Magazine Article

More Than We Can Bear

Why Paul delighted in difficulties

Jeanina Bartling
More Than We Can Bear
Photo by Melissa Moreno on Unsplash

Many people through the years have said to me, “God won’t give us more than we can bear.” But is this true? Haven’t you, at times, felt so whelmed with difficulties and heartaches that you sank in despair and complete inability to do anything? Or am I the only one that has sometimes become overwhelmed by my difficulties and sorrows? I don’t think so.

How encouraged I was, then, some time ago, to find that I am blessed to have the companionship of the apostle Paul in this “inability to endure.” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death” (NIV).

Beyond Our Ability to Endure

Notice the phrase “far beyond our ability to endure.” It doesn’t sound to me as if Paul subscribed to the belief that God will give us only what we can bear. Looking at other translations, we find similar expressions of how Paul and his companions felt:

KJV: “. . . we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.”

NKJV: “. . . we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

Amplified: “. . . we were utterly weighed down, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life [itself].”1

ASV: “. . . we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life.”2

NLT: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”3

Reading these various translations actually encouraged me. They expressed exactly how I have felt many times, and this was somehow affirming.

So how did Paul and his friends endure those times? And why did God permit His faithful servants to experience such despair that was beyond what they could bear? Perhaps if we could answer those two questions, we could find our own light in our own darkness.

Learning to Rely on God

In my own life I found an answer to the second question before I found an answer to the first question. In asking the second question, I was, once again, in good company. In Judges 6 I discovered that Gideon asked the angel of the Lord that very question: “ ‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’ ” (verse 13, NIV). Why indeed? The Bible shines light on some very specific reasons for some crucible experiences, while in other cases the reasons might be unknown to us here and now.

One of the “whys” is clearly expressed in Israel’s case during Gideon’s lifetime, when God declared, “You have not listened to me” (verse 10, NIV). Scripture explains further that “the Israelites did evil,” so God “gave them into the hands of the Midianites,” and then the Israelites “cried out to the Lord for help” (verses 1, 6, NIV).

When we get into trouble, we often wake up and cry to the Lord. He wants us to know Him as our only true support and help. That’s exactly what Paul said in the last part of 2 Corinthians 1:9. “But this happened,” he wrote, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (NIV). The NLT puts it this way: “In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us” (2 Cor. 1:9, 10, NLT).

In our human perversity some of us think we can handle our affairs quite well, and we go on depending on our abilities and resources or our wisdom and understanding or on other people. Sometimes it is only when we come to the end of our own devices that we think of looking somewhere else for help.

Delighting in Difficulties

Amazingly, if we are willing, God can bring us even to the point of taking delight in our difficulties, as Paul expressed in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (NIV).

Paul tells us that he pleaded with the Lord to take away that mysterious “thorn” in his flesh that tormented him so, but that God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8, NIV). God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

So in exploring the second question of why we have so many distressing situations in our lives, I found the how to endure these times without succumbing to complete despair. We’re going to lean in some direction when accosted by difficulties and heartaches. Rather than leaning down into the pit of futility and hopelessness, we can choose to lean into the welcoming arms of our Savior and delight in His upholding power working in and through us.

1 Scripture quotations credited to Amplified are taken from Amplified Bible, copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987, 2015 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

2 Texts credited to ASV are from The Holy Bible, edited by the American Revision Committee, Standard Edition, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1901.

3 Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Jeanina Bartling

Jeanina Bartling writes from a background of experiencing God’s powerful love and tender wisdom to overcome earlier years of neglect, trauma, and heartbreak.