God directs our paths while we are living life, over a period of days, weeks, and sometimes years of praying and seeking for wisdom. While I am searching for the next thing to do, I am still waiting on God in the midst of my struggle, and that experience itself brings an inexplicable strength. Trouble doesn’t pause while we search for wisdom, but God provides a way to find refuge in the middle of the storm, and strength in his presence. The poet gives words to this active inaction: “Wait, my soul, on the Lord.”
God Provides Strength While We Wait
As long as I have breath in my lungs, I will also have the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). I will always have God’s presence (Joshua 1:9). In this sense, it’s incorrect to say that God gives us “more than we can bear,” when he has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. He gives supernatural and unmistakable strength when we call on him.
Truly, without God, all of life is more than we can bear. But meditating on my circumstances or the world around me does not bring peace. I should think biblically about what I face, but it’s not where my thoughts should linger. Jesus says it this way: “Abide in me,” and “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:4, 5). These words aren’t merely telling me “God gives you more than you handle.” That framing leaves out a crucial acknowledgement of Jesus’ life-giving presence for every believer. Without his presence, all of life is ultimately meaningless and hopeless. Why don’t I lose hope? Which reassurance do I need? I need to remember my Savior who raised himself from the dead. He is mighty, and he loves me. I don’t need to be told life is unbearable! When I am troubled, give me a hug and remind me that just as “the Lord was with Joseph,” he is with me (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23).
Luke tells us that when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel came and strengthened him (Luke 22:43). I don’t always know what mechanism God uses to provide strength, but I am encouraged to see this one. What exactly were the angels doing? Does this mean that God asked Jesus to do something beyond his ability to bear? And in response to Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer, did God send angels to give him physical or mental strength so that he was now able to bear it? Can I pray for those same strengthening angels? And, as I remember my friends who are suffering, should I not take comfort that God does provide supernatural strength in the midst of very large struggles?
Some people use Paul’s words when they want to criticize people who say “God has not given me more than I can bear.” Here’s what he says in 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Paul thought that he was going to die. That’s different from Paul arguing “God gave us something we couldn’t handle.” I’ve not been at the point of death, but I have felt like I was at the end of my strength; I’ve prayed for relief, and God has always given it. From my way of thinking, if I’m alive, then God has given me the ability to bear what life brings. But I especially find great comfort when reading Paul’s words that expand on his difficulties just a few chapters later, and so should you.
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
The whole book of 2 Corinthians expands the nature of suffering, of an eternal perspective, of God’s sufficiency when we are insufficient. It is no sin to feel at our breaking point. Inside every person who says “God gives me more than I can handle” and behind every person who says “God won’t give me more than I can handle” is a heart that may be in deep grief. Thankfully, when we have exhausted the store of our own resources, his resources are without limit or boundary.
Words of Life
Words can inspire a secular reader, but for a Christian, God’s words are living and powerful in a different way. That thought causes me to slow down and ponder the strength God gives. I want to know what it means that God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 42). How does that work? What does it mean that “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)? Does that joy actually produce strength or is the joy itself strength? “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3) and “David strengthened his heart in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6). Why is Psalm 23 and its reminder of God’s presence and care such an enduring poem? These verses are sticky, truly. We write them in bookmarks and put them on our walls; we sing songs about them. But beyond the comfort they bring as they remind us of who God is, for the Christian these living words also produce faith that is both shield and sword.
I should not be surprised; God’s word is living and powerful– these are not just encouraging words to muster up belief. Faith is a spiritual fruit of the spirit– a gift of God. Every time we pray and ask for strength, it’s an acknowledgement that we are not enough, and that God is sufficient. Perhaps this “strength” the Bible speaks of is integrally related to faith. It helps me to understand that strength is more that just looking up an index to see how much trouble I can handle before I give up on life. Let us look to the author and finisher of our faith, and take refuge in his abundant care.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.