Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
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Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?

A Constricting Covenant: Love’s Chosen Limitations

Posted January 15, 2024

As one who often meets with young women who are standing at the horizon of seemingly endless possibilities, I sometimes get jealous and have a retro-active wanderlust. As I coach them through their career decisions, I find myself imagining what my life might have been like had I chosen one of the other countless paths that presented themselves to me. What if I had done genetic counseling? What if I had pursued a degree in library science? What if I had my seminary degree? What if I had traveled abroad post-graduation?

I am tempted toward the same when I fill out forms and must state my occupation. I have nothing neat and tidy to put on the line: wife, mother, disheveled homemaker, discipler of woman, slowly-plodding poet. These neither fit the line nor fit the bill of what the form seems to be asking.

Compared to wide horizons, my life sometimes feels like a slot canyon. But, if I sit there long enough, I remember how much I love my slot canyon. The walls that feel constricting also offer consolation and safety, direction and shelter.

The path has long been decided. In love, I chose to limit myself. I don’t get a paycheck, but I have the freedom to respond to the needs of the moment. When a church friend needs some company and counsel, I can bring her a coffee and sit with her. When a child falls into a sudden emotional pothole, I can rearrange my week to serve as a support. I have no clear role but instead carry a case of various roles.

I have chosen a path that requires certain limitations, which will and must look different than yours. But different though our paths may be, we will hold one truth in common—there is no covenant love without restriction.

The Constrictions of Covenant Love

Love leads to covenants, whether spoken or unspoken, signed in pen or signed in soul. In a covenant, I bind myself to another. This is by necessity constricting, yet it leads to the liberties found only in costly love.

This shouldn’t surprise me. It fits perfectly with the contours of what Christ said and lived. He told us and showed us the limits of love: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9: 23–24).

He didn’t merely wax philosophical when he told the disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but, if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12: 24–25). On the cross, he lived it. In the resurrection, he became the first fruits of the harvest that he sowed in his suffering (1 Cor. 15:20).

But this limiting love didn’t start with the Incarnation. It started before the stars were spoken or the earth had edges. God—the Father and the omnipotent one—had unlimited options before him. Yet, in love and in the kind intentions of his will, he chose to limit himself to a covenant with a people not yet shaped out of the dust, a people he knew would continually kick up dust in running from him in rebellion (Eph. 1:3–10). The sovereign who created all chose to make a covenant with Abram that promised a people more numerous than dust or sand or stars (Gen. 12:1–3; 22:17).

God constricted himself that we might be liberated and loved as sons and daughters.

There is no lasting love without limitation, no covenant without constriction.

If you find yourself begrudging the limitations of your choices to love particular people in a particular place, remember that such limiting love is God’s chosen path to true freedom.

When I begin to feel the constrictions of covenant love, the Spirit is gracious to bring to mind a few lines from Anna Waring’s hymn “Father, I Know that All My Life”:

In service which Thy will appoints There are no bonds for me; My secret heart is taught the truth That makes thy children free: A life of self-renouncing love is one of liberty.
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Aimee Joseph

Aimee Joseph has spent many years directing women’s discipleship and ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and in Campus Outreach San Diego. She is the wife to G’Joe who has recently planted Center City Church, and mother to three growing boys. Her first book, Demystifying Decision Making released with Crossway in January 2022. You can read more of her writing at aimeejoseph.blog.