There’s an uncomfortable reality that describes every one of us: we’re limited. It’s part of being human. To be a creature, created by an infinite God, means that we are finite. We’re limited and dependent on our Creator.
Some of our limits are common to all creatures. We all experience the same limits of time— twenty-four hours in a day and 168 hours in a week. We have common physical limits—our bodies require sleep, food, water, exercise, and oxygen (to name just a few). Other limits are unique to the individual. Some experience the physical limitations of a debilitating disease. Some encounter relational limits in seasons of caring for a newborn or an aging parent.
Whatever limits we face, we can be confident of this core truth: limits are God’s good design.
Our Creator designed us with limits. In Psalm 139, David wonders at the intricacies of the Creator’s design:
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;|
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Your frame isn’t hidden from the Creator who formed you. There’s nothing about the way you were created that’s a surprise to him. This includes the ways that you are limited.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
He doesn’t despise your weakness or your frailty; he doesn’t despise the dust. He took that dust and formed it and then breathed life into it (Gen. 2:7). He formed you, knitted you, wove you together. He made you and you are his.
Limits Reveal Your Need
Limits reveal our need. They expose our weakness, and they show that we’re needy creatures. Our neediness, the very thing that we run from and want to rise above, isn’t coincidental but is part of God’s good design.
Limits bring us to an awareness of our dependence on God. There are moments when I’ve prayed, “Lord, I need you like never before.” Limits bring me to my knees in humility, causing me to see that apart from God I can’t do anything (John 15:5). I see the limits of my strength and ability, my knowledge and understanding, my time and presence. In my limits, I see my need for the eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God. The God who is incomprehensibly far above, yet who draws near and makes himself known.
To pray, “Lord, I need you like never before,” doesn’t accurately describe my need, though. While the Lord delights in this humble prayer, the reality is that my need is every bit as great in the moments when I’m not aware of it. Limits simply give us clarity to see the need that is always present. As we often sing together,
Lord, I need you, O I need you
Every hour I need you
Limits Invite You to Experience God’s Provision
God’s good design in our limits is found not only in our neediness, though; it’s found in his provision. It is his nature to give generously to his creation. From the first moment of creation, he is providing, giving life, and sustaining life. He breathes into mankind the breath of life. He gives food to all living things. He creates Eve and brings her to Adam, providing partnership and fellowship.
The doctrine of providence tells us that he remains near his creation. In the Heidelberg Catechism, we read that by his “almighty and everywhere presence,” he sustains and governs and upholds all creation. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). If he removed himself, all that we see would cease to exist. The old Sunday School song captures this truth:
He’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the wind and the rain in his hands
He’s got the moon and the stars in his hands
He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands
Not only does he hold all things in his hands—his hands are open, generously providing for his creation.
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
Psalm 34 shows us the perfection and fullness of God’s provision:
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
God Provides Through His People and His Presence
Limits cause us to see our neediness. We can resist those limits, but we’ve all seen where that leaves us: tired, overworked, stressed, and anxious. There’s a better way, which begins with acknowledging our neediness.
Paul Tripp has often written about three prayers with which he begins each day:
“Lord, I‘m a person in desperate need of help today.”
“Lord, won’t you, in your grace, send your helpers my way?”
“Lord, please give me the humility to receive the help when it comes.” (1)
These prayers name our neediness. Rather than running from it or trying to leap over our limits like an obstacle, we bring our need to the Father and ask him for help.
He gives generously and without reproach (James 1:5). He provides for our needs through his people, as humility leads us to name our needs not only before him but before the people around us. We’re able to say, “I need help” and humility allows us to accept the help others offer.
He also provides through his presence. Your limits are the boundary lines designed to keep you near your good Shepherd. They are the fence around pleasant places:
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
Limits draw us back into the presence of our Shepherd. When we’re exhausted from our efforts to be what only the infinite God can be and to do what only he can do, repentance draws us back into his presence. We remember, “God is God and I am not” and we rejoice in that truth. When our limits are painful, the practice of lament invites us to turn to God in our pain and experience the comfort of his presence.