Learning To Embrace The Limits

Rob Campbell   -  

Over the past few months some of our church leaders have been reading through Paul Tripp’s newest book called  Lead. There are some authors you know are going to have something good to say when a new book arrives and Tripp is one of those people. I have read so many of his books that I was not sure another one would be all that impacting.  Lead is maybe, for me, his finest contribution. Most of Tripp’s writings address how the Gospel impacts leadership, church, and daily life. His most recent book seems to bring together the culmination of much of his writing and thought . The chapter we read recently was on limits and how to recognize and embrace limits. That is what I have spent some time reflecting on for my own life.

I don’t think I need alot of convincing that God has set limits into the fabric of living. There is day and night. There are seasons. Most of life has a rhythm of sleep and being awake. I know there are limits but what I have a hard time with is knowing where those limits apply to me personally. We have limited time. No one gets more hours in a day or more days in a week. But I don’t honor the limits of time when I cannot say “no” to even good things that need to be done. We have limited energy. In some ways I feel I have more energy now than I did a few years ago. What I find more challenging now is sustaining a high level of energy over a longer period time. I find that recuperating from stretches of demanding amounts of energy takes more time and I don’t like that. I don’t want to recognize the limits of my energy.

I find it challenging to face the limits of my gifts or things I may feel I am good at or needed for. There is something attractive about youthfulness that feels it can take on the world and try. Well, in the mid-life, I find that desire may still be there but there is more caution. I don’t like that about myself. I would like to step on the gas pedal of ambition in ministry pursuits and move like a sports car and not feel any resistance. But that is not the way it feels now possibly because I have a hard time honoring my own limits.

I know that Jesus honored limits. He emptied himself and became a man. From infinite to the finite – I would say that it honoring a limit. He did not use his powers to rise above normal life but even on the Cross he was thirsty. Yet in all this he was still fully God. I know this should help me understand that honoring limits is not the equivalent of doing less than your best. But it is still difficult. Why? If Jesus did this why can’t I? If God put limits in place and even established the principle of Sabbath rest in the creation fabric, why can’t I honor limits more faithfully? I am not sure I fully understand but I think in part it is a self-righteous spirit. For some reason I think deep inside I can beat the limit. I can be the exception even though I a get weary just thinking that way.

Part of the reason limits are so hard is that there is always more to do. The fear of missing out hits at every stage of life. I used to practice days off by not being on church property and getting things done at home but always listening to some audiobook about ministry or mentally working on the next sermon. While I was not physically present at ministry places, mentally I would never shut down because, well, there is always more that can be done. I look back now and think how sad it was that I could not honor limits. I had to never shut down because I had placed myself in such a critical place of being the functional savior for this or that. There is an addiction to being needed. There is a recovery group for this but it seems for many ministers the only entrance to the group is through some sort of breakdown or burnout. When I was on my sabbatical I was introduced to a whole bunch of people I never knew who all seemed to struggle with limits.

I don’t think honoring limits is something unique to pastors or certain professions. I think this is a human problem. In an age where the information cycle never sleeps, honoring limits has become more difficult because it is possible to never go offline. Many stores and fast food are now on a twenty-four hour clock. It really is possible to be more busy than ever. But at what cost? Where do you need to honor limits in your life? Have you wondered what it would be like to begin to practice the principle of Sabbath rest in your life? Start small. Talk with others. Work at resting.

Today, I can work at honoring limits because God is always at work. I still struggle. I need to stop trying to hold the universe together and recognize that God is the one who does this, not me. Honoring limits is not weakness. It is worshipping the limitless One who submitted himself to the ultimate limit, death, and rose again!