I am free to do whatever I want to do. I have the power to choose my destiny. My opportunities are without limit. These statements have two things in common: First, they are commonly found in motivational books and lectures, and, secondly, they are bunk.
I am thankful for my freedom as a Canadian and as a Christian. Freedom, however, does not mean absolute power to the contrary. When things come up that block my goals and desires, I often have to cave into internal and external limitations in my life. The older I get, the more this I find this to be true.
Does this admission make me a faithless pessimist? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13 ESV)? No limitations, right? Paul said “all things,” did he not?
Some reflection on context here makes it clear that Paul was not saying that he had no limitations, humanly speaking. Reading between the lines, I think it is fair to say that Paul would rather be checking on his churches and traveling to new territory with the gospel instead of sitting in a Roman jail. Yet there he sat as he penned this letter to the church in Philipi. Apparently “all things” did not mean getting out of prison when he wanted to.
Regarding his friend, Epaphroditus, Paul was not able to raise him to health immediately (Philippians 2:25-30). God was merciful and restored his health, but not immediately as we would have expected a few years earlier under the initial Apostolic ministry.
No, the “all things” Paul wrote about included the ability to wait under difficult circumstances, entrusting himself to the sovereign providence of God. Paul rejoiced to see that his imprisonment served to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13). In 2 Corinthians 12, it was revealed to Paul that his thorn in the flesh was given to him in order to keep him from becoming conceited (NIV), or too elated (ESV). We aren’t always given the reasons for our limitations, but they are still under God’s providence.
Admitting and accepting our limitations is honourable when we submit to God’s purposes for them. Consider Paul’s confidence in God in Philippians 1:9: . . .for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn our for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Deliverance for Paul was certain, though he did not know how it would come. Would deliverance mean release from prison? Execution? Fruitful ministry while he was locked up? Paul didn’t know. What he did know was that God’s sovereign purposes would prevail in upholding his testimony while under extremely difficult circumstances. God would give him courage to stand fast in the gospel.
Our limitations are no limitation to God. On the contrary, they are God ordained opportunities for gospel proclamation. Old age, disease, injury, relationship problems, the myriad of fears and personal hang-ups that we all experience are not cosmic mistakes, they are reminders that God uses clay pots as his chosen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Christians should be the most contented people on earth. On the other hand, we should be the least satisfied. We have the greatest target to shoot for – conformity to the image of Jesus Christ!
What is God doing for the kingdom through the agency of your limitations?