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3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On

Sometime I cringe when I listen to Christians talk (myself included). Here are a couple phrases it wouldn’t hurt to hear less.

1. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Image: Josh Janssen

Image: Josh Janssen

When someone’s going through a rough time, it’s a struggle to say the right thing. But it is always appropriate to say nothing. In fact, Scripture encourages people to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) You cannot rub the salve of magic words on someone’s hurts to make their pain go away.

If you absolutely have to say something, make sure it isn’t philosophically empty, spiritual nonsense. Telling someone that “God never gives you more than you can handle” is wrong on many levels.

  • It’s not biblically accurate: You’re going to have a hard time finding this little gem in the Bible (or any similar sentiment for that matter). I am convinced that Scripture is  full of people who find themselves at the end of what they can handle.
  • It isn’t appropriate: Even if it was true, at the point that a loved one is confiding in you about some terrible trial they’re going through, they feel they’re dealing with more than they can handle. This platitude comes off as painful and dismissive.
  • It’s just dumb: People go through more than they can handle all the time. Whether it’s the loss of a child or a slow death from cancer, people are going through things you can’t possibly imagine. Would you tell Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle?”

2. “God told me . . .”

There’s no question in my mind that God speaks to us. What I do question is how accurately we receive it. After spending many years leading worship in a Pentecostal church, I am convinced that much of what we attribute to God is our own internal dialogue.

There are many problems with saying, “God told me . . .”:

  • It prohibits conversation: What can you say when someone says something silly and emboldens it with “God told me?” Are you supposed to respond with “No, he didn’t.” Attributing things to God is one of the largest conversation killers imaginable—the ultimate trump card.
  • It’s hyper-spiritual: In the Christian world, there’s not much more you can do that creates spiritual one-upmanship than implying a conversational relationship with God. Truth is, in twenty years of ministry, the people who’ve attribute every thought they have to God have been some of the least spiritual people I’ve known.
  • It’s often a breach of trust: The impressions and thoughts that I occasionally feel come from God are spoken to me. It’s sort of like two lovers sharing intimate pillow talk and then one of them blabs every cherished word to everyone they know. It cheapens that communion. Things spoken in secret don’t become more profound when shouted in public. In fact, speaking them often kills all the motivation for follow through.

Trust me, if God’s spoken to you, it’s valuable whether anyone else knows or not.

3. “I’ll pray for you.”

This is kind of a tricky one. Prayer is one of the most important things a Christian can do. But there are moments where, “I’ll pray for you” doesn’t seem appropriate.

  • It’s a commitment: The offer to pray for someone is sacred. If you have no intention of praying, or even if you just lack the wherewithal to follow through, it’s best not to make the commitment. The plus side is that your prayers are valuable even if the person your praying for doesn’t know (maybe even more valuable).
  • It doesn’t take the place of action: Someone diagnosed with cancer needs your prayers, but they may also need meals, childcare, or financial help. To promise to pray for someone while neglecting the tangible ways you can show you God’s love is heartbreaking. By all means pray, but invest some time and effort too (it might actually be someone else’s answer to prayer).
  • Pray later, but pray now: One thing that makes “I’ll pray for you” a cop-out is that it’s future tense. It adds someone’s care to your to-do list. You want to reach out to someone? Pray for them later, but pray for them now, too. I’ve never asked anyone if I could pray with them and had them tell me, “No.” But even if they do, so what? Get out of your comfort zone and pray now.

Are there things Christian’s say that make you wince? Leave us a comment!

Image: Josh Janssen

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929 Comments Post a comment
  1. MJ45 #

    I don’t believe that the issues you have found with the first statement (“God never gives us more than we can handle”) have any validity on any level in a biblical sense. The folly in your argument is that if you are a Christian, God truly never gives us more than we can handle and yes that is biblical. When you accept Christ and are saved by Faith he becomes a friend, a mentor, and your one and only advocate in God’s courtroom (Isaiah 43:2). If he is now completely on your side and standing up for you in every battle you face (and I know the God that was with David the day he slew Goliath can handle any earthly trouble that is handed to me) then there truly is nothing to great for me, or any Christian, to handle. Although, I do agree with the fact that when stated while someone is already feeling defeated it is useless and misused, I strongly disagree with the fact that it is not biblical. Another problem I have is it doesn’t really matter. All three of these statements are fine to use. Christians understand what you mean when you say these things, and if God can say the word and crowds of people start speaking in all different tongues but still understand each other, then I know he understands what we mean when using phrases such as these. So, sorry but you are wrong.

    October 2, 2013
    • Why are you sorry? If you say I’m wrong, I must certainly be wrong. Right?

      October 2, 2013
    • When you say “Christians know what you mean” it sounds a lot like when poorly-worded logic in an argument ends in “well, smart people know what I mean.”
      I agree with all 3, but the first one especially so. It’s extremely condescending to the person voicing their problems.

      October 17, 2013
  2. Vince #

    Mine is when I here “God helps those that help themselves”. it is un-biblical and it is not in the bible of God’s word anywhere.

    October 12, 2013
  3. Kim ring #

    I believe the first statement – god never gives us more than we can handle is unbiblical. God is always giving us more than we can handle. That’s why we have to turn to Him and rely on Him. I am often at the end of my rope with my preteen daughter. It’s more than I can handle, but I ask god for strength and wisdom to be the parent He has called me to be. I certainly could not do it in my own strength! Also- if we could handle everything in and of ourselves, who would turn to god and rely on him? I think it’s often the people who have the least or are in dire circumstances (according to the world) who have the most faith. They cannot rely on themselves/ handle it themselves so they trust god.

    October 16, 2013
  4. Tera Marie #

    Yes so true I love this article.

    October 16, 2013
  5. Silence is what makes me wince. Recently my dad died. He had lived with us over 11 years for me to care for him. Dad and I were very close. There were a few cards sent, a few phone calls, but I’ve not heard from several people whom I’ve known for many years and considered friends with. Silence is a response, but I don’t think people think about that. Eloquent words are not needed, just an I’m sorry and I love you are sufficient.
    If someone tells me “I’ll pray for you” I take them at their word and don’t worry about it. If they pray great, if not okay.
    I’ve had very few people say “God told me”. Those people who have said this were much older than I am and have had many years of close fellowship with Jesus. When they said, “God told me”, I heard what they said and gave it thought. Time will tell if what “God told” them will come to pass in fulfillment.
    “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I look at this as just something a person says in order to say something during a difficult time. Yes, people have said this to me, but I place emphasis on God’s word, not something someone tells me. Another words my focus is on Jesus Christ and not people, because people are fallible, transient, a vapor.

    October 17, 2013
    • Cody #

      When he said silence is a good response he was talking about listening not ignoring. People that don’t care to even say I’m sorry aren’t listening they are ignoring the situation. Big difference… he was talking about people that are there for you but are there for you by listening and being by your side not the ones who think they have the right words to fix the situation when all it does is make it worse.

      January 10, 2014
  6. I agree with #3! I’ve been going through a tough time financially for the last 6 months, and when you are struggling to pay bills, IT IS EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING TO HEAR “WE WILL PRAY FOR YOU” from people who have enough $$ to help you with….Christians who hoard their money really make me sad because the Bible says to help others when they are in need, especially relatives….Prayers are appreciated but like I heard once, instead of just praying for someone who needs help paying mortgage, rent, car payment, etc.., get some people together who can contribute together to help the person instead of “just praying”….

    October 17, 2013
  7. froginparis #

    Well said! All three of these make my skin crawl because often they are spoken when at a loss for words. I have been guilty saying of them all. Once on the hearing end of these, I am less apt to say them because instead of being words of comfort, they often cause pain.

    October 29, 2013
  8. I’m tired of seeing, “prayerfully” – is that even a word. “Please prayerfully consider a donation to this site.” Yeah I considered it – you GET NOTHING. But I’m not bitter.

    November 3, 2013
  9. MaryAnn #

    I agree with all of these. In regards to the discussion of the first: if God didn’t give us more than we could handle then there would be no suicide. Period. God doesn’t “give” is things. He is just there for us, if we chose, to help us deal with what happens.
    In regards to the third, I think “I’ll pray for you” can feel like a cop out. That they’ve days that and nothing more, like a card or more tangible action, is required. I also believe you must know the person you are saying it to. I know several people that are very offended by people saying this to them. I don’t fully agree with their stance but if you are being kind enough to pray for someone be respectful enough to keep it to yourself if the person does not share your faith.
    I would like to add one other to this list: “God had a reason”. Like the first one listed this is used in an attempt to make someone feel better in a tragedy. But it fails miserably. God did not have a reason to take my father away from me & my 5yr old brother. He just got cancer & died. But believing that He did this on purpose only served to drive me away from any comfort I may have received from Him at that time. Yea, my aunt said this to me and it took about 10 yrs for me to get passed it. It’s bad theology and not helpful to the recipient. If you can’t think of anything good to say just put your arms around the person and stay quiet.

    November 13, 2013
  10. Tami #

    Everything happens for a reason. That phrase bothers me…

    December 1, 2013
  11. Debbie #

    I am having a hard time finding a church or even wanting to go to one I feel like no Christians believe like me. When someone ask for help every one says ill pray for you but if you ask them to do anything else they have excuses. I don’t believe it is ok to just pray when you have the power to do. For instance on my Facebook there is a lady desperately asking for help to get her child out of danger there were literally 70 or more people who commented ill pray or liked her post when they were asked to deposit 1.00 into a account to help 11 people liked the status and not one of them besides me pledged to run through the local bank and deposit$1.00! This is a local girl and everyone knows the story talks about how horrible it is and there answer is to just send up a empty prayer! Why would God even listen to them when they can’t even make a small effort to deposit 1.00? I really need prayer because I can’t sit in a church with any of them. They all call me nieve and say that I shouldn’t put myself out so much your to kindhearted for your own good these are the comments I get. I don’t really do that much and I feel a obligation to do what I do, anyway I need some guidance I will always be a Christian but I feel so angry with people for there kind words and no kind action it is hindering me I feel bad about my feelings but I just can’t help it I can’t!

    December 16, 2013
    • Bonnie #

      Follow your heart and step up when you feel God is telling you to do so. Pray for others that they may open their hearts to God’s will and leave the judgement of them to God. I know it is difficult to do so but I tell myself “I am a child of God.. help me to leave it to God.” and I feel an immense sense of lightness instead of anger towards others. I am weak so I must do it over and over but God knows I am trying to follow in Jesus’ foot steps.

      December 29, 2013
  12. Barb Patterson #

    Thank you! In addition to not saying God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, I personally hate that footprints story, if we don’t feel his presence in times of difficulty…then it’s as if he’s not there.

    December 31, 2013
    • The story does sound trite. But personally I’m sceptical of using my feelings as a guide to whether God is present. Isn’t His his presence inescapable? I love the Leonard Cohen line: You say you’ve gone away from Me, but I can feel you when you breathe. I like to think he’s even more present with me when I feel alone, God is not there to make us feel good is He? Anyway, I agree the footprints story is way too cheesy.

      January 1, 2014
  13. sky #

    The phrases that get me are the following
    KEEP PRESSING ON
    GOD HELPS THOSE THAT HELP THEMSELFS
    EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON

    What do you think of these phrases that Christians use

    January 10, 2014
  14. Sue #

    Thank you! Your thoughts on the first 2 echo mine. Thought I was the only one. I agree with your points on the 3rd, however, I often tell someone I am praying for them because sometimes that is the only thing I can do for them.

    February 4, 2014
  15. I love your thoughts here. They come from a deeper place than most. Here is a post I wrote with a parallel theme: http://wp.me/pnmEW-eX
    So often people express their comments as a sort of knee-jerk response from ego ending up with a dominance/ oppression approach. We all need to learn that we all see differently and that different perspectives enrich. We must seek understanding rather than being right simply because we are all human and none of us got it right. That’s why we need each other and diverse perspectives.
    I appreciate your heart felt expression.

    April 22, 2014
  16. Great delivery. Solid arguments. Keep up the good
    spirit.

    June 17, 2014
  17. Russ #

    Sorry Jayson, but I just have a hard time with your logic on some of these. And no offense, but you should really be careful to do your homework before posting an article that corrects people when you’re wrong and they’re not.

    Actually, the Bible does say that God won’t allow you to go through “more than or beyond what you can bear”. It’s just that the context is temptation…. Temptation to give in or to give up.

    1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (NIV)

    And shouldn’t the “I’ll pray for you” section just simply say, “Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.” Cause if you do mean it, you should “rely on it” because you will do it; and most likely you’ll be motivated to act from your prayers. Otherwise, there is no real correction to be given here.

    June 23, 2014
    • That’s okay, Russ. You don’t have to agree with me.

      I don’t know if you read any of the comments, but we have discussed, at some length, 1 Corinthians 10:13 already. Believe it or not I did do my homework. I just disagree with you. But I imagine that if I did my homework better I’d agree with you, right?

      As far as the prayer section, I said what I intended to say. I can appreciate the fact that you didn’t like it, but it has resonated with many Christ-adoring people. I’ll take solace in the fact that it was them I was talking to.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      June 23, 2014
  18. “I prayed about who should lead the Children’s Ministry and God brought your name to mind.”

    August 12, 2014
  19. Also, “God knows the plans he has for me” is often quoted by people who have just made dumb life decisions or have yet to take action to change their situation. While God may have a plan for your life, that particular verse about his plans to give the Jewish people a hope and a future shouldn’t be applied to your career or potential spouse.

    August 12, 2014
    • Well said. I feel encouraged that I’m not the only one who thinks this way .. so thanks.

      August 13, 2014
    • Well said. I feel encouraged im not the only one who thinks that way. Its frustrating that so many verses are taken out of context and misapplied. On the other hand by doing that perhaps people are in effect declaring in faith that they identify themselves with those people in the bible.

      August 13, 2014

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  1. 3 Questionable Trends in Christian Blogging | Jayson D. Bradley
  2. 3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On | mynovelstory

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