Have you ever had a time when someone asked you to do something – maybe something really important – and your first response was “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that.”
Sometimes when we reflect back on such an event we find a sense of satisfaction in reminding ourselves that we need to always be mindful of our limitations – I know my limitations.
Sometimes this is quite appropriate. I mean, if someone asked me to take out their appendix, you would hope that I would know that I had not competence or qualification to do such a thing, and I would admit to it straight away.
But I think many times we say NO when we really should say YES. And I wonder why that would be the case – what makes us do that?
Either or both of two forces are probably at work here.
Sometimes we underrate our own abilities.
This might be because one time someone ridiculed us for something we did or said we could do – and we weren’t going to offer again – just in case…
It might also be because we have misunderstood the meaning of humility – thinking this is an important Christian virtue, and always thinking of others as better than ourselves.
Or perhaps we are just not risk takers and if we have never done something before we resist every encouragement of others to have a go.
I know that I am sometimes guilty of the second and third of those examples.
Sometimes other people impose expectations and limitations on us.
One of the little stories I lived with for a long time was that I was an “average student”. I really don’t recall what my dad meant when he said this to me. I don’t think he meant any harm – but I do know that this limited what I was willing to undertake at school and then on in life.
Sometimes we find people in our lives who work very hard at “keeping us in our place” – for the Sudanese this means making sure we know our role in the community and not letting us do anything outside that role.
In the two selected readings from Scripture that we had today, we have examples of each of these.
The Lord said to Jeremiah:
"I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations."
In response, Jeremiah resorts to two simple reasons why he could not possible become the prophet of God. He says:
1. I am no good at public speaking – I can’t do it! And then he says:
2. And anyway, I’m too young – people won’t listen to me.
I think it is fair to say that in this case, Jeremiah really did not know what he could do if God empowered him to do it; and of course, it is clear that God saw something in Jeremiah that God knew fitted him best for this job.
In the Gospel story we have something a bit different. Something rather remarkable happens in this story, which follows on from what we read last week.
This story happens right at the beginning of Luke’s record of his ministry and it happens in the village Jesus grew up in. The people in the synagogue that day were people who knew him. They had known him as a boy. They knew his brothers and sisters and his mum and dad.
At first everyone seems very proud of him – even after he utters those incredible words:-
“This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”
Luke tells us:
They were all well impressed with him and marvelled at the eloquent words that he spoke.
So far Jesus was being a good boy.
But then he went on to explain something he believed God was ready to say to them – the message from God that he had brought was not just for them, but also for the Gentiles. And this is what made the people mad with him. He was stepping outside of their expectations for him – and they wanted to put him back in his box – to make him a good boy again.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens to us all, and it always seems sad to someone outside that someone is so limited by themselves and or their family or community.
It becomes particularly sad when it interferes with our ability to respond properly to a call that God may be making in our lives.
But the question still remains: How do I really know what my appropriate limits are?
If you are sensing the leading of God to do something or other in your life, I think there are a couple of really good checks and balances you can rely on to avoid jumping in when you should have held back – because it really is a discerning process, discovering God’s will.
Overestimating our abilities is just as bad as underestimating them. In order to develop a sober estimate of yourself, could I suggest a couple of things to guide you?
DON’T NEGLECT YOUR BIBLE
Someone suggested as a pre-requisite for this step a reminder that we should take to heart the affirmation that in Christ we are children of God, that we are loved and treasured by an incomparable lover – the Lord our God.
Our Bibles are an incomparable gift to sustain the faith that is growing within us. And there is much teaching in it to guide us through these circumstances. Remind yourself of the teaching about gifts of the Spirit – of God’s determination to equip us with all good things to serve him.
And as you continue to read the Bible, trust in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to bring the words of the stories you might be reading to life for you.
These two things could bring some sense of clear direction for you – but you might still be unsure.
SEEK OUT THE WISDOM OF OTHERS
Talk to your friends.
Speak to those whom you think of as mentors or who inspire you in your walk of faith.
See if they agree with what you think God is saying.
Maybe in these ways we will minimise the resistance that might limit our ability to serve God.
So let us remember Jeremiah:
A young man who was called by God to be a prophet to the nation. Despite all his fears and doubts he became a giant among the prophets of Judah and Israel.
And let us remember Jesus:
The son of a village tradesman whose lowly life meant that people did not expect great things of him, yet he defies those expectations daring to go out and fulfil his potential in a most glorious way.
God is the loving shatterer of the limitations we and others place upon our lives. By God’s grace we can be the ever-growing children of God for whom surprising things are possible.