God has limited us on purpose. Our culture tells us to “push the limits and break through” yet God has limited us on purpose. When we look to Jesus as the only Unlimited One, we can begin to accept our limitations as gifts, see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
The idea that we are limited on purpose first came to my attention when I was in college. As teenagers and early 20 somethings we can tend to feel like nothing is unlimited so long as we work hard enough, or pursue it hard enough, or whatever. We are full of energy and idealism. And our culture feeds into that. Even a line from the movie, “Frozen”, feeds into it. Elsa sings in “Let it Go”:
“It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
It doesn’t take long until we come up against limits of all sorts. Each time I would get frustrated by them, thinking: “why don’t I have more time, more energy, more _____________.” Someone shared with me when I was in college that I am limited on purpose, because God is the only unlimited one. That’s stuck with me for the past 20 + years. It’s been a freeing, and a good, reminder that I am limited on purpose. It’s not that I’m failing; it’s that God has limited me….on purpose.
The more we look to God and His Limitlessness, the more free we are to accept and embrace our limits as a gift. The reason I usually don’t accept my limits is because I am looking to myself or to the World. When I do, I forget who God is, who I am, where my value lies, and I tend to take on responsibility that is not mine, and push the limits rather than live within them.
Some areas I am limited in
Length of life/age
Sight (spiritual and physical)
Safety/protection of self/family
My ability to accept God’s love
Holding on to God (which is why He holds on to us; Isa 41:10)
God has limited us on purpose. Why would He do that?
Yet there are limits we purposely set for ourselves.
A few limits I set for myself :
- Sleep (go to bed, set an alarm)
Eating (what and how much)
Work (so I can see my family)
Phone (app limits)
I balk against the limits in the first set because I feel like it lessens my value (because I am looking to them for my value).
Sometimes we can and should push past our perceived limits rather than settling or getting lazy. Sometimes I am more capable than I first think in various areas. I can take on more responsibility than I first thought I could, I can push and keep going despite low energy, but eventually all those have a limit too. However, if I’m pushing too hard past my limits, that’s when I get into trouble.
I don’t like the limits I set for myself either. Sometimes I want to sleep all day, or eat the yummy junk food, or buy the enticing thing on Amazon, or just scroll endlessly through Instagram. But the cost of doing any of those is far greater than the cost of the limit.
The good news is we are not the first to struggle with limits. Paul addressed it in a couple of his letters in the New Testament. (The following verses are all in the Message version as that’s the version of the Bible I’ve been reading this past year).
2 Corin 12:7-10 MSG
“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”
What can we notice in this passage?
- Why was Paul given the “gift” of a limitation?
God gave Paul a “gift” of a handicap to keep him constant touch with his limitations. He knew otherwise he could get a big head.
- How did Satan try to use it? What was the result?
Satan tried to use it to discourage him (how often am I discouraged by my limitations?). Instead, it pushed Paul to humility and to Jesus.
- Did Paul accept it right away?
No, at first he asked God to remove it, but God in His Wisdom and Love said “no”. He gave a different (better, albeit not the one desired) answer:
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
- Once God answered no, and gave His answer that His grace was enough, what was Paul’s response? What words do you see he used to describe his response:
glad, appreciate, taken in stride, with good cheer.
- Where was Paul’s focus?
He stopped focusing on the handicap and was able to appreciate it as a gift. Christ’s strength moved in on his weakness.
He joyfully took limitations in stride and let Christ take over.
- What were his other limitations?
abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks
How could he be JOYFUL? That seems impossible. It is impossible in our own strength. However, God gives us the strength to joyfully endure.
Col. 1:11-12 MSG
“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”
2 Corin 13:9 MSG
“We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives.”
How can the limitations be a gift? God began helping me really understand this last Spring during a DAWG (Day Away With God). I was feeling overwhelmed and very limited, and God showed me how He is already the answer. It’s all about knowing Him, like Paul did: focusing on Christ instead of our limitation.
Some aspects of Himself that God reminded me of that day to draw my focus to Him:
Jesus is the Answer
Jesus is the entire Story, the Alpha and Omega. I only have a part of the Story. Oftentimes, I feel like I am responsible for the world. If I don’t accept the limit of my part in the Story, then I am striving in vain, and I will miss the significance of the part I get to play in His Story. Revelation 22:13, Hebrews 12:2, Ps 127:1.
Jesus is my Defense. I can work and work to defend myself before others and before God, but I don’t even have to. The pressure is off, because He took all my sin and He is my Defense. Isa 12:2, 1 John 1:9
Jesus is my Rest. The world says “keep working, produce!” Jesus says “come to Me. I am never in a hurry. I hold all things together and make all things come together.” Matt 11:28, Rom 8:28
Jesus is Wisdom. We can easily be overwhelmed by the world’s problems. But He has overcome the world. He is the answer. He’ll share with me the answers as I need them and as I look to him. 1 Corinthians 1:24, John 16:33
Jesus is the Almighty. Rev 1:8, 5:12. He is Unlimited in Power, Unlimited in Importance, He Alone is Worthy.
I have value, I have worth, I have importance, and I have significance. But I am not unlimited in my importance, I am not unlimited in my worth, I am not unlimited in my value. I am not enough, and that is freeing because I don’t have to be! There is one who is already enough, and his name is Jesus.
What about you and your world?
Is there a limitation you are currently frustrated you have? How are you doing at trusting God with it? It’s okay to ask Him to remove it, but if you have and it’s one He’s giving you on purpose, then I encourage you to begin the journey of accepting it and using it to see Him more clearly. Spend some time starting that process by asking yourself the following questions:
– What is/are the limitation(s). Clearly identify them.
– Why do you not want it? What do you want? (This can take time to explore.
I’ve noticed it usually comes down to wanting myself glorified or comfortable.)
– How can your limitation point you to Jesus’ Limitlessness?
– How do you need to trust Him with your limit?
One example I’ll share is being limited in energy. In my 20’s I would push hard to accomplish the tasks I had, but would then crash for the next day or two. I was jealous of the people I compared myself to who could get away with 4-6 hours of sleep and seem like they could get so much done. I functioned best if I got around 9 hours of sleep. I felt like I had to do as much as I thought they were doing. So I would push hard to meet with people in 1×1’s, Bible studies and other meetings, accomplish all the tasks, to-do’s and prep work I had, but then I would crash for a few days as soon as I let myself pause. A few years into this pattern, those crash periods developed into accompanying migraines, and those really took me out. When I became a mom I had to seriously evaluate my tendency to push hard to get through. I no longer had recovery time during a crash, a baby still needs you whether you have a migraine or not.
God has slowly been getting this limit concept through to me over the years. During the moments I started to accept my limits, I saw Jesus show up. The first time in a significant way was in my mid-20’s during nearly an entire school year of deep depression. It was my 4th year of full time ministry, and I was barely functional; only operating in survival mode. God used it heal some brokenness I didn’t even know was there, and I saw His care for me in support raising, as I couldn’t do that either. It was the first time I really began to grasp He really has everything under control and none of it is up to me. I’m invited to be part of the Story.
It’s still a struggle though! Now that I’m a mom, I’m still learning to cut back on so many things. I still struggle with feeling not enough, but that’s usually because I am looking at all the tasks left undone, even untouched, and not looking to Jesus and what He’s done through me. I’m learning to accept my limits; to trust Him with the things that are undone. Trusting He will provide for them to get done, or provide His perspective they are a task that He doesn’t actually have for me to do. I don’t have to be enough because He is enough.
I still get frustrated by my limit of energy
– Because I feel like I should have more (I don’t readily recognize there is a limit to my energy, like I do the limit of time)
– Because sometimes I can push through despite low energy, and I look to myself for that ability rather than to God. Sometimes God will provide extra energy and I want Him to all the time (not just occasionally).
– Because I feel like I am valuable if I can produce and contribute, rather than believing I am already valuable because I am God’s daughter. I am looking to myself for worth rather than to God for my worth. Even if I can push through the low energy and produce a lot, the sense of value and worth is short lived, because new tasks arise and once again I am behind. But in Christ, my worth never changes because it’s based on Him.
As I accept my limit of energy, I can look to Him who is limitless rather than looking at myself. Maybe He will take the low energy away for a moment and supernaturally provide for me to accomplish a task. He’s done that before. That’s not usually the case. He wants me to accept my limit, because it draws my focus to Him. I look to Him for my worth, not my accomplishments. I look to Him for what He wants me to do, rather than myself because the ideas in my head and on my to-do lists are always greater than I can possibly achieve. I need to set aside all my good plans in order to focus on the great plans He has for me to do. And by accepting my limit, I will come to Him for rest, renewal, perspective, vision, relationship. If I had unlimited energy (like I wish I had), I doubt I would stop, or I would very rarely. The low energy causes me to stop regularly.
Looking back to the questions, here’s how I answered them:
– What is/are the limitation(s): low energy
– Why do you not want it? What are you wanting? I want unlimited energy so I can accomplish all the things and be valuable
– How can your limitation point you to Jesus’ Limitlessness? I recognize it’s not up to me but up to Him and my limit can draw me to look to Him instead of myself.
– How do you need to trust Him with your limit? I will look to Him for my value, and what He wants me to do instead of trusting myself.
I encourage you to give yourself time and space to really reflect on these questions. It took me awhile to summarize the answers to those questions. Please comment below or email me if you have any comments or questions. This is all still in development and I would love help refining it.
One person asked how communication is a God-given limit with all the advances in technology. Here are some thoughts how this applies to communication.
Even with all the advances of technology in communication, there will always be a limit. Even when we speak the same language and see each other daily, there are limits in communication. I think of a marriage relationship, or a discipleship relationship. Sometimes you think something has been communicated well, and the other person just doesn’t get it. I can work and work and work to try to make sure the other person understands what I’m saying, but sometimes they just don’t. In those moments, it’s a God-given limit and I can choose to seek Him and ask Him to remove the communication barrier. Sometimes He will. Sometimes, He wants me to trust Him and to be praying for that person to understand rather than talking at them. As I look to God rather than my communication efforts, I get a chance to see how He can break through any communication barriers that exist. He really is the only Unlimited One.
For another perspective on this topic of limits, I appreciated John Piper’s short article on how he accepted a God-given limit and used it for God’s glory.