Psalm 16:5-6 “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Verse 11:“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
According to this passage in Psalm 16, the path of life (Vs. 11) and joy are one byproduct of accepting the portion, accepting the cup, embracing the lot or the boundary lines God establishes for us. When the Psalmist says “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” he is speaking about the Promised Land that was divided and given to the tribes of Israel. Each tribe was given a space to conquer and occupy. There was a connection between the tribes as one tribe’s property line met another, but they were separate entities. Lengthy portions of Old Testament Scripture are devoted to the details of how far north, south, east and west, each tribe’s land would stretch and what other tribe of people group it would border. Borders and boundaries were clearly defined and were very important.
Just as important as physical property boundaries, perhaps more so are the boundaries we need to have established in our lives when it comes to spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational boundaries. In many ways, the Christian life is about establishing and maintaining boundaries; drawing lines we won’t cross and boundaries that we will give energy, effort, and focus to defend. Part of the abundant life I preached on last week involves learning to live within well-defined, God-appointed and godly self-appointed boundaries.
Boundaries keep us secure. When we go outside of the boundaries God has established for us and pursue the sinful things of this world, we run the risk of impairing our relationship with God and the consequences that come from doing so. There is a spiritual price we pay when we don’t establish and maintain good boundaries.
Boundaries keep us strong. Not extending ourselves too far, making sure we have time and energy to also focus on ourselves and our needs like rest, exercise, and proper nutrition, will help maintain our health. We will have the strength we need to conquer and occupy the spaces God intends for us when we aren’t trying to conquer and occupy everyone else’s spaces. When we cross boundaries with our bodies and involve ourselves in abusing drugs or alcohol, smoking, chewing and dipping, sexual activity outside the boundary of marriage, cutting, and things like bulimia and anorexia or not taking medication properly, we will suffer physical consequences. Aren’t you all thrilled you came this morning? I’m just telling the truth! There is a physical price we pay when we don’t establish and maintain good boundaries.
Boundaries keep us sane! When we go beyond where we are supposed to be, for example, financially, we will suffer the feelings of anxiety and stress that accompany calls from creditors, threats to foreclose on our homes, repossession of a vehicle, etc. When we go beyond where we are supposed to be in our relationships, we deal with the drama and stress that comes from taking on other people’s stuff in inappropriate ways and we become mentally overloaded with the issues of other people. There is an emotional price to pay when we don’t establish and maintain good boundaries.
Along with creation, God created boundaries in the beginning. God’s very first words God spoke to Adam, the first words from God’s mouth to man’s ears, included the establishing of a boundary. Genesis 2:16-1716 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” God said, “Here is the line. Don’t cross it or else.” Boundaries are supposed to be a normal part of life. Even before sin entered the world, God established that the way to live in paradise included a boundary.
God was very clear about the boundary. And guess what? By Genesis 3, Adam and Eve crossed the boundary. They didn’t misunderstand what God had said. He wasn’t vague about the boundary. Eve even told the serpent in Genesis 3:3 what the boundary was and what the consequence was for crossing it. She said: but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” God doesn’t leave any wiggle room or gray areas when it comes to His expectations and consequences are clear, and yet, we often keep on testing the boundaries. We keep on living as if God doesn’t really mean what He says or as if the consequences won’t apply to us.
More crucial than the financial bankruptcy in this country is our spiritual bankruptcy. While many still acknowledge God exists they live their lives as if to say to Him, “So what?” Let me remind you Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” If you live to please God you say like the Psalmist you are on the path of life and that the boundaries are pleasant to you. If you live to please self, you won’t have quite the same testimony. J
God gave boundaries because He wants us to have an abundant life. The Ten Commandments weren’t and aren’t meant to keep us from experiencing life at its full but life at its folly. There are things that are foolish for a person to do because they bring harm to themselves and others and disrupt their relationship with God. So, God established clear boundaries that when followed keep all of that intact.
Boundaries help us know and define ourselves.Within the nature of God where God is One yet three distinct persons, we see the benefit of boundaries. God is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is difficult for us to wrap our minds around this mystery, yet Scripture is clear that the Trinity is how God expresses Himself. There is a oneness or connectedness, but there is also a distinct separateness. God the Father doesn’t do the same work as the Son or Spirit. Neither do the Son and the Spirit try to take the role of each other or of the Father. God the Father is the Sender. God the Son is the Savior. God the Spirit is the Sanctifier. Even the Trinity has boundaries when it comes to their identity and roles.
God has a specific life role for you to play. He doesn’t want you trying to play someone else’s part. The boundaries God establishes for you and that you establish with His help will assist you in expressing just who you were meant to be by God so that you stay focused on the work God has for you.
When you start focusing on ministry outside of the Holy Spirit gifts God has given to you, you cross a boundary. When you don’t develop the gifts and talents God has given to you, you cross a boundary. When you are wired to lead and you choose to hide behind the scenes, you cross a boundary. When you are meant to play a supporting role and you try to take the lead, you cross a boundary. Becoming comfortable with who God has fashioned you to be provides boundaries or a framework for you to live within.
If you took the spiritual gifts test as part of some Wednesday night teaching that I did last summer and have not had someone go over those results with you, I want you to
contact Pastor Thom right away. Understanding your personality and spiritual gifts will go a long way to help you establish appropriate boundaries for your life and ministry. If someone comes to you and asks you to make a meal for someone and making meals isn’t your gift, you won’t feel pressured into say “Yes.” But when someone asks you to teach a class, and you have identified that teaching is your gift, you will be empowered to say “Yes.” Does any of that make sense? I am not saying we should never make a casserole just because that’s not our gift, but we need to be primarily operating in the areas of our gifts and talents according to the role God intends for us to play. And if you don’t know what that role is, you need to see Pastor Thom, take this test, and get some coaching on what your role might be in order that you can set appropriate boundaries about what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to.
Jesus had no limitations because He was yielded to the Father and the power of God flowed through Him because of His total submission to God even while He was fully human. But even though He didn’t have “limitations” He had limits.
Look at Mark 1:29-39: 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. 32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Verse 33 says that whole town was lined up at Jesus’ door. That’s a lot of people. Imagine having an unending line of troubled people at your door. They were all in pain of some sort or were being tortured by demons. How does a person handle that? People had obviously come because they knew Jesus could tackle sickness and Satan. How do you handle it when people come to you knowing you are capable of helping them? Is your back against the wall? Do you always have to say “Yes?” How long would it take for the line to get down to zero? How long could Jesus go without a break? Without sleep? Without taking some time to eat? How exhausting was it for Jesus to perform a healing? We know when He ministered to the woman with the issue of blood, He felt power leave Him. Scripture seems to indicate there was a draining or zapping of energy on some level when Jesus performed miracles. Remember, Jesus was still human even though supernatural power was flowing through Him.
If Jesus was like the “energizer bunny” who could just keep going and going and helping and healing why didn’t He? Why does verse 35 say Jesus slipped away early in the morning while it was still dark? Who knows if people were still camped outside the front door? Who knows what He would be facing if He waited until dawn? The day before had been exhausting. How much would be demanded of Him this day?
Not only was there a probable level of physical exhaustion, but also as Jesus had ministered and given and given over and over again, there was a need for spiritual renewal and recharging. So He found a quiet place to get alone and pray. Life is demanding, and sometimes you are going to have to set a boundary that you will take some time to rest and be spiritually renewed before you continue trying to help anyone.
Jesus often got away alone. There was no way He could check off His “to do list,” get everything done and take a break. The needs were always ongoing. He just had to take a break in the middle of it all and get away anyway. People with healing power can’t stay in isolation for very long. Simon and his buddies found Jesus and the first thing they said to Him was, ““Everyone is looking for you!” What would Jesus have thought? What would you think?
Have you ever had the feeling that everything depends on you? It’s your job to keep everyone happy? It’s your job to soothe every hurt? It’s your job to hold the family together? Everyone is looking to you to make things alright? That is a huge burden to bear. It must have been overwhelming to Jesus a lot of the time to feel the pressure of meeting everyone’s needs. Simon didn’t say, “There are only two lepers left who need to be healed” or “There is one guy with a fever and another demoniac who didn’t get their turn,” he said, “Everybody is still lined up, and they want a piece of you.” Everyone needed what Jesus could supply, and everybody had an expectation that He should deliver. That is heavy.
I don’t know what Jesus prayed about in that alone time with the Father, but I believe that as He prayed, God helped Him center Himself or refocus on what needed to be priority in the next moment. Jesus didn’t tell Simon and his friends, “Okay, just give me ten more minutes” or “I’ll be back soon.” Look at Jesus’ response in verse 38: “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
What? Move on? He wasn’t coming back to make sure everyone was healed? How could He do that? But everyone was counting on Him! Jesus had just spent time in prayer that helped Him know what He should be doing at that time. He was supposed to move on and preach. It is difficult to say “no” when people are hurting, but Jesus put a boundary in place that led Him to the place where He personally was supposed to be. Being where you are supposed to be is more important than trying to get everyone else where they are supposed to be!
This past year I have had a ministry coach, a lady from Arizona, who has met with me over the phone and helped me establish some goals for myself and my ministry. In addition, I am married to a “coach” and we have spent time trying to figure out what kinds of boundaries are necessary in order for us to be in ministry here long term which we believe is God’s plan. We also have to consider what boundaries we have to set in order to have a successful family life and quality of life where our health is concerned.
It became clear to me a year ago December that I needed to reign in my schedule, prioritize my time, and become strategic about developing people to come alongside me if this growing ministry was going to be able to continue to effectively minister to everyone here and in our community. For over 11 years I was an online instructor for Mid America Christian University in OK, one of our Church of God universities, in the area of Christian worship. I taught a couple of classes a year while being in ministry full-time. I enjoyed it for the most part and felt I had a positive impact on the Kingdom of God through my teaching at the college level. However, God showed me it couldn’t continue to be part of my focus, so I resigned. I also resigned as secretary of WV Ministries and as secretary of the Teays Valley Ministerial Association. I am finishing coach’s training myself next month in Orlando, and I know what is coming. Church of God Ministries is going to want me to start coaching some pastors. I have already rehearsed my answer. “No.” Not “Never,” but “No, for now!”
Back when the church was a 100 or even 200 people, I could get to most everyone’s surgery or visit them during times in the hospital. I still had time to focus on community outreach, preaching and teaching and trying to mentor and disciple people who were coming to me for help. However, at 400 plus there is no way I can make a personal appearance when everyone has a need. That is a tough pill for me to swallow. I feel very responsible toward each of you. I have an affection for each one of you. I have a desire to be there for you, and it is very difficult for me to set those boundaries and relinquish that responsibility to other people without moments of guilt or regret that it has to be that way. It bothered me that Jack Wright had a stroke on Monday, and I didn’t see him personally until Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m. I love Jack and Joyce. I want to be able to show that by being physically present. However, it just wasn’t possible. Thom, Mandy and Gary and others went, but it was two days before I got to go. I am having to learn to accept some self-imposed boundaries in order to stay focused on the larger vision of the church even though I know there are times when the expectation is there from some that I be the one or at least the first one to make the visit. It’s just not possible.
There were people expecting Jesus to come back and heal them. They weren’t going to like it that He didn’t, but He chose to move on. If you are exhausted, if you are being overwhelmed by the demands and expectations of other people you need to withdraw and pray. Ask God if you are supposed to go back and continue ministering to those gathered outside of your door or ask Him if it is time for you to move on!
The whole boundaries thing might be harder for us as Christians than for others. After all, aren’t we supposed to be servants? Aren’t we supposed to care for other people? Aren’t we supposed to try to help people? Yes, but all within boundaries. Jesus didn’t help all people all the time. In the passage we just read He healed some and moved on to preach.
Galatians 6:2-5 can help us a bit.“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
Verse 2 talks about a burden. Verse 5 talks about a load. We’ve talked about this before, but let’s revisit what these two words mean. The Greek word used for “burden” refers to a boulder. It’s the kind of thing no person could begin to lift and carry alone. Let’s illustrate:
(Someone is called forward to try to lift a heavy object. When they can’t do it, someone else is called to come help, but even the two of them can’t lift it. Two more are called to come help and the load is easily lifted and carried.)
Sometimes we need to get involved because there is no way a person can lift and carry what is on their plate. But sometimes the load is so heavy we need to not be the only one trying to help. Some of us need to get over our Messiah complexes and quit thinking we are the rescuer or solution for everyone’s stuff. Teamwork is God’s design and makes so much sense. If we help someone lift their boulder and it’s just the two of us, we might carry it a few steps, but we will likely drop it soon which leaves the person feeling abandoned and hopeless. The more people we can involve the more support for the long haul a person will have.
So we are told to help carry the boulders. However, in verse 5 we are told each person has a load that they are supposed to carry by themselves. That load is like a backpack. One of our jobs is to set boundaries with people when they ask us to carry their backpacks. The loving thing to do is to tell them, “No! You need to carry your own backpack.” You are not responsible for everybody’s backpacks. What happens when you try to carry everyone’s backpacks?
(I start calling people from the congregation forward who have backpacks with them, and put them on myself.) Many people in today’s society will gladly give you their backpack so they can sit back, and take it easy while you become overburdened to the point where all the backpacks now equal a boulder.
Listen, healthy boundaries include having the maturity to speak the truth in love to someone (Ephesians 4:15-16) so that people learn to grow up and carry their own load. You will not help someone by taking their backpack and you will only hurt yourself in the process. Loving people doesn’t mean pleasing them all the time. Sometimes it means teaching them to love and respect themselves by reminding them of what their personal responsibility is.
Earlier I said I feel a great responsibility to each of you? That is a big statement for me because that hasn’t always been the case. For the first couple of years here, I felt a great responsibility not to you, but for you. I had to make sure you got everything God wanted you to have. I had to make sure you were satisfied with your experience at TVCOG. I had to make sure you were making friends and feeling wanted. I had to make sure you were going to grow as a Christian whether you liked it or not! J
I still desire for each of you to give God your everything. I am still concerned that everyone mature in Christ and want to serve. I still want people with deep hurts and pains and addictions to get well. I hope and pray daily that all of you will trust Christ in every area of your life. I believe it would be positive for everyone to be in a small group. I talk to God often about those who still need to be saved. I hope that everyone God speaks to during our services will come to the altar and submit to Him. But I no longer view those results as my responsibility! And what a joy to leave all of that good work to the Holy Spirit! The boundaries are falling into pleasant places for me, and because of that I can be effective and focused on the territory God has given me through the roles which He has designed for me to play!
Are you enjoying the benefits of boundaries in your life? It is ok to say “No” sometimes. Drink your cup. Eat your portion. Help those when it’s truly too much for them to bear alone, but learn to move on when it is time.
** Portions of this message were inspired by video teaching by Andy Stoner. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=an5nCkBZrCg