A colleague asked me how things were going. I answered without thinking, “Great!” Throughout the subsequent meeting, however, I thought about it. If the truth be told, I was tired. From one perspective my life is full of success and activity, but thinking about the stresses all these activities bring about—spiritually, emotionally, physically—I wondered, Is it possible that living at the limits of my endurance can be contrary to God’s will?
On the highway, I often find myself frustrated when the driver ahead of me meanders below the speed limit. Don’t they know I have somewhere to be? A speed limit is the top legal and safe speed to drive on a given road, and I have to admit I’m usually right around that spot. Yet, even the limits are mediated by weather conditions, traffic, and other considerations. It isn’t safe to always stay at the limit.
We spend a lot of time at the limits—the limits of our time, the limits of our finances, the limits of our health, the limits of our spirits. The code of modern life seems to be “Push the limits; don’t get left behind,” much like the old commercial adage, “Grab all the gusto you can get.” While we’re out grabbing gusto, whatever that is, what is happening inside of us? What does living at the limits do to our spiritual lives?
One aspect of living life at the limits is like sitting on the fence, not sure which way to go. We say we are on God’s side, knowing the commands of God, and yet we push the limits. One young man asked his youth pastor, “How far can we go with our girlfriends without sinning?” I liked the pastor’s answer: “If you have to ask that question, you haven’t committed this relationship to God.” How far can I go? How many drinks can I have? How much can I talk about someone else? How much can I eat? Rather than use the wisdom and sense given to us by God, we push the limits, sitting on the fence and looking longingly to the other side.
Jesus’ example was one of moderation. In fact, he often challenged those who pushed the limits. Consider the temple moneychangers (Matthew 21:12,13). It was acceptable for them to be there, as a service to worshippers. However, they pushed the limits as far as they could, overcharging the people and making commerce the focus rather than worship of God.
Another aspect of pushing the limits is overdoing everything to please God and others. “But I’m working for God,” you answer. “There is so much to do!” There is much to do, but Jesus told us to pray for workers, not to do it alone (Matthew 9:37,38). I’ve said it before: Being a workaholic is the one sin that the church accepts. We lift up the busy people who live at the limits of their lives as some kind of spiritual standard. We don’t consider how living at the limit of our strength may damage our bodies. We don’t notice how living at the limit of our time destroys our relationships and our families. We fail to recognize that constantly “doing” takes away our times of spiritual renewal and prayer.
We are stewards of God’s gifts. The psalmist recognized this truth when he stated, “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16,17). It isn’t what we do that pleases God as much as who we are because of God. What we do comes later.
Although there were times when He pushed himself to his limits, it wasn’t Jesus’ regular focus. He took time for rest and prayer, and He promised that rest to us as well. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Lately, I’ve been practicing driving below the speed limit, not much below, mind you! But I’m trying to take my time, to not push the limits. It’s a spiritual thing—I’m trying to find the areas where I’ve been gazing over the fence and thereby try to get back to the place where Jesus wants me to live. It really is a “centering” kind of thing, putting Jesus at the center of my life so I can be free to live within the limits God has given me. I’m finding a different kind of peace there, knowing that God will never put me where His love cannot keep me. Are you living at the limits, pushing yourself just to the edge? Be careful you don’t fall over, damaging yourself and others. Recognize the limits in your life. Commit them to God and seek God’s guidance for how to live. Who knows? You just might find yourself healthier and stronger because of the process.
Pastor Mary Kay Glunt