"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men."
- Matthew 10:16-17 NIV
My husband, Joe, is a sweet man, but he sometimes has trouble establishing sensible boundaries in his relationships. This problem surfaces a lot during tax season, when he operates a part-time tax preparing business, in addition to his full-time job. Many of Joe's clients have no problem leaning heavily on him for guidance, counsel, and reassurance--and they often consume large amounts of his time and energy. When he had a near-fatal heart attack during tax season a few years go, I insisted that he significantly reduce the number of his clients. Joe still has more clients than I'd like him to have, and he continues to have a problem establishing sensible boundaries for those who call on him for advice and help.
Unfortunately, this boundary issue is a common one among Christians, and I've struggled with it many times myself. We read in the Bible that Jesus wants us to reach out to those in need, and in trying to imitate Christ, we often fail to use godly wisdom where our relationships are concerned. In the end, we wind up wearing ourselves out, and making ourselves useless to the Lord Himself. The truth is that God wants us to establish Holy- Spirit-inspired boundaries in all of our relationships. Jesus said: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men." (Matthew 10:16-17 NIV) The Lord is warning us to be on our guard at all times, because He knows that human nature has a tendency to be selfish and self-serving. Even the kindest person can become demanding, and have unreasonable expectations of others, when they are in great need. If we don't remain vigilant in our relationships, others will drain the life out of us, and we won't be able to fulfill the call of God on our lives. And that is exactly what Satan wants. He would like nothing better than to keep us so distracted and busy with other people's problems that we will eventually have to trim down the time we spend daily in God's presence, in His Word, and in prayer. And instead of being strong in spirit, we'll become weak and weary.
It's fine for us to help people out when they are in need, but it's NOT okay for us to encourage them to become dependent upon us. Once we sense that someone is leaning too heavily upon us, we need to back off. People who are continually needy desperately need a savior. This is true for the unsaved, as well as the saved. If we continually bail them out, how can they ever recognize their need for God? I see too many Christians catering to the needs and demands of others in ways that undoubtedly interfere with the work God wants to do in their lives. What we have to keep in mind is that God is not pleased when we cross the boundaries of sensible assistance to the needy. We should continually pray that the Lord will make us sensitive and obedient to His leading in these areas, and we should tell Him that we will do whatever HE desires in each and every case. As we use godly wisdom in our relationships, the Lord will supply us with all of the grace and guidance we need to minister to others, and to encourage their dependence on Him.
Failing to maintain the proper boundaries in our relationships will put us in awkward positions, will cause us to lose our peace, and will eventually make us angry and resentful. Setting proper boundaries will protect and preserve the relationships we value most. Proverbs says: "He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe." (Proverbs 28:26 NIV) Let's stay on God's paths of safety and blessing by applying His wisdom in all of our relationships.
Prayer: Lord, today I commit all of my relationships to You. Give me a heart to help others in need, but also the wisdom to establish godly boundaries. Teach me how to discourage the needy from becoming dependent upon me, and to encourage them to depend on You. Thank You that as I follow Your lead in these matters, I will live a life of victory, peace and purpose!
- J. M. Farro