The Gift of Limits

Why would having limits and accepting limits be a gift? Most of us think we learn by being stretched or taking risks. Some of us tend to struggle to say ‘no’ or think we are indispensable. Men tend to be more likely to exhibit this type of character trait. Western cultures may also encourage this more than Eastern cultures. However, the relentless pushing forward to take on more activity is not exclusive to males or Western cultures. It is tempting for male and female, West and East, to try and do, and know, more than what they can do.


When God created the world, he blessed human beings by his own example with understanding the limits of work and the gift of taking a Sabbath rest. By doing this God equips Adam and Eve with specific instructions about the limits of their work. God also plants two trees in the Garden of Eden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9).


The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is off limits. God tells Adam, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die"

(Gen. 2:16-17).


There are unanswered questions about the narrative. However, it is enough to observe that not everything that can be done should be done.


Human ability and imagination are limited consistent with God’s intents, purposes, and commands. For instance, we can want more time so that we can do more than time allows. We can want more strength so that we can accomplish more. We want more wisdom, so we don’t want to invest so much time researching and learning. We want to be God. I would love to say that I am free within the limits that God sets by not getting frustrated. But I can’t. I wish I could say that I am not tempted to work outside of the limits that God sets. But I can’t. Every human is a mixture of God given gifts and God assigned limits. We need to remember both if we want to work with God, rather than against him.


We are not created to know and do everything. Therefore, Adam was given a helper in the person of Eve. There is something amiss when someone is so dominant that the gifts of others are not given full expression. At a result people may end up doing things they are not gifted to do. When I see myself as the smartest in the room and therefore the one to which ultimate wisdom and decisions default to -- pride may lead to disaster. We all need the contributions of others. We need people in our lives who are smart in ways that we are not. This is the sign of a respectful and humble community serving one another. Recognising our weaknesses is as valuable as recognising our strengths. That way we surround ourselves with people who are gifted in ways that we are not. Being given a gift says more about our need and dependency. We need God’s gifts to serve Him. The gifts we have should point more to the giver than us.


We don’t know everything. Although we might act that way sometimes. We can’t do everything even though we might try to at times. We are not completely mature and there are limits on our energy. Although we might write on our resume or present in our interviews that we are a package of strengths, gifts, and experiences. We are made up also of weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Our limitations are the place where the gospel meets us. We see from the Adam and Eve narrative, that we do not need to fear our limits because God is with us. We do not need to get frustrated or be tempted to hide our weaknesses, because this is the ground of grace where God works most powerfully. We do not need to masquerade as being wiser and more capable than we are. We must choose to observe the limits God sets, rather than acting as if everything is possible in creation. God intends that in our relationship with Him we respect the limits.


It is within these limits that God intends that we can bring about good in creation. Human creativity, for example, arises as much from limits as from opportunities. Architects find inspiration from the limits of time, money, space, materials, and purpose imposed by the client. Painters find creative expression by accepting the limits of the material with which they choose to work. Like beginning with the limitations of representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional canvas. Writers find brilliance when they face page and word limits. Something preachers could learn from. Maybe limitations are as much of a gift as strengths.


Matt Hall

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