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The Gift of Our Limits

13 Aug Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on The Gift of Our Limits
The Gift of Our Limits

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was our first year of full-time youth ministry, and within a one month period of time, Naomi and I both graduated college, got married, moved to a brand new town, and began two new jobs.

Wow! What we were thinking?

Since this all happened in February, as part of my transition, my senior leader informed me of my summer responsibilities and what they would include.  Here’s a short version of the list: Lead a teen camp for a week, Lead a separate children’s camp for a week, plan and run a Sr. High missions trip for a week, do it all over again for a separate Jr. High missions trip and, finally create a week long teen version of VBS.

It was crazy, to say the least.

Young, still seeking others’ approval and somewhat proud of what I had accomplished, I wore my work like a badge of accomplishment.  Yet, my inner soul was tired, fearful and asking the question, “When will be enough?”  I remember in that very moment, beginning to tell myself and my wife the lie, “It will slow down after this next push.” At the time, I had no idea that it was a lie, nor did I have any idea how often I would end up saying it.


What happens when “living beyond limits” becomes your reality?

Exceeding our limits repeatedly is not a sign of great strength but rather an indication of emotional unhealthiness often driven by ambition and unhealthy motivation. For a time, living beyond my limits became the norm. It resulted in a growing ministry, high praise from the church, and a weary soul. Living beyond my limits bore fruit for the ministry but also fed an unhealthy compulsion in my soul.

Living beyond limits affects our ability to be present with God…

When our lives are marked with hurry, lack of rest and a continual hunger for more, our senses become dull.  Our ability to notice, be present and sense the movement of God fades.  The volume of activity becomes violence to our souls.  In these times our shear pace keeps us from seeing the very image of God present in those around us.  They stop being people and become means to an end. Distant from God, living beyond limits, dulled to His presence… He simply whispers for you to stop.

Living beyond limits affects our marriages and families…

Living beyond limits affects us holistically.  We can’t compartmentalize burnout. When we repeatedly place more time in our ministry, we naturally have less time being present at home.  Missing memories, special moments and key life events which can never be reclaimed can often become the norm.  Each of us only has so much emotional-relational energy to give.  In caring for others within ministry it is easy to live beyond limits, give our best to people we don’t know, then return home to our very families with nothing left to offer.  Our marriages and families are our greatest treasures, not our positions or titles.

Living beyond limits affects our organizations…

No one operates as a true individual.  We are all connected in some form or fashion.   When individuals in an organization operate in such a way that is repeatedly unhealthy, those around the individual feel the effects.

Communally we feel the push of one living beyond limits.  Often in these cases, everyone is encouraged to do more, work harder and put in more hours.  Yet, living at this increased pace can cause mission shift and a general sense of one’s soul being devalued in favor of the organization.  The organization then suffers due to a person not serving at their fullest capacity or even more often, leaving all together.

Counter-intuitive Healthy Choices

A few years ago while attending a conference in New York City, Peter Scazzero, Pastor of New Life Fellowship Church told a story about a choice he and his staff needed to make in regards to a potential location change for the church.  Maxed to capacity in the old Elks Lodge building in Queens, New Life had reached its numerical height at 2000 people.  There was no other way to enlarge at the current site.  Not long into their research a new location came available around eight miles away from their current location.  This new location would remove the numeric and parking barriers which existed for the church to grow numerically.  A few church growth experts believed the church would expand immediately from 2000 to 6000 with this location change.  Upon reviewing all factors involved, Peter and his staff decided to turn the offer down and stay in their current location.

Peter offered the following reasons.  One, if we move… our ministry to homeless people will be dismantled.  We the church (the people) exist here, not eight miles from here.  Two, if we move… our staff and their families will be uprooted.  I simply am not willing to place my entire team in a place of unhealth.  We set the standard for how others will view our formation and health.  Three, though it is tempting, it is beyond our current limits in which are guided by our core values and mission.

When I head that story, it struck me how counter-intuitive that decision could be. We live in a society that values growth, expansion, and productivity. Bigger is better! Here was a church intentionally choosing to avoid those things for the sake of health, because they recognized their limits, and were content to remain where they were.


Choosing to embrace limits

God have given us all limits. In His grace, He lets us ignore them for a season, but in the end, He brings us to a place of recognition, a place where we learn to live within them as we faithfully follow Him. The question for us today is, “Are we willing to live within our healthy limits?”

The following are a few limits each of us possess:

  • Your physical body
  • Your family of origin
  • Your marital status
  • Your intellectual capacity
  • Your talents and gifts
  • Your material wealth
  • Your personality & temperament
  • Your time
  • Your organizational realities
  • Your relationships
  • Your stage in life

How are you at recognizing your limits?

Remember, limits allow you to stop!

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.