PROGRAM W-1723 – Part I
I want to tell you a story:
A great man was speaking to a crowd of thousands who were hanging on his every word. These people were so eager to hear from him, that they were almost trampling on each other just to get near him. You see, this was a very great man, held in high esteem by many.
At one point, a man in the crowd asked this great man for a small favor. He said, “Sir, you are obviously a very wise and great man and I need a small favor. You see, my brother and I have a long-standing dispute about our inheritance, and he has refused to divide our father’s inheritance with me as he is supposed to do. Would you please arbitrate this matter? I’m sure he would listen to you, and that would settle the matter quickly.”
This great man replied, “Excuse me, but that’s not my job! I have not been sent to settle disputes about inheritances. I am not a judge. There are others who are appointed to do those things, but that is not my job.” And with that direct, almost abrupt response, he ended that conversation.
I’m sure you recognize this man was Jesus Christ, and you’ll find this story recorded in Luke 12:13-14. Jesus’ exact words were, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” If you had been Jesus’ public relations manager, I think you would have advised Jesus to respond differently. This was not a great PR move for Jesus. He refused to do something he could have done—and could have done quite well—without explanation, without guilt, and without hesitation.
Had you been the man who made that request, how would you have felt? Angry, perhaps, because you were counting on Jesus to resolve this issue for you. Humiliated, perhaps, because you were refused in front of many people. Frustrated, perhaps, because now you had to figure out another way to resolve your problem. Yet, in spite of those possible reactions, Jesus still said “No.”
Jesus knew that he had to set reasonable boundaries in his life and ministry here on earth. If he could not or would not do that, he would not be able to accomplish what God had sent him to do in just a few short years. He stayed focused on his purpose and did not allow others to sidetrack him. He knew how and when to set boundaries.
A Boundary-less Day
Let me walk you through the day of a woman without boundaries in her life. See how much you can identify with her.
The alarm goes off and our woman—we’ll call her Betty—stumbles out of bed, dreading the day ahead. Where is that joy, joy, joy, joy that I’m supposed to have down in my heart? she thinks to herself. You see, Betty is a believer in Jesus Christ, and with all her heart she wants to be a godly woman. Yet, somehow her days are more often filled with frustration than they are with joy.
Then she remembers why she is dreading this day: Yesterday her boss assigned her a new project with an unreasonable deadline, and she has got to find some way to get it done on time.
After a quick shower, she goes through the usual morning fight with her teenage son. Getting him out of bed and off to school on time is a constant challenge. He refuses to do what he’s supposed to do, leaves his room a disaster area, never does the chores around the house that are assigned to him, and breaks the house rules regularly. Betty thinks, Why can’t my son be a little more cooperative? I know he’s a teenager, but does that mean he can do exactly what he pleases?
Betty tries to find a few moments each morning for Bible reading and prayer, but it depends on how things go. If her son is not too much trouble, and her husband helps her with a few household duties, she can usually make it. But that’s a big “if”. Today, of all days, her husband is in a grouchy mood, running late, and leaves her with all the dishes, picking up, and everything else. The house looks like a tornado swept through it.
Finally she leaves for work, fretting about the traffic and trying to finish putting on her makeup while she drives. In spite of exceeding the speed limit, Betty is late for work—again. Oh, I’m sure the boss will have something to say about me not being on time. He always points that out to me—but I make it up at lunch or by staying late.
She dives into the project, skipping lunch, and working at a fevered pace. Lo and behold: at 5:00, the project is finished—on time! With great pride she presents her work effort to her boss, expecting high praise for her accomplishment. Instead, he says, “Good, Betty, I knew you could do it. You always come through for us. Now that you’ve got that done. . .” and, would you believe, he has another bright idea: another project for tomorrow. When will she get her regular work finished? Does he care?
Dejected and exhausted, Betty heads home at 6:00 to face her second job for the day—her family. Rushing through dinner, she tries to get some laundry done that has been piling up for days. She asks for help from her husband and son, but both have excuses—plans for their evenings. Her husband’s plans are to watch a ball game on television, and her son has to go to a friend’s house. With a sigh and suppressed anger, she digs in to get the work done.
Then the phone rings. It’s Lori, a friend from church. Betty knows what this means—at least a half-hour of listening to Lori’s woes about her job. She calls often and complains to Betty. Betty wants to be a good friend, but Lori never seems willing to reciprocate. She never listens or asks about her, yet seems to expect Betty to listen for hours on end. “Oh, well,” Betty thinks, “that’s what it means to be a good Christian friend, I guess. Be a servant, Betty.”
Finally, at the end of this rushed, harried day, Betty falls into bed exhausted. But she’s carrying a lot of things to bed with her: Fatigue, anger, self-pity, guilt, and a sense of failure. She works so hard, tries to meet everyone’s expectations, tries to be a good wife, mother, worker and Christian, but somehow, there’s no joy in life. Betty has finished another boundary-less day.
Are your days too often like this? If so, you, like Betty, need to learn when and how to set reasonable boundaries in your life.
What is a boundary?
Our lives are full of boundaries. Without them, we would live in chaos. From fences to signs to walls to hedges to railings—these and many more boundaries are there for good reasons. They keep order in our society. They prevent accidents and harm. They guard against crime and injustice. You would not want to live in a society without boundaries.
Yet many of us have never recognized that we must set boundaries for our own lives if we are to avoid chaos and harm. A boundary for our lives does not mean that we build walls between ourselves and others. The Bible teaches us that as believers we are one in Christ. Setting boundaries does not mean we live in isolation, nor does it mean that we live self-centered lives.
It simply means that we recognize and understand who we are in Christ and what he has called us to do. Then, based on that, we understand where we must draw the lines that say, “Here and no more,” not because we are selfish or lazy, but because without those boundaries, we will never accomplish what God has called us to do.
How do we set boundaries?
Boundaries for our lives are most often set with words. The most basic boundary-setting word is no. No is not a four-letter word. It is not a bad word—it is a necessary word. It says to the other person or people, “These are my limits.” Jesus said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). In other words, no should be a word in your vocabulary that you use at appropriate times and with clarity, so no one can misunderstand you.
We can also set boundaries at times without using words. For example, you can use space and distance to set boundaries, as well as emotional distance. We can set boundaries through timing.
Where should you set boundaries?
Now, this is a more difficult question to answer because each of us must seek God’s wisdom and guidance on a daily basis to know what he wants us to do and what he doesn’t want us to do. If we live each day centered in God’s will, we won’t have boundary problems. His Spirit within us will be guiding our decisions and choices; he will be giving us instruction about when and how to say no. So, our challenge is to live each day centered in his will.
It’s important to remember that the Christian life is a process. We are in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ with ever-increasing glory, so that means we will grow in this knowledge as we do in others. Ask yourself, “Have I grown in my ability to know how and where to set right boundaries in my life, and am I making progress in living in the center of God’s will each day?”