to ask for help. To admit that we cannot help ourselves and that we need God, we need someone else to help us in this moment.
Unfortunately, asking for help is often portrayed as a weakness, isn’t it? We want to be self-sufficient, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But there are times in our lives where asking for help is the bravest thing we can do. Go to any Alcolohics Anonymous meeting, or Narcotics Anonymous, or Gamblers Anonymous. Every person there began their road to recovery by admitting they needed help, and coming to that group asking for help.
In our scripture lesson from Luke, Jesus says, ask and it will be given to you, everyone who asks shall receive! This passage is preceded by a story about a man who needs something late at night and he goes to his neighbor’s house and bangs on the door. The neighbor doesn’t want to help him at this late hour, but ultimately can’t refuse such a need. Jesus says that if even that neighbor can grudgingly help, imagine how ready God is to help you, God who loves you.
We all need help at various times in our lives, and God wants us to ask for help. God wants us to cry out in prayer for help, but God also wants us to turn towards each other. We are here as God’s answers to prayer. We are here to help on another. I received a phone call last month from a woman who wasn’t a Fairview member, but she wanted to talk to a pastor because of the hardship she was facing in her life. I listened as she described the challenges she was facing, and at a later point I suggested that she may want to talk to a trained counselor or a therapist. She replied that she didn’t need that, because she had God. So I asked her, if God’s help was all she needed then why did she call me?
God has put us here for one another, from the very beginning. Remember the second creation story. God forms Adam out of the dust, breathes life into him, and then says “it is not good for him to be alone.” We were created to help each other.
Adam Hamilton writes:
I remember a conversation on this subject with a woman who told me, “For years this statement helped me when I was facing difficult things. I kept telling myself that God wouldn’t give me more than I could handle. It reassured me that somehow I was going to make it through. Then one day I was at my therapist’s office and mentioned it to him. He laughed and said, ‘Are you kidding me? Surely you don’t really believe that. I can tell you plenty of stories about people who had more than they could handle. In fact, my profession consists of helping just such people.’ ” The counselor reminded the woman that in her own case, she had come to him because the emotional pain and difficulty she was facing had been more than she could handle. In addition, the woman’s mother had committed suicide because life had become more difficult than she could handle. At first, the woman was angry that her therapist had called her belief into question. But the more she reflected on their conversation, the more she concluded that he was right.
We will face adversity in our lives. We will experience hardships. We, or someone we love, may face terminal illness. We may struggle with debilitating depression or suicidal thoughts or grief so heavy that we feel we’ll suffocate. We may walk through financial circumstances where it seems there is no way out. If we are like most human beings, at some point we absolutely will face things that are more than we can handle. The promise of Scripture is not that we won’t go through hard times. . . . What Scripture does promise is that at all times, good or bad, God wants to be our help and our strength.
It’s not that God won’t give you more than you can handle, but that God will help you handle all that you’ve been given.
It’s not that God won’t give you more than you can handle, but that God will help you handle all that you’ve been given. That’s an important message. I think it’s so important that I want you to take it home with you. As you leave today you will find a card that you can take, and put it somewhere that you will see regularly. In your car, by your toothbrush, in your purse or wallet, on the back of your phone.
And one last word I’d like to give. It’s possible someone is sitting here today, and feeling like they absolutely have more than they can handle. If that’s you, if you are facing a challenge that has overwhelmed you. Addiction, financial difficulties, relationship challenges, depression or other mental health issues, grief, pain, whatever it is. Please, ask for help. You can start this moment by asking God for help, but don’t stop there. Talk to someone, talk to a friend here this morning, talk to me, a teach, a family member, a therapist. God has put people in your life already that can help you.
It’s not that God won’t give you more than you can handle, but that God will help you handle all that you’ve been given.