The sky’s the limit. It’s a phrase we hear often, one meant to encourage and inspire. It conjures up images of taking risks and stepping outside our comfort zones in order to achieve great things. And while the expression mentions a limit, the idea is really that there are no limits – the sky has no boundary, so neither do we.

Limits definitely get a bad rap in today’s fast-paced, thrill-seeking society.

It’s not a popular opinion in a world that idolizes those who tell us “you can do anything,” but limits are real and frequently necessary.

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in the old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” All human advancements, whether in science, art, or philosophical thought, resulted from those visionary individuals who weren’t afraid to go beyond an accepted boundary. But the idea that all limits are mere suggestions that should be pushed beyond for our own personal satisfaction is false and self-serving.

The key is recognizing the difference between those boundaries that allow us to thrive and those that place us in situations where we cannot.

As I approach a certain milestone birthday, I know my own personal limits pretty well. I cannot eat all the French fries I want. I cannot spend the whole day shopping unless I want to spend the following day in bed – being on my feet all day exhausts me. I cannot say “yes” to every opportunity and request, because when I’m stretched too thin, those closest to me feel the full weight of my testy irritability.

And while we tend to think of limits as …well, limiting, they are important, because when we are at the edge of our abilities, we are oftentimes at our weakest and most susceptible. This is, not coincidentally, where we are most likely to meet God.

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and best-selling author, calls these limits “judicious restraints.” He writes, “You are always bound to something. Freedom is not the absence of restrictions, but the presence of the right restrictions.” The right restrictions allow us to flourish, to be all that God is calling us to be. Keller uses a fish as an example: if the fish is “freed” from the ocean, it will die. A fish can only live its fullest life within the restraints of water.

Some of these judicious restraints, like my refusal to say “yes” to certain things, are limits we learn about ourselves after years of experience. They can frustrate us and cause a great deal of unnecessary dissatisfaction if we refuse to acknowledge them. It’s important that we learn to listen to our bodies and to our emotions to discern these personal limits, because they protect us and prevent us from finding ourselves in situations where we are weakened and susceptible to temptation.

While understanding our personal limits is certainly valuable, it is more crucial that we learn the limits found in Scripture that allow us as Christians to live to our fullest potential. The writer of Psalm 119 tells us, I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. I delight in your commands because I love them. (verses 45, 47). The limits God sets before us are not arbitrary, and they are not optional. They allow us to be free from the entanglements of sin and the sorrow that inevitably results. (See the story of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis for further illustration of the wisdom of abiding by God’s limits.)

Both our self-imposed limits and those limits prescribed by God serve an essential purpose. They force us to be attentive and intentional. Like the fish in Keller’s example, we are placed within judicious restraints so that we can serve the purpose that our Maker has prescribed for us. For I know the plans I have for you  (Jer. 29:11) is a verse that speaks plainly about God’s purpose for His kingdom, in which we play a role that only we can fulfill. We fulfill God’s plan more fully when we are watchful and aware of the obstacles God may be placing before us in order to direct our attention and energy in other directions.

Limits, both God-given and personal, are gifts to us from a Father who loves us and desires to protect and guide. The sky may or may not be the limit for us, but living in gratitude to the Father who gives judicious restraints allows us to flourish and engage more fully in the plan He has for each of us.

Read more by Tracey Rector and here in the new Mountain Brook Magazine.

Please join us on September 29th from 7-8:30am at Canterbury United Methodist Church for our first annual Women’s City Prayer Breakfast. We will also have a Service Fair following the Prayer Breakfast to connect and inform women of local outreach opportunities.

For tickets:   Enjoy this annual event bringing women together in prayer, service, and fellowship to make an impact in our city. Sophie Hudson will be our keynote speaker this year. Sophie is a funny and entertaining Southern writer and speaker who lives in Birmingham. She hopes that through her stories, women find encouragement and hope in the everyday, joy filled moments of life. We’re also happy to have Janet Hall, WBRC Fox6 News Anchor, as our Emcee.

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