This lesson examines the ways and reasons God limits our opportunities and results in ministry.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
- Psalm 103:13-14

I think that these verses in Psalms remind us how weak we are, and the physical limits we all have because of our sinful natures. What's more difficult to accept are the spiritual limits that God places upon us at times. We tend to think that when it comes to spiritual things, the sky's the limit and there's no end to what we can and should do. But when we examine the Word, we learn that we often have to accept not only physical limits but spiritual limits as well. Sometimes we are...

Limited by the Holy Spirit

In Acts 16:6 Luke writes that Paul and the others with him were prevented by the Holy Spirit to go preach the gospel in Asia.

  • Asia had many lost souls.
  • Asia was accessible.
  • Paul and his group were ready, able, and willing to go.

But the Holy Spirit limited his ministry from going there, sending him north and westward instead of eastward. Sometimes the Holy Spirit prevents or limits our lives as well.

  • We see a good thing, a needful thing.
  • We have the desire, the ability, and the willingness to do it.

But God doesn't provide the resources or opportunity, or He permits us to be ill or for something else to happen that makes us miss our chance. Three times I've had opportunity to preach in Europe - a retreat of all preachers, a gospel meeting in Switzerland, and Belgrade T.V. I speak French, they needed me, and I was ready and willing to go. Every time something happened to prevent me from going. God doesn't always give us reasons why He limits us spiritually. When this happens we need especially to accept His will, and like Paul continue to look for other ways and other opportunities to serve, and not be discouraged. I don't believe God is against us when He limits us, I simply think we are out of sync with His plan, purpose, and timing. When this happens it is wise to make an extra effort to seek His will in prayer so we can discern what it is He wants us to do.

Sometimes we are...

Limited by Our Knowledge

Paul, in speaking of spiritual gifts, says to those who have the gift of preaching and teaching that they should do so to the "...limit of their faith", Romans 12:6 (some Bibles say proportion). In this context, Paul was not talking about faith in the sense of one's trust or confidence (I believe in Jesus) but rather "the faith" (the body of knowledge concerning the Christian religion). He says many have the calling, gift, and urge to preach and teach, but not all have the same level of knowledge.

We are limited by our knowledge of the Word. This doesn't mean that we have to quit, because if this were the case we'd all have to quit since we all have limited knowledge of God's Word. I believe that this means simply to preach and teach what we know and are sure of. A good example of this is a sixty-five year old convert I once met in Florida who told me that not long after his baptism he was asked to preach the sermon for his congregation because the preacher was called out of town. He said that the only thing he knew well was how to respond to the gospel since he had just recently studied and done that himself. On the Sunday morning when he presented his lesson, five people responded and were baptized. This moved him to go to a preacher training school and when he finished his studies he began to preach full time and continued in ministry until his eighties when he retired.

Some think they shouldn't teach and preach until they know as much as the elders and preachers. This is unfortunate. In placing this limit to preach according to our knowledge, Paul actually opens the door to everyone who has a calling to this kind of ministry to practice it. However, he warns everyone from the most experienced to the novice to be careful not to go beyond not only what they know, but also what they know to be true.

When we preach, we are limited not only by our knowledge of the Word but also by the Word itself. Sometimes it is tempting to follow fads or popular ideas but we always have to test these against the Scriptures for accuracy. We can always increase our knowledge and in so doing expand our preaching, but we must always respect the limits of the Word and not go beyond what it says. The early Restorationists said that, "We speak where the Scriptures speak, and remain silent where they are silent".

Our limitations sometimes mean we have...

Limited Success - no matter how hard we try; no matter how much experience and knowledge we have

Jeremiah preached for forty years and was largely rejected and ridiculed by his nation. Peter failed to persuade the Jews even though most of his ministry was in Jerusalem. Paul, the great epistle writer and Apostle to the Gentiles, was laughed out of Athens, the heart of Greek thinking and philosophy. I had no brothers, sisters, father - only my mother was alive when I was converted, but she never did study the Bible with me and refused to come to church with me even if I was the one preaching!

Everyone, at one time or another, suffers limited success in spiritual matters.

  • Sometimes we fail at evangelizing and teaching.
  • Sometimes we fail at living as purely or as devotedly as we would like.
  • Sometimes we fail at loving others the way Christ would have us love others or even ourselves.

Sometimes our limited success is due to our own weakness and sins; sometimes our failures are caused by the hard hearts and sinfulness of others; and other times God will not give us the victory we seek. My own limited success in various areas and the discouragement that comes with them has taught me one important thing - you learn more in the valley of failure than you do on the mountaintop of success. If it wasn't for limited success and failure in my life I would have never searched for God; I would have never truly understood and accepted grace; I would have never seen the power of God working in me; I would have never developed any compassion for others who have limited success and outright failure as well.

Limited success is discouraging and frustrating but don't ever see it as God abandoning or ignoring you - God is always with the saints whether they are shouting from the mountaintop or struggling in the valley.

Summary

Our spiritual lives are limited at times and we need to recognize this:

  • Sometimes the Holy Spirit opens or closes doors of opportunity.
  • All of us are limited by our knowledge and by the natural boundaries placed on us by the Scriptures.
  • Many times we find our efforts not succeeding in the way we would like them to.

In all these instances where we are spiritually limited let us remember that there is never any limit to God's love, God's mercy, or God's power to save us and raise us from the grave to a new life with Him in Heaven. Let us remember also that the amount of success or lack of success in our lives does not determine His love and desire to preserve us for life everlasting. His love is freely given; His salvation is freely offered to all those who believe in Jesus Christ. The most successful person in the world is the one who believes and serves the Lord Jesus.

Don't be discouraged or proud of your rate of success, be happy instead that God saves you through faith in Jesus. If you'd like to experience and benefit from this success, I encourage you to confess your faith today, repent of your sins, and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins. This will be the most successful thing you'll ever do.