There is a point each person eventually reaches where they've run out of fancy decorations to camouflage the fact that there are limits past which they cannot operate, limits to what they can do or who they can become. This point of realization comes in many degrees, shapes and forms, but the imagery in my mind of this moment looks like a scene from the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” where the African bushman sets out on a quest to take the mysterious object that fell from the sky (a Coke bottle) to the end of the earth in order to ‘throw it off.’ After many days of travel, filled with peril and adventure, the little bushman comes to an enormous cliff, stretching out as far to the left and to the right as the eye can see. As he peers over the edge, he cannot see the bottom – he doesn’t expect to – after all, this is the end of the earth. Instead, he sees nothing but a thick and impenetrable mist down below the lip of the precipice. And so, having successfully come to the end of the earth, he tosses the Coke bottle off, turns around, and walks home.
Each of us has an inner limit, a cliff beyond which we can go no further in our abilities and our efforts; it’s just a matter of degree, a matter of when we realize it, and a matter of what we do, once we do.
Sometimes this point of realization comes as it relates to careers. The High School or College student who once had any number of life paths to choose from picks one, only to realize that the very act of choosing now automatically limits and narrows down all future choices. This can cause panic. I’m convinced that many of my college friends constantly changed their majors simply because choosing ‘just one’ began to feel like a constricting noose around their lives of endless possibility. We resist the implications of limits.
Sometimes this point of realization comes as it relates to abilities. I can immediately think of two distinct occasions in my life where this was the case. One took place at a privately owned sporting goods store where I worked part time while attending seminary. It was while working here that I seriously contemplated murder for the first time. Now understand, the man I worked under was Lucifer in the flesh. He was just wicked, in a bad way. But I was convinced I could love the man into God’s kingdom. About three months into this experiment I reached my inner limit of love, and believe me, if this man had been there with me, I’d have thrown him over the edge of the earth and kept the Coke bottle… because I had come to the end of myself and my own love. And I was suddenly faced with the shocking fact that where my love ran out, hate began. Not tolerance, forbearance or pity, but HATE. I now hated this man. That’s a hard thing to admit, that my love wasn’t enough; we resist the implications of limits.
Sometimes this point of realization comes as it relates to the “Big Picture.” If you start having too many of these close encounters of ‘the cliff kind’ in a short period of time, your brain can pull a Matrix on you, so that you feel as though your eyes are being forcibly opened for the first time to a limitless number of limits you’ve been hiding from yourself all along. The blinders come off, the reality of your weakness is exposed, and you recognize that the sidewalk of self-reliance ends at a cliff bordering a sea of impenetrable mist. If you’re NOT a Christian when this happens, It’s the perfect opportunity to take your trust off of yourself and place it instead in the limitless abilities of God. If you ARE a Christian when this happens, it’s the perfect opportunity to… take your trust back off yourself and place that trust back where it belongs: in the limitless abilities of God. But it’s never easy; because we resist the implications of limits.
What are the implications of limits? Mainly these: that we are not God, that we are not in control, and that we don't have the ability to live a truly fulfilled life on our own. The first step towards a solution? Admitting it.
What inner limits are you facing today? Have you come to the end of your strength? Have you arrived at the end of your wisdom? Have you reached the end of experience? Have you stumbled onto the end of self-motivation? Then listen to these words…
“Because God’s nature is infinite, everything that flows out of it is infinite also. We poor human creatures are constantly being frustrated by limitations imposed upon us from without and within… How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.” -- A.W. Tozer (46,47 The Knowledge of The Holy)
If you find yourself at the edge of an inner limitation today, don’t put the blindfold back on as if you ‘didn’t—see—anything.’ Instead, face your limits head on, take hold of your self-sufficiency and toss it over the edge… but don’t walk away. Because this is where a different movie-inspired mental image comes to mind, this time from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The scene from the movie goes like this:
After back-breaking work, harrowing adventure and life-threatening danger, Indiana Jones pushes through to one final test inside the ancient city of Petra, in order to retrieve a treasure of limitless possibility. Somewhere behind him, his father lays dying. His only hope for salvation? A drink from the cup of Christ, The Holy Grail. It is this that Indiana seeks to bring back, but first, he must pass a final test of faith.
Between him and the small chamber where the cup resides, he encounters a bottomless chasm. How can he get across to the cup of life? According to the clues he has, he must step out in faith and walk on air to the other side. In vain, he looks for another way across; surely this is madness?! Finally, in desperation and at the end of himself, he lets go of the limits of sight, closes his eyes, and takes a very large step – onto solid rock. As he puts his foot down, the camera angle suddenly shifts to reveal that there was a bridge of stone there all along, invisible by design only until you stepped out onto it. Indiana successfully brings back the Grail and his father is saved.
Whatever your limits, there’s a bridge made from the cornerstone that is Christ, spanning every mist-shrouded chasm. He’s a bridge to the limitless mercy, the limitless love and the limitless power of an Infinite God, and He waits for that first step. Cross over. Drink deeply. And live abundantly.
It appears my ’86 Ford F-150 Lariat is meant to play an ongoing role in my spiritual journey. I cannot say that I understand why. I just know that, whatever the reason, this fact became all too clear yesterday after my third run-in with the Buddhist biker.
As many of my most exciting stories do, it all began at the end of a uniquely wretched day. 5:30 pm and I was very ready to head home. I lugged my sidewalk sign inside the main street office where I work and locked the heavy door. 5:35 pm and it was still 103 degrees outside. I passed a man on the way to my truck, leaning against a rustic wooden fence and holding a motorcycle helmet. His sweaty hair was plastered to his forehead and his bike looked as tired as he did. I said ‘Hello.’ 5:40 pm and I pulled into my driveway. Grabbed my bag off the seat. Crunched my way across the gravel entryway. Creaked open the crooked gate. Entered the air-conditioned house. Lovely. At 5:45 pm I realized I’d forgotten something important… back at the office.
Back into the sun.
Back through the gate.
Back across the gravel.
Back into the truck.
Back past the biker. Still there… Weird. But this time on his bike. As I got out of the truck I noticed him looking at me in his rearview mirror. He removed his hands from the handlebars just then and straightened up, no longer appearing like he planned on going anywhere. Was he watching me? Probably just my imagination. Too many movies Josh.
Having retrieved the important item from the office, I was again locking the door when I noticed, once more, this man and his motorcycle. But this time he was pushing the bike, across the street and up a hill. Kicking myself for not perceiving his trouble earlier, I got back into my truck and followed in the direction he had gone. When I came around the corner, there he was, roughly halfway up the hill, attempting a jump-start on his bike as it rolled down towards me. I pulled up next to him when the failed start was over and opened the driver side door (because the window is still broken). “Need a hand?” asks the mechanically ignorant missionary kid. “No,” says the sweaty biker, “I think I’ve got it.” I nodded [with relief] and drove about 30 yards beyond him up the road before something literally blew up under the hood of my truck. Popping, gurgling noises everywhere. Steam curling out from the vicinity of the front grill. The distinct smell of an indistinct something or other, burning. GREAT. ‘God… what are you doing?’ whined the part of me that feigns ignorance regularly as a self-defense mechanism. This particular mechanism had engaged because the other part of me that’s more sanctified knew He wanted me to do or say something to this biker. I prayed really hard it wasn’t the other way around.
By the time I’d walked back down to where I’d passed him earlier, he was pushing his bike back up the hill for the third time. He shook his head in disbelief as I recounted my truck woes. “How does that stuff happen?” he wondered aloud. I was pretty sure I knew. I found out quickly that he was a Buddhist living at a local monastery. He found out quickly that I was the pastor of a local church. This made for an interesting moment of thoughtful silence as we leaned on the back of his broken motorcycle. And then, as we stood there in the heat, I suddenly knew what it was God wanted me to do. I knew it. But I didn’t want to do it. “Pray for the bike.” That’s what I sensed Him saying. “Oh you’ve got to be kidding” was about all I could think back. So I stalled.
I told him about our church, where we meet every Sunday and what time, you know, should he get bored with Buddhism. He in turn got marginally brave and told me ‘we all need to come together’ and that his nephew was also a minister. Just about then my wife pulled up in the car to take me home. “PRAY—FOR – THE– BIKE.” Sigh. You win God. “Hey, before I go, would you mind if I pray for your bike to start?” “That would be great” he says. Putting my hands on the bike I said, “Father, I know meeting this man was not a coincidence. You’ve brought us together here. Now please, by the power of your son Jesus, ‘heal’ this bike. The next time this man tries to start it, let it run. In Jesus' name, Amen.”
The man smiled, thanked me and said “God bless,” but hesitated to start the bike. I could tell he didn’t want to embarrass me if he tried and it didn’t start, so I got in the car, waved and started to drive away. Sneaking a peak in my rearview mirror, I saw the man start the bike. And get on. And drive away. When I made my wife go around the block an extra time to double check, we saw him motoring by, his bike happily chugging uphill. Thank you Jesus! Faith isn’t about being sure of yourself. It’s not even about being sure of outcomes. Faith is about being sure of God.
Since God healed the Buddhist’s bike, you may be wondering what happened to my truck. He’s got a sense of humor... it’s still parked out there.
In a recent post I introduced the first book I’ll be reviewing in my ordination process, entitled The Pursuit of God. I also shared the purpose of the book, according to the author – to help Christians go beyond the stale satisfaction of learning the orthodox truths about God so they might instead be satiated with God Himself. At the end of the letter I then promised to share with you some of my favorite topics and quotes from the various chapters that have deeply spoken to me. So here they are.
1) Removing the Veil (Chapter 3)
“The interior journey of the soul from the wilds of sin into the enjoyed presence of God is beautifully illustrated in the Old Testament tabernacle. The returning sinner first entered the outer court where he offered a blood sacrifice on the brazen altar and washed himself in the laver that stood near it. Then he passed through a veil into the holy place where no natural light could come, but the golden candlestick which spoke of Jesus, the Light of the World, threw its soft glow over all. There also was the shewbread to tell of Jesus, the bread of Life, and the altar of incense, a figure of unceasing prayer” (Tozer 35,36)…
Among so many other things, I love the descriptive imagery of Jesus always being the necessary antecedent in our pursuit of God. In order to see your way into the ‘Holy of Holies,’ you have to pass through the Light of the World.
2) Apprehending God (Chapter 4)
“The sincere, plain man knows that the world is real. He finds it here when he wakes to consciousness, and he knows that he did not think it into being. It was here waiting for him when he came, and he knows that when he prepares to leave this earthly scene it will be here still to bid him goodbye as he departs… Now by our definition also, God is real. He is real in the absolute and final sense that nothing else is. All other reality is contingent upon His. The great Reality is God… God has objective existence independent of and apart from any notions which we may have concerning Him” (Tozer 54,55).
GOD thinks, therefore I am! 'In Him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). If YHWH were to stop thinking about me for even one fraction of a second, I would cease to exist; I am always on His mind. Ironic that the world questions the existence of the Self-Existent One. Gracious that the Self-Existent One sustains them regardless.
3) The speaking voice (Chapter 6)
“The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is written it is confined and limited by the necessities of ink and paper and leather. The voice of God, however, is alive and free as the sovereign God is free. ‘The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6:63). The life is in the speaking words. God’s word in the Bible can have power only because it corresponds to God’s word in the universe. It is the present Voice which makes the written Word all-powerful” (Tozer 74).
Heb 11:3 "…the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." ‘Faith is blind’ because, just like those visible things came into being as ‘nothingness’ responded to the sound of God’s voice, so faith also is birthed through hearing that same sound of God’s voice – only now we hear and respond with our hearts. This is true faith, not dependant on visible, external things, things like relics or statues or holy days or geographical locations or job markets or signs or wonders. Faith ‘sees’ God with a heart that believes every word He has said, and that is enough.
4) Restoring the creator-creature relation (Chapter 8)
“Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator… Anyone who might feel reluctant to surrender his will to the will of another should remember Jesus’ words, ‘Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin’(John 8:34). We must of necessity be servant to someone, either to God or to sin” (Tozer 103,104).
I see two common escape hatches that are addressed here. 1) The independent spirit that has been bred and passed down into the average American still actually believes the choice is between the degrading option of serving someone else or ‘freedom.’ Tozer exposes this lie by showing that we are all servants to someone, that is an objective fact, a non-negotiable; what is on the table is whom or what we will choose to serve. 2) In ‘God’s economy,’ our best interests are served as we serve HIM. But that’s so cerebral it can be too easy to get out of, and God knows it. That’s why Jesus said this: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). When we serve others, we serve God, and the result is that ‘God gets the glory while we get the joy.’ Isn’t that what Jesus did? “…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus served His Father and 'received his right place of high honor' by serving us. Wow.
5) Meekness and rest (Chapter 9)
“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own… he is willing to wait for that day” (Tozer 113).
One of the best lessons my Dad taught me was ‘don't take yourself too seriously.’ Because when we do… it usually means we start taking offense too easily as well. And the root of constant offense-taking is chronic pride. Pride is like an eyeball; it’s exposed, it’s vulnerable, and it’s so sensitive that even sunlight can irritate it. So we guard it in our lives, we defend it tooth and nail, and if even the faintest glimmer of a threat against reputation or projected self-image appears, we sacrifice everything (including peace) to squint and blink it furiously away. But ‘humility is accepting God’s estimate of your life.’ And when what God thinks of you becomes all that matters, you can put on the shades of His grace and give your pride a rest.