By Matt Wilmeth
“God will never give you more than you can handle.”
Has anyone ever recited this popular saying to you during a difficult time in your life? It’s a cute saying. It’s a comforting saying. I don’t think it is at all a true saying. While the Bible does say that God will not allow you to be tempted more than you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13), there is no promise in the Bible that states that your life will never get so out of hand that it will be beyond your control. Because I think that is exactly the point. Life will get messy, and it should be out of our control because we are not supposed to be the ones who handle it. God would rather we leave that to him.
Life is hectic and messy—sometimes because life happens to us and other times because we happen to life. Our stories often seem to be a mix of both unfortunate circumstances and embarrassing mistakes swirled together into an inseparable concoction of disappointment. We can’t take all the credit nor can we pass off all the blame. Sometimes the more we buck against the chains we find ourselves in, or perhaps chains we have created for ourselves, the more entangled we become. However, our first mistake is thinking that we are the ones who are most qualified to clean up our own messes. The God of life and resurrection is the only one truly capable of healing us of our brokenness.
God’s Power in Weakness
Paul knew more than his fair share of brokenness. He had been beaten, bitten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned. He was constantly plagued by something he referred to as his thorn in the flesh. Also, perhaps most notably, the man who would become one of the greatest Christian missionaries and the writer of much of the New Testament spent his early life persecuting and perpetrating violence against followers of the very way that he would later confess and for which he would give his life. If anyone knew brokenness, Paul did.
Yet it was also Paul who so victoriously proclaimed that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What does that mean? What does it look like? It means simply that when we are weak or broken, God is the one who gets the glory. It becomes obvious to those around us that our strength is not something that comes from within. Rather, we serve a God who is big enough to help us through our mess and loving enough to want to do so.
In fact, much of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians seems to speak to this idea that we can find our strength in God even when we feel that we have absolutely nothing more to give. I love how he describes it:
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).
I’ve always found something comforting about this verse. I’ve never been someone who identifies with the person who has it all together. This is what makes the Bible such enjoyable reading. It is filled with people such as refugees, cowards, prostitutes, traitors, and the too young, the too old, the uneducated—all being used by God despite their brokenness or more often through their brokenness. If you empathize with the weak, the foolish, and the “things that are not” then you meet all of God’s qualifications.
Things That Are Not
We often view brokenness as a liability—proof that God cannot use us. It makes sense; we are broken after all. But what if brokenness is not the end but actually the starting point? When we are positive that we are perfect and feel certain in our strength, we could not be further from the truth. We run the risk of trusting in our own strength instead of in God’s. We begin to participate in a type of idolatry that views ourselves as our true lords and saviors. We fall victim to the trap Paul warned about in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
However when we understand that we are broken and that only God can fix us, true progress can be made. It is only then that God can pick up the broken pieces and create something beautiful and new. He picks us up off the floor and puts us on a new path. This can only happen when we trust him to make us anew. He doesn’t just want to temporarily fix us with some cosmic duct tape but rather to rebuild us from scratch.
We must fight the desire to hide in a closet somewhere and lick our wounds. We must view weakness as opportunities for God’s power to be made perfect. It is OK when we feel, as Paul described, that we are “things that are not” because it helps us see who we are without God. We are not great on our own. We all end up making a royal mess of things when left to our own devices. But God doesn’t see us as things that are not but rather as children who are his. We are his precious artwork and he longs for us to surrender to his hands.
So, dear child of God, whether it is the mess that you have made or the mess that has made you, it no longer needs to define you. We do not need to hide it from the world and wallow in our shame. We do not need pity. We do not need to get our life together before we come before the throne of God. As Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It is when we are hurting that we most need God and his body that is the church. We are of no good to the church when we whitewash our lives and try to play the part of the perfect saint with a problem-free life. God wants to use us despite and even through our messy lives. He longs to take our shattered pieces and refashion them into a beautiful mosaic. In order for that to happen, we must surrender our lives to him—broken pieces and all. In that moment of complete surrender to him, God can use us most.
Matt Wilmeth is a freelance writer in West Haverstraw, New York.