Having boundaries is a popular idea these days. Being able to say “no” to things is being championed as a means to protect one’s peace or to practice self-care because saying no is a surprisingly difficult thing to do in our day and age. We have fomo with our friends, we want to be liked at work, there are hobbies to develop, and church events to attend. But here’s a crazy idea—maybe the reason we should have boundaries and say no to things is because Jesus did.
Jesus led a relatively unproductive ministry. It lasted only three years, he didn’t have a google calendar booked full of healing appointments and temple engagements, he didn’t disciple dozens of people. He hung out in small towns on the periphery of influence rather than declare the kingdom of God to as many people as possible.
Furthermore, he would regularly retreat to be alone to spend time in prayer and listen to the Father, he spent afternoons with outcasts and attended weddings. He was so interruptable, he often just saw and cared for the people who crossed his path. He didn’t even begin his ministry until he was thirty; he was just building furniture and cutting wood for almost his entire life.
By the world’s standards, the Son of God’s three-year ministry was wildly unfruitful. He could have been so much more if he had just pushed himself harder, thought more strategically, and streamlined his ministry.
But he didn’t. Why?
He had all authority and power in heaven and earth, and yet the rhythms of his life are marked by peace, joy, humility, and relationships. He was never frantic or overwhelmed, he never overcommitted himself. His secret? He only did what the Father told him to do.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise (John 5:19). And, “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him” (John 8:26).
Jesus spent every day doing exclusively what he saw the Father do and what he heard the Father say. No more, and no less. That means that every person he healed, every sermon he preached, every meal he enjoyed with his disciples was what the Father wanted him to do at that moment. Jesus lived in perfect harmony with the Father, drawing away to be in his presence and listen to his voice so that he might continue on in perfect union with him.
But Jesus further tells us that he came “down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30, 6:38). Jesus lived in perfect harmony with the Father, but he also lived in unbroken submission and obedience—choosing to live in and do the Father’s will, not his own, at all times, even to the point of death.
Maybe you find yourself asking, why wouldn’t the Father want the Son to accomplish more? To heal more people or transform more lives? The Father is teaching us through Jesus what it means to live as a human beings. Humans who have limitations, who can’t do it all and are not called to do it all, who are made to abide every moment of the day in Christ, and who will flourish when we do.
A successful and beautiful life is not about maximization, it is about being in the presence of God and walking in his will. This is what we see in Jesus and it is beautiful and compelling. Creation is not utilitarian. What is a flower for? What does a starfish add to creation’s purpose? Humans, God’s crown jewel in creation, are made to worship and enjoy God forever. It’s what Jesus did, and it’s what we are called to as well.
For most of us, our days are spent in a flurry of activity, dropping kids off at school, zooming into meetings, getting work done, cleaning the house, walking the dog, and a million other things. But do we stop to ask the question, what does the Father want me to do with my time today?
If you have a job or are raising kids, the answer will certainly be to attend to those needs. God has given you those gifts to steward and cultivate, but if you’re like me, there are a thousand other things vying for your time and attention, and I often get worn out trying to do a little bit of everything.
I want to pursue new hobbies, go on more adventures, work harder on my side hustles, have more friend dates, more, more, more until I crash and burn. In a world that shouts for more, we need the quiet whisper of the Father saying less. And not simply do less to do less, but do the things I have given to you. Exit the highway and run the path that I have set before you—the path that I want to bless and to give you favor in. The path that develops and challenges your gifts. The path that is obedient to the Father’s will for you.
It’s no wonder that Jesus teaches us to pray by saying, “Your will be done, your kingdom come.” The Christian life is marked by abiding in Christ, walking by the Spirit, and obeying the Father’s will for our lives, not trying to accomplish our own. Our very salvation depended upon Jesus limiting himself to the Father’s will. Through his limits, we are saved. And when we take up his mantle and embrace what the Father has for us rather than trying to have it all, we participate in the cosmic blessing the Father bestows upon his Son when he says the he is well-pleased with him.
The question, then, is how? How do we listen for the will of the Father? How do we say “yes” to the things he wants us to do?
We do what Jesus did. We take time to be in the presence of the One who made us, who calls us, and who has plans for us. Jesus regularly took time away to pray, to seek the Lord, and to spend time in silence, solitude, and worship. We must do the same if we want to hear the voice of the Father. We need to become deeply familiar with his voice—spoken through His Son, the incarnate Word, and through Holy Scripture—so we might hear when he speaks. We need to surrender our own wills, choosing to be ruthlessly obedient to the Father. When we do the things the Lord invites us into, we live joyfully—not without difficult circumstances that require sacrifice, but joyfully, filled with the Spirit, and delighting in the fullness and power of Christ.