A couple years back, I had the opportunity to ride on the track where they hold the famous Daytona 500. It is amazing to see the incredible banking and to try and grasp how fast these cars go. I have watched many a NASCAR race where cars blew their engines around these types of tracks. Evidently, you cannot run a car at 9300 RPM for 4.5 hours without the chance of blowing an engine.
It is clear in racing there are limits to just how fast you can go and how long you can run at certain speeds. It is not always so evident in the life of a leader. Over the years, I have seen leaders who have run at unbelievable pace with seemingly no limitations that is until they hit the “wall.”
When I was a young leader, I used to think I could do anything I set my mind to and limitations did not apply. Over the years, I have come to realize we all have limits and some of these limits are necessary to our success.
In the Bible, we find a man named John the Baptist. In John 3, people are clamoring over his celebrity status. After all, people thought he was the Messiah. But an interesting thing happens here that I believe helps us see that he understood his own limits. In John 3:27, he states, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” John the Baptist understood his limits. He accepted them by understanding his own limited humanity and his soon to be declining popularity so much so that in John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
This notion that we have limits or success in seasons is hard for leaders because they are naturally driven individuals. Campus ministry is loaded with people who carry entrepreneurial capabilities and are self-motivated. I believe, however, that God places enormous limits on leaders, even on some of the most gifted leaders out there. Why? To keep us grounded, healthy, and humble.
This is where the gift of limits comes in. While we may not see them as gifts, they are given to us for a purpose. So, what do limits look like? Here is a general list of limits that Peter Scazzero gives in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:
- Physical Issues
- Family of Origin
- Marital Status
- Intellectual Capacity
- Talents and Gifts
- Material Wealth
- Your Time
- Work and Relationships
- Spiritual Understanding
As you look over the list, surely something will resonate with you. You will also notice that limits are not necessarily bad things, like a physical ailment for instance. Sometimes they are good things that happen to us like getting married or having children. For anyone who started in ministry single, remember the pace you had before you were married and started having children? It is drastically different now. Those blessings in our lives are also limits, things that are supposed to hold us back from the pace we once ran.
Using John the Baptist as a further example, what if he had gotten it into is head that it was more than a “voice calling in the wilderness” preparing the way for Jesus? Had he pressed through for more than he was called to do, a mess would have ensued. He succeeded in his calling by understanding he was to take it only so far.
I wonder as leaders how much we ignore the limits that God has placed in our lives. I have seen this both in the secular and sacred world of leadership. Leaders can try to do too much, accomplish too many goals, strive for better systems, be more successful, or work to match someone who is far more gifted or skilled than they are.
But the question is: Can we do and/or accomplish that which is beyond our capabilities or limits?
In his same book, Peter Scazzero states, “Often we have larger fantasies for ourselves than our real lives can support. As a result, we work frantically trying to do more than God intended.”
We figuratively crash into the wall or blow an engine when we push past or through those limits. In the racetrack scenario, when either of these two instances happen, the caution comes out and it stands as a warning for other drivers to slow down. Take note of the leaders around you who are pushing through the gift of limits. I encourage you not to emulate that lifestyle for your own health and well-being. Paul the Apostle was clear, let’s run a good race.
I leave you with this challenge: Do what God wants you to do, not what others want you to do, or even what you would like to see from yourself. Don’t try to outrun or outpace God. It leads to disappointment and frustration. Avoid creating a reality that is bigger than He intended for you. I leave you with this verse from Ecclesiates 9:11.
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.”