The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
“Perfect” is ‘complete’ full grown; having reached the end or goal for which it was designed.’ Strong’s Concordance gives the example of an unfolding telescope that opens to its “full strength capacity effectiveness.” How do we, as followers of Christ, live in such as way that we ‘walk in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25s), so that we reach our full strength, capacity effectiveness?
WE NEED TO UNDERSTOOD LIMITS
- After Jesus said, “I must be about my father’s business,” (Luke 2:49), he drops off the radar for 20 years before his final three years of ministry. Yet God said he was well pleased (Mark 1:11).
- He went to the desert where Satan tempted him to act outside of God’s plan (Matthew 4). Though he could have done everything Satan suggested, Jesus resisted because it was not in God’s timing.
- Jesus did not heal everybody (Mark 6:4-6)
- He didn’t let everyone follow him as part of the group of disciples (John 6:60-70; Mark 10). He winnowed the crowd with his teaching; he required commitment; he handpicked his disciples.
- He didn’t pursue the crowds who left him, and sometimes he took a break from the crowds who followed him (Mark 6:45-46; Luke 4:42; Matthew 14:22-23; John 6:14-15).
- And yet at the end of his life he prayed, “I have completed the work you gave me to do.” (John 6)
Sometimes I hear "present your bodies as a living sacrifice" presented as, “Think nothing of yourself ever.” But I don’t see Jesus himself modeling that. Part of the sacrifice is doing the hard work of pulling back, resting, not doing certain things because it’s not what God has called you to do, at least at that moment.
When Jesus had the Last Supper with the disciples and they broke bread and drank wine, Jesus noted that His body would be broken and his blood spilled out for them. He meant this in a very literal sense. When he said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” I think it had two levels of meaning: 1) repeat this ceremony so that you do not forget my sacrifice, and 2) be broken and spilled out for others. You will need times of renewal.
When we go on mission trips, the people we work with always make sure we rest. We are in a different culture (food, time zones, weather, etc), and it catches up with us. We go out of our way to stay healthy so we can minister; it’s not for selfish reasons. Do you ever find yourself asking these questions:
- “Why do I always feel as if there is too little time and too much to do?
- Why do I always feel chronically pressured and restless in my interior?
- Why does my life always have so little margin or flexibility?
- Why do I never feel finished meeting needs?”
It's possible that you have not surrendered your priorities and goals to Christ. It’s possible that you have unrealistic expectations for people, or you are selfish. Those things are possible. But maybe you need a break. If you live sacrificially for others, you will need times to be renewed and filled again. Jesus himself modeled this.
True self-care is not a selfish act. It’s good stewardship.It’s within God’s boundaries that we reach our full strength capacity effectiveness. Sometimes, we have to see opportunities and not become involved. None of us can help everybody or do everything. God raises people up “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). If we aren’t; careful, we forget how specific that is: “For this time. Now.”
Steward Your Relationships
At some point and in some way, you are going to need to limit the access and influence of people around you. Jesus did. Not everyone was a disciple; not everyone had a conversation with him; he left some towns; he left some situations.
Please don’t misunderstand: Jesus was a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11: 16-19). None of us are righteous; to simply pull away from someone because they struggle with sin would be the height of hypocrisy. And this is not meant to be an excuse to avoid people just because you find them hard to love. But there are some situations that, if we remain too closely connected, our faith and our effectiveness will be compromised. Some people must be experienced in small doses.The Bible gives several examples:
- “Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” (Proverbs 22:24)
- “And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for ‘bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32-33)
- “Escape quickly from the company of fools (hate truth and love trouble); they’re a waste of your time, a waste of your words.” (Proverbs 14:7)
- “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:14) Paul did it twice (Acts 13 and 18).
This is not about the demands of being a friend or mentor (the next point will address that). This is specifically about people who:
- tempt us to sin
- teach a false gospel
- waste our calling
God doesn’t give up on people, and we shouldn’t either. But Jesus himself had circles of friends. His closest disciples were very carefully chosen; many others were “friends,” but they weren’t in his inner circle. Others he preached to from a distance, and others he approached and then left when he realized the soil of their hearts was hard.
Steward Your Time
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16).
“Redeeming the time” was a phrase used by merchants to talk about timely business investments. One commentary describes it as “a careful and diligent use of [time], an improvement of it to the best advantage; and shows that it is valuable and precious, and is not to be trifled with, and squandered away…” (Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible) We say “no” so we can say yes.
- We say “no” to even good ministry opportunities if we are saying “yes” to something greater. Think of all the local ministries we can be involved with – Right To Life, PCC, Thomas Judd, Goodwill Inn, Father Fred – you can’t do them all. In church we have a ton of ways you can be involved – and you can’t do them all. If you have to choose, do the one that matches your calling.
- We say “no” to wasting our free time so we can say “yes” to preparing ourselves for future opportunities. If you don’t know what God is calling you to do, just start doing stuff, read biographies of Christians, learn about different ministries… go, experience and learn – you might be surprised what ‘clicks.’
- We say “no” to running ourselves into the ground so we can say “yes” to the Sabbaths in our life - the times of rest, renewal, and enjoyment of God and his creation. You can’t do everything other people want you to do. There are times you must say, “I can't meet for lunch. I can’t take that phone call. I can’t respond to that email as quickly as they would like, and that has to be okay.”
Time is not a renewable resource for us. We are going to have to put limits on where and how we invest it. We need to pray for wisdom and ask godly friends for guidance.
Steward Your Input
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)
Paul loved this word (“think”). He used it twenty-seven times in his letters. It means that there are some things that should be weighty, that we should mediate on. Those things should form us more than others.
- Some things are always worth “thinking on” (we just read the list)
- Some things are never worth “thinking on” (such as pornography)
- Some things are worth “thinking on” for a season or a reason. Paul was clearly versed in classical Greek and Roman literature and arts – he quoted Greek writers numerous times – he was aware of it without succumbing to it. We should know our culture so we “understand the times and know what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
- Some things I should never “think on” – but maybe you can. In that grey area of ‘seasons and reasons’ we must be discerning. Know your weaknesses! If violence or swearing influences you, you need some boundaries that might be tighter than others. If you are easily influenced by false teaching or emotional manipulation – if you have a hard time separating truth from lies (Matthew 3:12) - you are going to have to be more careful than others about what you consume.
I was noticing some popular slogans in the past several weeks : No Limits! No Boundaries! The Only Thing Stopping You is You! You Can Be Anything You Want To Be/Do Anything You Want To Do! I get it – it’s meant to motivate people toward “full strength capacity effectiveness.” But…they’re not true. In fact, they can actually lead to real disillusionment. On the other hand, there are some often overlooked voices noting a different way to view limits:
- “To note an artist’s limitations is but to define his talent.” – Willa Cather, author
- “Your limitations create your sound.” Norah Jones, whose first album sold 26 million copies and received 8 Grammy Awards.
- “Embracing the limitation can actually drive creativity… We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.” Phil Hansen, artist whose hand tremors limit the mediums in which he can work.
God has given each one of us different gifts: capacities and gifts and potential. But we are not limitless; God does not expect us to complete all work. Jesus completed the work God gave him to do without doing everything. We can to. God’s desire is that we do the things He gives us to do. Perhaps it is within this recognition that we begin to see more clearly who God intended us to be.
Let’s pray for an understanding of godly, healthy limits in our lives, and for the wisdom to see all the opportunities God has given us. After all, “His strength is made perfect in my weakness” (Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:9).
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past, Live in Brokenness) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.