There is no problem in the “too hard” box that wasn’t made worse by being tossed into the “too hard” box. Regardless of how sinister or innocent our motivation may be, the result tends to be the same.

The damage to you

You might be surprised by the suggestion that tossing people into the “too hard” box damages you, but it does. Because you cannot tolerate a full “too hard” box without harming those most exposed—most vulnerable—in your circle of influence. And you cannot dismiss the weak and vulnerable without degrading your own soul.

Here are four ways in which you will tend to be damaged if you are quick to write off those who ask you for help.

First, you will become responsible for real spiritual damage. You will, by your condemnation or avoidance, be partially responsible for weakening the hands of the fainting and struggling. You’ll end up abusing and abandoning the sheep most in need of care and protection. You will, by these acts, be transformed into the image of the hireling you once despised.

Second, you’ll become progressively more bigoted. What starts as ignorance and helplessness becomes—with practice—arrogance and hardheartedness. Where you once did what you could even though you didn’t know what to do, you’ll soon learn to “write off” quickly to avoid “wasting” time. To do so, you’ll have to make quick judgements, draw simplistic conclusions, and issue blanket condemnations.

Third, you’ll become the monster you tried to protect others from in your early days of ministry. Your judgements and edicts of condemnation will slash and scar people not only making the “too hard” box bigger, but teaching people not to come to anyone like you for help. If your ministry is through a church, you will teach people to go anywhere but the church for help. Eventually, even your own children will fall into something you’re not safe to come to with. And you’ll look at yourself in the mirror—and this is the most terrifying part—you’ll justify yourself.

Finally, you will leave a trail of destruction behind you that will follow you like the stench of a rotting carcass. You will build a legacy with closet after closet full of skeletal remains. If you’re lucky, they will be discovered quickly and you will be forced to face your sin early. More likely, you’ll get away with it for a while.

The damage to others

If your actions affected only you, that would be one thing. But the reality is far worse—more sad—than that. The damage for the discarded tends to include the following.

First, the very nature of the “too hard” box is that it’s isolating. Whether she ends up there by aggressive condemnation or passive avoidance, the message is the same: “You’re different. Christianity has hope for normal people with normal problems, but you’re not normal.”

Second, isolation leads to alienation. Pain leads to anger. Your silence is interpreted as unconcern. You’ve never uttered a word about your suspicion that he is the problem, but he knows. He senses it. And he resents it. And relationships deteriorate.

Third, alienation leads to defeat. She’s come to the church. She’s held out hope of change or progress or something. But nothing has happened. Weeks or months have passed. Maybe years. And she’s losing hope. Maybe her only option is to do what feels right. Maybe this is too hard for the gospel to address.

Fourth, what started as a difficult problem becomes a mountainous barrier between the church and the struggler. She is cut off from the one place she could get the word and fellowship of the gospel. What began as a difficult problem designed to be an Ebenezer to God’s glory becomes a monument to the insensitivity of the church. The ministers, no longer viewed as loving shepherds, are seen as trigger-happy herdsmen. The protectors become the problem. And the helpless wander.


Isolation, alienation, defeat, and destruction. Could anything be more opposite to what the church is supposed to be? This is why it is so important for every Christian to consider the “too hard” box. How big is yours? What do you do when you realise you’re out of your depth? This will be the topic of my next post.

Grace to you.

this is part 2 of 4 in the series
Helping people in the too hard box

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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at


  1. PJ 24 September, 2014 at 8:38 am - Reply

    Sometimes people put themselves in the “too hard box” by failing to take personal responsibility and failing to avail themselves of the ordinary means of grace. How long do you persist with people when this is their consistent attitude and behaviour?


  2. Jason Harris 24 September, 2014 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Hey PJ,

    I would attempt to approach this through a gospel lens.

    I would suggest that everyone is born in the “too hard box” by virtue of original sin and that EVERYONE systematically continues to place themselves in the “too hard box” by virtue of sins of commission and omission (e.g. not availing themselves of the ordinary means of grace). This then makes the solution clearer in my mind. So God interrupts our headlong dash to destruction at conversion and continues to interrupt it through the process of sanctification.

    Each person’s “designer lusts” will result in differing areas of rebel tendency and different degrees and kinds of sin and damage. But for every single child of God, he is lovingly teaching them to trust him and obey him. The pace of growth in holiness will differ because the obstacles and struggles will differ. And because the personalities involved will differ. And because of a thousand other factors. No one will make it all the way there (or even close) until glorification. And no true believer will sit out of the fight entirely. But at the end of the day, God will not give up on his own. Which is our only hope of glory. Patience with repeated failure, then, is a gospel process which should cease when God’s grace ceases.

    All that said, there is a time to comfort, a time to warn, and a time to rebuke. Each of these will play a role in ministry to such people. Additionally, the fact that God’s grace has not run out doesn’t mean that I must continue to pour my resources in. There are times in ministry when I’ll have to say “I love you and earnestly desire your growth in grace, but the best way I can help you right now is to stop trying to help you. I’m not saying you’re not saved or that I reject you. I don’t. I just don’t know how else I can help you and I can’t justify pouring much time into you at this point. Therefore I will continue to pray for you and commend you to the grace of God who will not fail you.” Such a move, when motivated by genuine love and humility, can, I think, minister grace even in the process of stepping back. It is appropriate in the case where repentance is professed and the person seems to want to change, but just isn’t getting anywhere over a long period of time. The key, I think, is to avoid rejection and condemnation and instead to see myself next to them… a sinner… just as prone to wander… just as much in need of gracious intervention.

    Sometimes it just takes time. I have seen God continue to work after I’ve given up so many times. When the time comes to step back, my goal is to get out of God’s way without the pride, condemnation, or rejection that would undermine the gospel I long for them to grasp.

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