Bearing What You Can Bear?

Is it true that “all that we are asked to bear we can bear?” (Another way that folks put this is to say that “God won’t put more on us than we can bear?)

The person who sent me this quote about bearing all we can bear summed up its meaning when she said that all you need to do is “put on your big girl pants and suck it up, you can do it.”

The quote might sound like a profound spiritual principle, but it is really based more on worldly wisdom than divine truth, and as noted in my prior post, can result in pride on the one hand, and guilt and anxiety on the other.

In terms of pride, it focuses our attention away from God, and upon me and my self-sufficiency. If I’m resourceful enough and don’t fear, and put my big boy pants on, I can conquer any challenge. When I endure whatever difficulty, I can give thanks not to God, but to me for bearing what I was asked to bear. I was able to pull myself up by the bootstraps, not give into fear, and when I look back at the so-called “footprints in the sand,” the footprints are mine alone.

Lest you think people would never think that way, think again. Just the fact that we don’t think we’re susceptible to pride is an indication that we are already infected with it. One clear indicator of the pride that is in our hearts is the words “I would never…” That is just a form of self-exaltation that glories in our mistaken notion of our own inherent goodness and power.

I’m reminded of a humorous example from the sports world of this mindset of pride and self-sufficiency. In 2005, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings in a playoff game, where wide receiver Freddy Mitchell had a team high 5 catches. After the game, Mitchell surprised everyone when he said, “I just want to thank…my hands for being so great!” Instead of thanking the One who gave him the hands to make the catch, he thanks the hands themselves. In our case, instead of thanking the One who enables us to bear whatever comes into our lives, we thank ourselves for having the moxie and intestinal fortitude to “bear what we are asked to bear.”

Another of version of bearing what I’m asked to bear is the popular saying “God helps those who help themselves.” This at least brings God into the equation, but, it only gives the appearance of doing so. It’s really just another empty spiritual law based on worldly wisdom that is focused on man and his resourcefulness and self-sufficiency. While it invokes God, the emphasis is again upon me: help yourself!

And notice, if I do help myself, what help is then needed from God? None. God is rendered totally irrelevant, and I again can boast in the almighty power of me and the deep wells of wisdom and resourcefulness that evidently flow from within me. I did so good I might actually write my own “self-help” book to share my nuggets of wisdom on how you too can help yourself—who needs God when we are evidently all-powerful and all-wise in our own right?

So, what happens when you can’t bear what you are asked to bear? That’s where guilt and anxiety come in. We feel like we don’t measure up, and since the only resource that I have to bear what I’m asked to bear is me, all I’m left with is anxiety and no way to deal with the anxiety. This can spiral us into a pit of anger, bitterness, despair, depression, and hopelessness. We just give up and resign ourselves to misery.

So, what does Scripture say? Is it true that we must bear what we are asked to bear, or, that God won’t put more on us than we can bear, or that God helps those who help themselves?

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 provides a clear answer. The apostle Paul says, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

Contrary to God not putting more on us than we can bear, we discover that God certainly will do just that as Paul speaks of how they were burdened beyond their strength.  They could not bear all that they had to bear, and it wasn’t because of fear, but because they had been stretched beyond the breaking point by the affliction that they were subjected to.

And contrary to the idea that God helps those who help themselves, the things they endured were designed by the Lord to teach them (us) to rely on God and not ourselves. So, the reality is that God helps those who realize that they can’t help themselves. Or, to put it negatively, God doesn’t help those who walk in their own pride.

We notice another important truth: all that they endured came to them by the providential hand of a holy, loving, and sovereign God who “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Eph 1:11). Many people wonder why God allows such things as suffering in our lives. Why are there such things as Coronaviruses? Many answers can be offered, but the bottom line is that God does have a good purpose for everything that He in His sovereignty ordains to come into our lives, and at the heart of that good purpose is our conformity to Jesus. (Rom 8:28-29)

It is in the cauldron of suffering, adversity, and affliction that we learn to live our lives by faith. It is through the fires of adversity that the Lord forges our faith. What comes forth is the gold of deeper communion with God as we renounce our idol of self-sufficiency, and rely on the Lord who, Paul says, raises the dead. God demonstrated His power and His love in the cross of Christ and raised Him from the grave, and those who by God’s grace alone trust in Christ alone for their salvation must cease clinging to their self-reliance and resourcefulness, and cling tightly to Christ alone. It is then that we can endure any trial, because it is the resurrected and living Christ who is now at work to enable us by His Spirit to endure to the end.

So, how do we rely on God and not ourselves? We looked in the previous post at the means of grace that God has given us: His Word, prayer, and the church. When we turn to God’s Word, we discover that God is God, and we are not, and this Word is at work to lay bare and heal us of the sinful pride of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12-13; Romans 12:1-2). In prayer, we confess and repent of our sin of self-reliance, and then cast our burdens upon the Lord and ask Him to help us. And with the church, we discover the rich reservoir of a loving community of brothers and sisters in the Lord who are commanded to “bear one another’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2)

Related to that point, so many people struggle and suffer in silence, refusing to tell anyone about what’s going on in their lives. This could be due to shame, embarrassment, or not wanting to impose on others. The root of it though is pride. We simply refuse to humble ourselves and say, “I can’t do this…I need help!” We need Christ, and He is found in His Word, prayer, and His Church. And He gives us trials in part as a means for His Spirit to reorient our thinking from self-reliance to Christ-reliance.

So, as we bring this to a close, the so-called spiritual law that says you can bear all that you are asked to bear (and the only hindrance to that is fear), is false. Our hope is not found in ourselves, but in the One who raised Christ to deliver us from the penalty and power of sin, and who one day will return and deliver us from this body of death.  And God is at work in us now, as a loving Father, to wean us off of ourselves, to teach us to cast our burdens upon Him, and to rely upon Him alone to bring us through the fiery trials that He works together for the good of our conformity to Christ.