Does God give me more than I can handle, or will God ever give me more than I can handle? Arguing about wording can be intellectually interesting, but when I’m overwhelmed, I need more than a debate, and I don’t want my reference point to be personal experience. Both questions can distract me, cause me to look away from God’s attributes that give perfect peace and direction in the midst of perplexity and grief.
What do I do when it feels like God has given me more than I can handle?
If God doesn’t remove my problem, it’s likely I need wisdom now, not immediate deliverance. And maybe I’ve already asked God for help, but I don’t know how to recognize his answers when they do come. Although I don’t want to write an extended article on wisdom itself at this time, I’d like to make some observations about obstacles to wisdom that may contribute to our overwhelmed feelings.
Am I asking for wisdom?
When I’m overwhelmed, Matthew 6:33 acts like a simple reset for me. Our heavenly Father knows what you need. Take the time to seek him first. So that’s what I do: open my Bible, knowing that my aim is to seek God, not merely the next problem on my to-be-solved list. Seeking God first is essential because it sets my priorities right. After I spend time with God, then I can start brainstorming to see what I’m missing.
Asking for help is itself a hurdle for many, so if you’ve asked God for wisdom, you’re at a good starting place. His word tells me I can be confident that he will give generously to those who ask for it. Take heart! Does God withhold wisdom callously? Certainly not! “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” James 1:5. Again God’s nature brings comfort, if I believe him. He is a good, powerful God, who will not reproach me when I come to him for help! He gives wisdom generously. I’ve learned, though, that his generous gift of wisdom is not the same as telling me the future, guaranteeing outcomes, or preventing mistakes.
Has God already given me wisdom?
One of the most likely possibilities is that I already have the information I need. As I ask for wisdom, am I willing to be humble as I deal with whatever insight God gives me? Pride ultimately can make any of my problems more than I can handle. Solomon tells us “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Trying to find wisdom without humility is an insurmountable obstacle. James reminds us that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Have I dismissed a difficult route of escape in hopes of an easier one? Sometimes I’ve been afraid to take a step and my prayers are a hope that I don’t have to do the scary thing. If my options are risky, it’s wise to look for a lower risk option first; however, when the risky option is the only one available, then that may be where I’ll need to go.
It takes humility to consider that God may have a better way for me than the one that I sincerely want. Even truly good desires can be deadly lusts when we make them requirements: being a missionary, having a godly marriage, wanting my children to go to a Christian school, finding the church or job that ticks all my requirements, doing all the good things I want. Sometimes we are proud of our diligence or accomplishments so much that we cannot bring ourselves to admit flaws or downsides to our choices. Before I conclude that God gave me more than I could handle, I have to consider that I also need the humility to follow God, even if he leads in unexpected ways.
Wisdom Usually Requires Action Without Complete Knowledge
Another hurdle is our expectation to have all the details before we act. Is it in God’s nature to give us full sight as he directs our paths? No. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7. This isn’t what I’d prefer. I’d really like reassurance that I’m not making a mistake, but learning to walk in wisdom means that we act with imperfect knowledge, trusting our good shepherd to lead us step by step even when we do make a mistake. Mistakes will come. Outcomes cannot be controlled. Perhaps this is why Solomon tells us that the wise have eyes that shine with boldness– not because we know the future, but because we have learned to walk without knowing it.
It’s hard to act without knowing precisely what will happen next, but that doesn’t mean God is asking us to act without any direction or insight. We can often narrow our choices or turn in a direction, based on what we already know from the Bible. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” Matthew 7:24-25. Jesus tells us that the wise man hears God’s Word and obeys it; the way of biblical wisdom will never be far from God’s Word. It is a lifelong pursuit, not a quick solution.
Wisdom and Asking Others For Advice
It is often easier to seek advice than to look for wisdom, and this habit, too, can be an obstacle, when we rely on others to direct our paths rather than God. Seeking God first doesn’t mean I never ask others for godly insight, but I should not be distracted from what I actually need. How can people help us follow God? One way is to ask for the right thing. For example, we could ask “What does God’s word say about this situation?” Notice that I’m not asking “What should I do?”– wisdom isn’t the same thing as advice. I’ve been guilty of looking for someone who will just tell me what to do so my problems will go away, and I’ve also been to quick to dish out advice. Both are obstacles to resting in God’s ability to lead his children.
Many people, even Christians we respect, want to tell us what they think we should do, but it’s not wisdom unless they direct our eyes to God’s Word and we apply it to our own situation. Furthermore, although other believers can help us find biblical principles we have overlooked or haven’t learned, it makes little sense to ask God and others for wisdom without first looking in God’s Word directly. Finding help in God’s Word is something we learn by practice, and sometimes we’re asking others for advice because we’re not sure we will find what we need from God in time. Maybe we’re asking for advice because we want someone else to agree with what we already plan to do.
Godly counsel is a blessing and help to us, but sometimes when we are seeking wisdom, we get conflicting messages from Christians we respect. We are still responsible for our own choices. Wisdom gives us confidence as we turn away from advice that is well meant, irrelevant, or not applicable to our situation. Wisdom leads us to study more carefully the Word of God to see the difference between what someone says is God’s Word, and what the text actually says. Nevertheless, it is a gift of God when others can help us better understand Scripture, reexamine our motives, retrace our steps, or take a step we have avoided because we were hoping to be 100% sure it was the right one.
What About Secular Advice?
Biblical wisdom will come out of a Christian world view, a way of understanding reality that is sometimes at odds with secular wisdom. Just because I am seeking God’s help first doesn’t mean I’m not also looking for practical solutions to my problem. Sometimes the practical solution solves the spiritual need. For example, getting eyeglasses may make a difference in a child who has been misbehaving in class. I might read in a secular parenting book ways to help my baby sleep through the night, and these may be helpful for my ability to love my children well during the day. Sifting practical advice through the lens of Scripture is a skill that improves with practice, but it is worth the time to consider these solutions. I should consider how the advice fits what I know in God’s word about his character (that’s part of what we mean by the phrase “seeking God”). Sometimes we don’t see a connection between practical advice and biblical principles, but if we can find it, we will gain more confidence moving forward.
God gives us light enough to take the next step. We walk confident in God’s nature– his love, his power, his ability to lead, his care for our concerns and joys. However, sometimes God’s leading happens so gradually that we have problems unsolved and nothing to untangle them. What then? In Part 3, we’ll take a look at how God gives strength while we are waiting on his intervention.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.