By Jayson Bradley
1. “GOD DOESN’T GIVE YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE.”
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 hyperspiritual: 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 20 years of ministry, the people who’ve attributed 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 when “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 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 Christians say that make you wince?
About the Author: Jayson is a God-botherer, writer, marketer, musician, and pastor in Washington State. An unapologetic grace and coffee junkie, Jayson desperately longs to see himself (and the church) conformed to the image of Christ. See more from Jayson on his website.