Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forevermore. (Psalm 73:25-26)
The inevitable end of human strength is to encounter one’s limits, yet the infinite strength of God endures. It is good to encounter one’s limits in order to more powerfully encounter God’s limitless strength and presence.
To come to the end of oneself – and even the limits of others – opens to us both our need for God and the joyful capacity of God to fill our need. The exhaustion of our limits can be both a humbling and distressing reality, but God comes in joyfully unencumbered by our human limitations and also eternally free to carry our burdens. What had once been humbling and distressing now becomes the source of exaltation by God and joy from God, which otherwise we would never have experienced. This echoes the words of Isaiah the prophet:
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31)
We all know that there is no way into growth other than to encounter limits. In exercise, when we “hit the wall,” we can either pull back or press forward into develping new muscles or skills. The same is true in other areas of our lives, whether artistic development or apprenticing to a trade. This applies applies to our spiritual life. The moment of encounter with human limits is simultaneously the moment of development of the “muscles” of our souls, as we are pushed beyond our capacity into the developmental rending of becoming stronger in capacity and new in expansiveness. The writer to the Hebrews describes God’s grace in apparently strange terms the resonate with this reality: “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). The discipline of the Lord shapes us in formational ways, helping us grow and develop. Without that discipline we will not change; discipline is a subset of discipleship. James also acknowledges this in one of the most memorable portions of his epistle:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
In light of this, hitting the wall in our spiritual lives is actually a moment of grace. The encounter with our human limitations is also a potential encounter with God’s shaping grace, providing the opportunity for us to grow into the character that God most wants to shape into our lives, both individually and for the sake of His community, the church.