Many years ago, while Pastoring my first church, I preached a message called “Life Without Limits.” Truth be known, I “borrowed” the message from another preacher and reworked it, but that’s another story for another blog. (Maybe I will title it “Pulpit Plagiarism.”)
Anyway, I digress…
The gist of the message was simple: God is unlimited, and we are created in his image, therefore, we have unlimited potential and can soar to unlimited heights in our life with Him. After all, one can never receive enough of God’s love, joy, peace, etc…. It was a message that aligned perfectly with my Pentecostal upbringing where I was constantly challenged to pursue more, stretch out my tent stakes and enlarge my territory. (Anyone remember the Prayer of Jabez?)
Along with this “no limits” mindset, I was raised with an eschatology that focused on the end of days and gave little to no room for wasting time. After all, the rapture of the church could take place at any moment, and we had to make sure we were busy about the Master’s business when the trumpet sounded. Phrases such as these thundered from the pulpits of my youth:
- “Time is short…redeem the time, for the days are evil.”
- “No man who putteth his hand to the plow and looketh back is fit for the Kingdom of God,” (Somehow, 400-year-old English sounds more intimidating and ominous)
- “Work while it is yet day, for the night is coming when no man can work.”
While the intentions of such phrases were good and called for balance in light of the entirety of scripture, I carried them to the extreme in my life and over time, they developed into unhealthy practices that nearly cost me everything. I never learned this valuable principle:
Great Leaders Lead With Limits
While it is true that there are no limits to what God can do in and through us, scripture shows us that limits are good. We see this in the creation story. Adam and Eve, walked in the perfection of God with the freedom to eat from every tree in the garden, yet they were given limits to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (See Genesis 2). Their failure to embrace God’s limitation cost them, and the entire human race, dearly.
God is God. We are not. He is infinite. We are finite. There is a finiteness to what I can do with my aging physical body. There are limits to the number of meaningful relationships I can engage in and the amount of time that I actually have to accomplish what God wants me to accomplish. My failure to live within God-given limitations depleted me severly to the point where I could no longer function at a healthy level as a husband, father, and leader. It affected my judgement and decision making on multiple levels at home and at church. In many ways, I became like Moses.
Moses was a leader who was called by God to carry a huge assignment, yet tried to do it all and it almost took him out. His life became totally unmanageable and it affected not only the health of his soul, but also the health of his family, even threatening the spiritual health of the fledgling nation he was trying to lead. At one point, his leadership lifestyle was so out of control, he had to send his wife and two sons to live with his father-in-law. Ironically, it was his father-in-law, Jethro, who came back, intervened and taught Moses how to lead with limits.
“Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18 NIV)
After confronting Moses on the problem at hand, Jethro helped his son-in-law develop a strategy to lead with limits. If I had learned this principle earlier in life, I would have avoided a world of heartache. When I bottomed out, I was the Senior Pastor of a mid-sized church teaching 45 weekends a year, plus doing a majority of caregiving and leadership development. I was chairman of 2 boards (gotta love the mid-sized church with so many layers); corporate secretary for my denomination and working on ministry development strategies for that same movement. I was an instructional assistant for on-ground classes at a local university plus teaching classes online for two other schools. Oh, by the way, I was trying to be a husband, and father of 5. “I can handle it” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” became my war cries. I ignored every warning sign and actually believed I was going to be the exception to the rule of limits, be able to do it all and live to tell about it. Along the way, I was very quick to make my own plans and ask God to bless them rather than lean into him and ask this vital question:
God, what are you asking me NOT to do?
If you have never asked God that question, you need to. Trust me, it’s not worth going down a road with no limits. I learned the hard way that limitations are actually a gift. God can do more with our limitations than we can possibly imagine. I still fight the urge to do more, and chart my own course, but I continually remind myself of Paul’s take on this subject.
We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us… (2 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)
Learn to live with limits. It’s actually liberating.