I’m taking some time away from many things, hence the silence on this blog. This started as a deliberate ministry break, but because so much happened in the process, I am taking my time. One theme that has been recurring in this season is boundaries. I realized, to my surprise, that I had not been as diligent about setting and monitoring them as I should have been. I consider myself a fairly private person, you see. However, prior to this season, I do not think I fully understood that there is a difference – slight, perhaps, but a difference nonetheless – between being private and setting boundaries. Those who are “less private” are not necessarily boundary-free, and perhaps their boundaries actually give them the freedom to have the guts to be as “out there” as they are or appear to be.
The Bible says each child of God is to keep his/her heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23.) It is impossible to accomplish this without setting clear, healthy boundaries. Somehow, by the grace of God, we have to figure out a way to love even our enemies with a 1 Cor. 13 love, and yet not let drama, chaos and the vicissitudes of life uproot us from our position that is similar to trees standing by the rivers of water, whose leaves do not wither, which bring forth their fruit in season (Ps. 1).
May I share what I am learning about this boundary stuff? In my understanding, boundaries are about:
1) Knowing our relationships.
I always believed that once friends, always friends. At one point in my life, I fought to keep every friend I had made. I held on to friendships as long as I could. To this day, I have an idea where my grade school and even some kindergarten friends are, and I am able, by God’s grace, to reach them with ease. I was already well into my twenties before I realized that it is actually okay for me to let some friends go, and it does not mean they become my enemies, or that I do not appreciate the gift that they were in each season. It is okay for people to part ways. It can be dangerous if they don’t do so when the time comes.
It is important to be wise as we navigate relationships with people of authority. A humble word of caution, from experience, is that we should be very, very careful who we allow to be over us and the areas of our lives to which we give them access. Hearing God before we seek human counsel or offload burdens can save us from trouble. In a multitude of counselors there is safety (Prov. 11:14, 15:22), and yet Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7, see also Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6-7).
I like to say that we leave a footprint in the hearts or lives of those God blesses us to encounter. That means that people also impact our lives. In order to be successful at navigating relationships, I have found that it is important to prayerfully define the role each person plays in our lives.
- Which relationships should we maintain and strengthen (e.g. a marriage, for instance, or relationships between ourselves and our parents/siblings)?
- Which ones have we outgrown (i.e. need to move on from, e.g. I would say Jacob outgrew his relationship with Laban, see the blessing in Gen. 31:49)…
- …and which ones do we need to flee or stay away from (e.g. unequal yokes, 2 Cor. 6:14, or Paul’s strong and difficult admonition in 1 Cor. 5:11)? I am still trying to figure out where the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas would fall (Acts 15:36-41), but we see a separation there as well.
It is okay to end a friendship or relationship in this realm, as the Lord leads.
2) Guarding that which was entrusted to each of us.
God has commanded us to guard what He has entrusted to us (1 Tim. 6:20). To me, this primarily speaks of ministry. He has called and chosen each of His children to do something. He has also equipped us with the spiritual gifts that are necessary to accomplish that which He has entrusted to us. That it must be guarded tells me that it can be attacked.
In my understanding, this verse could also apply beyond ministry. The NASB says Guard… the treasure which has been entrusted to you. Man, guard the wife that the Lord has entrusted to you. Woman, “guard” (through your prayers, your respect, your affirmation) the husband that God has entrusted to you. Couples, guard your children. Friend, guard your friendship. In order for us to protect that which has been committed to us, we need to have boundaries.
3) Not running.
In establishing boundaries, it is important to check our motives. There have been times when, given the opportunity, I would have used the “boundary” excuse to stay away from ministry and from “dealing with people”, so to speak, if I could get away with it. But boundaries are not supposed to be used to protect the flesh. They are supposed to guard the heart. Any boundary that stifles a calling or chokes love is harmful. Ministry is often the first thing people give up when things get hectic. Yet after the uproar and drama in Acts 19, we see Paul still ministering in Acts 20, as an example.
4) Understanding that the Lord of the work > the work of the Lord and the minister > the ministry.
Pastor Ambrose Nyangao once said that if a person is constantly burning out, it is because there is nothing burning in. Many times, believers feel guilty for experiencing the effects of burnout because they think they are letting God down. But our relationships with people are offshoots of our relationship with God, so it is impossible to be effective in ministry without spending time at the feet of Jesus. Martha was cumbered about with much serving while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet (Lk. 10:38-42). Jesus called us to serve, so Martha’s serving was not wrong, per se. However, she was so cumbered about with it that she lost her focus. I have been there – sharing devotionals on a daily basis and then having my attention drawn, by the Lord, to the ironic fact that my own devotional life was suffering. Boundaries help us to remember to look to Jesus (Heb. 12:2), abide in Jesus (Jn. 15:1-4), walk with Jesus (1 Jn. 1:6), choose that good part (Lk. 10:42).
5) Taking inventory.
Paul exhorts us to examine ourselves and see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). To examine, according to the dictionary, is to “inspect… in detail to determine… nature or condition; investigate thoroughly”.
A thorough self-examination and inspecting one’s life in detail cannot happen during a fifteen-minute break at work or while grocery shopping. Going by this definition, this is something that would require a deliberate, conscious decision to set some time aside and take inventory. The Bible says that with the Lamb are the called, chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Jesus already called us (2 Tim. 1:9) and chose us (Jn. 15:16). But are we remaining faithful? This takes His grace. And being faithful requires remaining in Him. Remaining in Him cannot be accomplished while cumbered about with much serving or being distracted by the humdrum of life. Time has to be taken out to ponder the following:
- They shall know me by my fruit (Matt. 7:16). What fruit am I bearing? Is there LOVE in my life? Am I patient, kind, do I forgive? Or do I brag, keep a record of wrongs, and create strife? Am I nursing secret sin or refusing to let go of habitual sin?
- Do I feel convicted when I sin? Or have I become cold, or worse, lukewarm?
- Does God chastise me? (Heb. 12:8)
- Do I know Jesus? More importantly, does He know me? (Matt. 7:21–23)
Every year, employers evaluate their employees’ performance. Every day, people all over the world step on scales to check their weight. Yearly physicals are recommended for all people by physicians all over the world. How much more should we do for our spiritual health?
6) Facing ourselves.
Character and personality are products of identity. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ll rephrase it in order to reiterate my point: we cannot be who we were called to be if we do not know who and Whose we are. Like many have said, boundaries have a huge part to play in our understanding of our identity. We also need to understand what we enjoy, where we are gifted, what we believe, where we are going. We need to understand who we are not (i.e., anything God says we aren’t). We need to be OKAY with who God created us to be.
When we ask God to search us and know our hearts, try us and know our anxious thoughts, see if there is any wicked way in us and lead us in the way everlasting (Ps. 139:23-24), He will answer. This prayer is not said so that He can discover something about us – the verses before this indicate that He knows us better than we know ourselves. This is for Him to show us who we are. And that can be difficult to deal with, but thankfully, the shadow of His wings is a safe place to have His divine flashlight shone on our hurts, sins and weaknesses and His Blood applied to our situations. Jesus still heals, forgives, loves.
7) Understanding friendships.
For those people we are called to keep around us as friends, I believe there should be different levels of friendship. I and many others have shared this before using the temple analogy (2 Chron. 3 and 4). Outer-court friends I would liken to the people Jesus taught, fed, healed, ministered to. He loved them all, but they did not walk closely, daily, with Him during His 33 years on earth. Inner-court friends are like the seventy-two that He sent out. Holy-place friends are like the twelve disciples. Jesus walked with them, prayed with them, taught them regularly, allowed them to observe Him closely. Notice that the number becomes smaller and smaller as the access becomes greater. Holy-of-holies friends I would compare to what Peter, James and John were to Jesus, or what a man should be to his wife and vice-versa.
We must always remember that Jesus is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).
8) Understanding trust.
The Bible says when Jesus was in Jerusalem one Passover, many believed in His Name, when they saw the miracles they did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man (Jn. 2:24). Coming across this verse for the first time many years ago was a very freeing experience for me. As I grew older, I began to understand that loving and forgiving human beings does not necessarily mean trusting them. The Bible says that trusting in human beings actually brings a curse (Jer. 17:5-8). While we should not live our lives in paranoia, we must always remember that only God can only, should only, be trusted with our entire beings (Prov. 3:5-6).
9) Understanding that not everybody will be happy.
People might feel rejected if you decide to take a break or even distance yourself from a business, social, or love relationship. But while we must love all people, we cannot aim to please all people (Gal. 1:10). And even as we figure out our boundaries, it is important – albeit sometimes difficult – to do all things in love. Abraham had to leave his family. Jacob had to leave Laban. Elijah had to leave Elisha. And Jesus said “It is expedient for you that I go away” (Jn. 16:7). He had to leave His disciples for the Comforter to come. They must have been distraught. I cannot imagine them understanding how this was good for them. But it was, praise God. And in the same way, sometimes we just have to let certain people, jobs, churches, etc go and trust that God will reveal all things to them in His time.
10) Focusing on Jesus.
As we establish boundaries and develop a better understanding of who we are and where we are, I believe we begin to increase our appetite for the Word. Things begin to make sense. And we realize the importance of focusing on Jesus. Contending for the faith. Running the race. We cannot do anything without Jesus. But in Him, we can do all things (Phil. 4:13) It is in Him that we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We cannot do life without Him. Boundaries help to drive this point home.