There are different
ways to view our trials and troubles as illustrated by the story
of an insurance agent interviewing a cowboy for a new
“Have you ever been injured? Ever had any accidents?” the agent asked.
“Well,” replied the cowboy, “a horse kicked in a few o’ my ribs once. And I got bit by a rattlesnake. But that’s about it; haven’t had any accidents, really.”
“Don’t you call those accidents?” demanded the agent.
“Oh, no,” came the answer. “I believe they did that on purpose.”1
One person’s definitions may be different than another’s. “Common wisdom” may miss the mark and popular sayings circulated among good people may not all be true.
Here’s a popular saying I saw on a church sign near my home:
“God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Bear”
Do you think that’s true? Does it have a biblical basis? Some would point to 1 Cor. 10:13,
No temptation has overtaken you but what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way of escape so that you can stand up under it.
God will never allow you to experience temptation that is too much to bear. True, but that refers to solicitation to sin, enticement to evil. Temptations are not necessarily related to troubles, trials, and suffering. So, there’s a problem with the saying on that church sign. If the intent is to say that God will never allow his people to have more trouble than they can bear, it would seem to contradict what Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 1:8,
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.
Listen to how other versions translate Paul’s words:
ESV - “…utterly burdened beyond our strength”
NKJ - “…beyond measure, above strength”
NLT - “…crushed and completely overwhelmed”
It got so bad for Paul that he thought he’d never live through it! He faced hardships that were more than he could humanly handle. While his suffering was certainly severe, it was not unique. Any of us may some time experience troubles beyond what we are able to bear. It would be better to base our expectations for difficult times in the Christian life from God’s Word than from the kind of popular sayings like the one on that church sign board.
1st Corinthians chapter 1 provides helpful
insight into Paul’s outlook on the troubles that believers
often experience. He was realistic and didn’t pretend that
God will spare us from hard trials. There are some words in this
passage, in fact, that one might wish were not a part of the
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. 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 (vs. 3-9).
Nine times, this passage speaks of difficult things: “trouble” twice, “suffer, suffered, or suffering” five times, “distressed” once, “hardship” once. It all adds up to “great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure…” (v.8). It is clear, then, that Paul believed that even faithful Christians are not immune to severe trials. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Tim. 3:12). That’s the bad news. But the good news is that there is every reason for encouragement - even in the very face of severe trials.
Paul was realistic. He knew that if we follow
Christ for any length of time we will surely experience some form
of suffering. But he was not pessimistic. Mixed in with the words
listed above is another word he repeats nine times. There may be
trouble, but there is also “comfort.” There may be
suffering, but there is also “comfort.” There may be
distress or hardships, but there is also “comfort.”
Paul had every reason to encourage the Corinthians, therefore,
because he knew that whatever troubles came their way,
God’s “comfort” would be more than
When life’s difficulties seem unbearable God’s grace and comfort will be equal to your need. His presence will bear you up, Christian friend, and his supernatural help will be sufficient. Our hardships may be quite different from Paul’s but we can certainly identify with him when we face seemingly overwhelming trials in this fallen world. God hasn’t promised us an easy path, but he has promised to be with us. “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear…” (Heb.13:5-6 NKJ).
Paul not only lovingly encourages the Corinthians
with the promise of available comfort, but he also provides a
plan for handling whatever suffering may come their way. It is a
plan that is appropriate for any believer in the throes of
First, when trouble strikes, we must draw near to our heavenly Father to receive the promised comfort. Paul speaks of him as,
…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles… For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (vs. 3-5).
We must call out to him for, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 ESV). He knows how you feel and has compassion on you. When trouble overwhelms you, don’t let it warp your view of God’s loving character. Terrible trials don’t mean that God has forsaken you, or that your troubles come directly from his hand. There are plenty of other sources for trouble in a fallen world: the original rebellion of our first parents (Gen. 3), invisible spiritual enemies (Eph.6:10-12ff.), the sinful choices of other human beings - or our own foolish or sinful choices.
Yes, God often spares us from trouble; but he sometimes allows us to suffer, and perhaps to even suffer greatly. Whatever the source of our trials, God extends comfort to his redeemed children - even when he allows trouble to correct a sinful, stubborn attitude in us. Divine discipline comes from a loving Father and it is always for our good (Heb. 12:5-13; 1 Cor. 11:31-32). And, as we confess and forsake sin, comfort follows.
“Comfort” includes the idea of consolation and encouragement. I remember my Mom’s comfort when I was a little guy and came down with strep throat and a high fever. I felt miserable, but my Mom took very good care of me. I still remember her gently rubbing Vicks VapoRub on my throat and chest and placing a damp, cool washcloth on my hot face. Just her loving touch itself was very comforting.
I remember my Dad’s comfort too. After a little league baseball game, I was very discouraged because I hadn’t played very well. Dad took me out for a root beer float, to console and encourage me. He reached over and squeezed my knee and said something like, “Don’t let it get to you. You’ll do better next game.” Because my Dad believed in me, I eventually did do better. His encouragement and comfort took some of the sting out of a bad experience. Like the most loving parent, your Father in heaven will be there to comfort you when you need him the most.
Second, when trials hit you hard, ask other believers to pray for you. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “…you help us by your prayers…”(vs.11). The great apostle felt the need for the prayers of others. I don’t know how people make it without being part of a good local fellowship, with close friends who are there to pray for them in times of trouble. God uses trials and troubles to humble us and bind us together with fellow Christians. We’re commanded to bear one another’s burdens, and if they’re to bear our burdens, we need to “bare” that burden, i.e., we need to let some fellow believers know about our struggle and tell them we need their help and prayers. Don’t be too proud to do that. (And don’t forget to pray for others when they’re in need.)
Third, realize that pain can help prepare you to minister to others: “God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (vs. 4). There is no better comforter than someone who’s been through deep trials and suffering. What do you say to a believer who is experiencing overwhelming troubles? How do you respond to him or her? Hopefully not like Job’s comforters! They kept saying, “Job, you must have committed some terrible sin. God wouldn’t let you suffer so much if you were faithful to him.” But they were wrong. At the end of the book, the LORD rebuked them for their foolish theories (42:7-9). Job was the most faithful man of his time, in God’s estimation - blameless, upright, and a man of integrity (1:8; 2:3). His suffering clearly came as a result of Satan’s attacks.
Yes, it’s true, God had to give Satan permission to attack Job before it could happen. If God hadn’t removed the protective “hedge” that surrounded Job, the devil couldn’t have harmed him. But, it didn’t happen because of some failure on Job’s part. There is no evidence of that, despite what some “faith teacher” may say. And, God did not cause his suffering (1:6-2:10). His troubles weren’t a payback for some terrible sins Job’s friends assumed he must have committed.
It seems God allowed him to suffer intensely for a time to prove that his faith was genuine, and to demonstrate that God was worthy of love and loyalty - a truth which Satan’s slander of Job seemed to deny by implication (1:9-11; 2:5). Yahweh doesn’t have to bribe people to be true to him; he’s worthy of worship, love and loyalty - even when he allows his servants to go through hard trials and troubles. Job’s faithfulness demonstrated that (13:15). And, in the end, the LORD blessed Job more than he had in the earlier part of his life (42:12-17).
Don’t be guilty of falsely judging a Christian who is suffering intensely. And, don’t misjudge God, and blame him for causing all the suffering! Cultivate the attitude described by James:
We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. Job is an example of a man who endured patiently. From his experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy (5:11, NLT).
Weep with those who weep. Encourage the faint-hearted. Comfort one another. And honor those who endure despite great suffering. Those are the kinds of things the Bible says we should do for one another. And we’ll be better equipped to do them if we’ve traveled through deep sorrows and trials. When our hearts have been broken by trouble and comforted by God, we’ll be much better comforters than Job’s friends.
Finally, let big problems open you to a bigger vision of God’s power and grace. Notice Paul’s words,
…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 (vs. 8b-9).
One reason God allowed the apostle to suffer such difficulties was so he could learn a deeper level of faith. Paul was already a man of faith. But any remaining temptations to self-dependence must have been squeezed out of him by that overwhelming trial, like the water is squeezed out of clothes by centrifugal force during the spin cycle in a washer. Self-sufficiency must go if we’re to be effective in our witness for Christ (2 Cor. 3:5). In our weakness, God’s power is perfected (2 Cor. 12:1-10). This is the paradoxical, and sometimes painful, truth.
Paul discovered that God is far greater than any trouble he could face. Though he thought for sure that the trial would kill him, God delivered him! It was, to Paul, almost like a miraculous resurrection from the dead! God came through at the last minute. He is indeed “the God of 11:59:59.”2
God’s power is enough to sustain us in anything. He may allow us to experience more trouble than we can handle, but he can handle it! He’s the Lord of the impossible! When things look hopeless, hope in him! God can heal. He can deliver. He can provide. He can transform. He can even raise the dead!
Resurrection power is at the heart of the Gospel. Christ “was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4 NKJ). In a situation that looked like a tragedy, God was at work, through weakness, on a cross, providing salvation from sin and victory over death for all who receive his grace. If you have trusted his grace, calling on him for salvation, his power is available to you.
God is sovereign and doesn’t always deal with his people in the same way. He may allow one of his servants to endure suffering to the point of death, as he did James, who was put to death at the order of Herod (Acts 12:1-2). Or, he may deliver another servant after a short trial, as he did Peter, who was rescued from jail by an angel before Herod could kill him (Acts 12:3-11).
Even if the LORD allows a particular trial to finish us off, his comfort will sustain us. And, death is not the end! We belong to “the God who raises the dead” (vs.9). The Lord Jesus will come again and raise his people to eternal life! That’s why Paul could confidently confess, “Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus…But we continue to preach…We know that the same God who raised our Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself along with you” (2 Cor.4:11-14 NLT). That’s the promise: unending life in the presence of God - happy, holy, and healthy forever!
Sometime, this side of eternity, God may let us go through a very painful trial. But when God allows believers to see more trouble than we can bear, we can be sure he’ll be there for us. Everything’s eventually going to be okay, no matter what happens. God will finally wipe away every tear from our eyes and remove every trial (Rev. 21:3-4). Nothing can ultimately defeat those who rely on Him.
When trials and troubles are more than we can bear, our compassionate, almighty God will be there to bear us up. His grace and power can get us through anything, no matter what.