Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Know Your Limits . . . and Live Within Them

Today, I was exploring The High Calling, a website that features “Everyday Conversations About Work, Life, and God.” As I read several articles, I was struck by a curious overlap in content, an intersection of ideas that spoke incisively to me.


I began with “The Work of a Handyman” by Philip Faustin. The author reflects on the meaning of his work as a handyman, something he has been doing for 26 years. One particular section of the article stood out to me:

The voice on the other end of the phone was sad, but resolute. Her
beloved dog had “died a year ago.” It was buried in the back yard in a
plastic tote box, “the kind with the snap-on lid,” she said. The family
had to move and “naturally,” she blustered, “Ben needed to go with us.”


As a regular customer of mine she knew that I was very versatile. She
called, hopeful. After all, a handyman can do anything, right?

I actually thought about this for a while. I called her back, thankful
for an answering machine pickup. I explained that I would have to pass. I
tried to be sensitive, knowing the emotions involved. For the record, I
realize that exhuming animals is not something I do – ever.

And that’s a big part of my challenge – knowing my limitations. Certain
things are better left to someone else. I have a simple business plan
and I stick to it.

Faustin was wise enough to say “no” to a job that just didn’t fit his sense of calling.


Next, I clicked to a piece entitled “Lessons from Elite Leaders: Limits, Accountability and Marriage.” This article, written by Christine Scheller, summarizes the work of Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay. Here’s how Scheller’s article, the first in an eight-part series, begins:

Setting limits on ambition, being accountable to peers, and getting
married don’t seem like the keys to career success. But these are three
surprising longevity factors that Laity Leadership Senior Fellow D.
Michael Lindsay found in his latest research on elite leaders. The Rice
University sociologist has interviewed 500 leaders to date, including
two former Presidents of the United States, cabinet secretaries, senior
White House staff, Fortune 500 executives, and professionals
from entertainment, non-profit, and media. He talked with leaders in
each area about the personal, moral, and social factors that have
sustained them over the course of their careers.


Lindsay says setting limits is probably the biggest challenge that
ambitious, talented people face because it is so tempting to “ride the
tailwind of achievement.” Effective leaders set limits by establishing
regular rhythms that nurture their lives.  Having a regular practice of
Sabbath rest, for example, is a practical habit that differentiates
people who are successful over the long haul from those who have “a
trail of broken relationships” and significant difficulty creating
life/work balance.

Setting limits is a self-cultivated discipline, not one that is
externally imposed, says Lindsay. Making a commitment to be home for
dinner at a certain time every night, for example, means choosing not to
work late at the office. CEO John Donahoe told Lindsay that he
developed the habit of regularly making pancakes for his kids on Sunday
mornings as a way to both stay engaged in family life and to bridle
professional ambition. Unplugging from electronic devices on weekends is
another simple way some leaders create a boundary.


Isn’t that coincidental . . . or perhaps providential? Michael Lindsay is reflecting on lessons he has learned from the most obviously successful leaders in America. Setting limits, he says, is central to their success. And that’s exactly how Philip Faustin begins his piece on working as a handyman.

Setting limits . . . being able to recognize what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do . . . choosing to do the best things only . . . saying “no” to opportunities beyond our limits . . . how crucial this is, and how difficult for some of us. I would confess that I struggle with limit setting. Take my unrealistic optimism, plus my desire to use promising opportunities, plus my tendency to want to please people and not disappoint them, and you have in me a pattern of taking on more than I should in life.

Today, I am learning from an eloquent handyman as well as from some of the most powerful leaders in the world. I need to know my limits . . . and live within them. How about you?

  • Christine A. Scheller

    Mark, I like how you juxtaposed these two articles, because no matter what our station in life, we need to learn to respect our own and other people’s limits. Blessings to you.~

  • Sis PJ

    I know as a human being that I have limitations. We should all be aware of our (human/natural) limitations and respect that all other human beings have limitations. However, there are NO limitations with God for there is nothing too hard for the Lord. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) and His Word says that I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). God’s Word says we are to seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto us (Matthew 6:33). This means, as Christians-followers of Jesus Christ, we should not be doing anything that’s outside the will of God for our lives. This includes work, marriage, our personal life, etc. If we try to live our lives without putting God first, then we may overload ourselves and take on too much and thus get frustrated and give up. But if we put and keep God first, He will equip and empower us to do those things that we couldn’t possibly do on our own because it’s not of human power/will/ability but by the power of God and His Holy Spirit. Therefore, nothing is impossible to them that believe for, once again, I can do all things through Christ which strenghthens me, according to His Will and His Way. God bless you…

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Sis PJ: What you say about God is absolutely right. But that does not mean we should not set limits in our lives, does it? In our humanity, we cannot do everything. Think about Jesus, for example. He was quite clear that he could not please everybody or do everything. He chose to leave certain areas of fruitful ministry in order to go to other regions. He did not minister day and night, but often took extended times away and alone for prayer. Jesus wisely set limits for his life so that he could be a clear channel for the unlimited power of God working through him.

  • Sis PJ

    Hi Mark: You’re absolutely right about Jesus. He was and is our example for limitations. However, he was also our example of being led by the Holy Spirit of God. We must remember that God won’t put more on us than we can bear because He remembers that we are human. My whole point is that we must be led by God in every aspect of our lives and that includes allowing God to set limits on our lives. God knows us better than we know ourselves. For example, I may limit myself to ministry only in my city or surrounding areas so that I can be at home near my family and keep the job I have and love and in my mind, I’m serving God and doing His will. But God may, and usually does, have different plans for our lives than we do. So if I set limits on my life and have not consulted or allowed for the will of God, then I’m outside the will of God, and that’s a dangerouse place to be. I can say “I will do X, Y, and Z and no more because that’s all I can effectively handle at this point in my life” (this is my flesh talking); the Word says in the flesh dwells no good thing. But God may say “I want you to get up, take your family to this unknown place, do “A through Z”, not immediately give you all the details, and expect you to trust and obey Him and walk by faith. My whole point is that when we put limits on ourselves without consulting God, then we are limiting what God can do through us and in our lives. We must allow God to order our steps, to lead and guide our lives. We can only see our present circumstances and our past. God knows the future and the secret things belong to Him. He knows our end from our beginning. Who better to put limitations on us than God the Son? He knows better than we do what we’re capable of handling. My personl struggle: I try to limit myself to ministering the gospel one-on-one or in small groups because I have a fear of public speaking. I know this is my flesh because God has not given me the spirit of fear. This fear not only limits me, because I don’t and can’t come out of my comfort zone on my own, but it limits God’s ability to work in me. I have asked God for a holy boldness in order to do whatever His will is and I know that part of His will is for us to go forth and preach the gospel. So, I take the limits off myself by surrendering my life totally to Christ, thus realizing that I want to please God more than please myself or others. God can now place HIS limitations on me as to the way my life should go, according to His will and His way.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Sis PJ: I don’t think we have any disagreement here. You’re speaking of our limiting God, which, I agree, is not something we should, even though we tend to do it. You and I are in full agreement here about our needing to be open to whatever God wants to do in and through us.
    The limits I was writing about are of a very different sort. They’re limits that recognize the human need for rest, for community, for time retreat, for time with the Lord. They’re limits like the Sabbath in the Old Testament. I believe that God will show us the limits we need for our lives, if we seek him. For example, I have certain limits around my time that make sure I spend good time with my family. I could easily accept all sorts of invitations for ministry without these limits, and thereby fail to be the husband and father God wants me to be. So I need limits. But I also need to be open to the possibility that God will call me to something that is beyond my comfort zone.
    So, limit God, no. By God’s wisdom, establish limits for our lives, yes.

  • Sis PJ

    Hi again Mark: Maybe I misunderstood the limits you were referring to. But now I see what you’re getting at when you speak of the Sabbath, rest, community, time retreat, and most importantly time with the Lord. And I like how you said “By God’s wisdom, establish limits for our lives, yes.” Well said! Because we can do nothing without Him for it’s in Him that we live move and have our being. Thanks for the dialogue. To God be the glory!

  • Gary Mac

    Constrains are set by what we are capable of. Some more liberal in boundaries some more restrained. Whether in the flesh or in the spirit it is up to us to decide how we react. Some depend on others to take on that which they are not capable of as exampled in Jesus Christ. People tend to give him all their responsibilities because they presume they are not capable to perform that which he is able and was sent to teach us to be. It isn’t that we can’t do the things of Christ; it is that we don’t think we can do the things of Christ — setting limits on our own capabilities. It isn’t Christ that says you can’t be like Him, He demands it, it is we just don’t believe that we can be like Him.

  • Phillip

    There is that tension between knowing your limits and being willing to leave your comfort zone.

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