ALWAYS PUSHING THE LIMITS - The Warrior's Journey®


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One of the strangest and most tragic mining accidents took place on January 22, 1959. It was the day a terrible violation of safety rules nearly emptied the mighty Susquehanna River into an entire underground mining complex.

Anthracite coal – the coal of choice because of its high carbon content and lack of impurities – was first discovered in the Wyoming Valley of northeastern Pennsylvania in 1764. A boom in the industry followed, one that lasted until the middle of the 20th Century. Various mining companies extracted seven billion short tons of anthracite coal from seams along and underneath the Susquehanna River.

But by the late 1950s the coal industry of this region was in its death throes. The River Slope Mine, owned by the Pennsylvania Coal Company, was leased to the Knox Coal Company. The Knox Coal Company’s job was to extract any anthracite coal that still remained in the formation.

To scour out the very last vestiges of coal from this mine, Knox habitually skirted safety regulations and practices. For instance, when digging coal under a river, regulations required a minimum of 50 feet to be maintained between the mine shaft and the river bed. The Knox Company, requested that limit be lowered to 35 feet. Then its superintendents ordered their men to reduce that to as little as five feet when digging under the Susquehanna River. It proved fatal to 12 of the 81 miners working that day, who were instructed to “keep digging upwards” – toward the river above.

The inevitable occurred. At a mere 18 inches below the river – now swollen and weighed down with thick ice – the roof of the coal seam collapsed and freezing water poured into the entire mine complex below. Ten billion gallons of water poured into the mine, creating a giant vortex on the surface of the river. Mining officials ordered everything on hand – clay, rock, coal trollies, and railroad cars – to be hurled into the whirlpool in hopes of plugging the hole. It took three days to accomplish this.

Fortunately, of the 81 miners working that day, 69 were able to escape through four separate mine shafts. This was a miracle, since the freezing water was paralyzing and breath-taking to the miners forced to wade through it. Twelve men, however, never made it out. Despite numerous searches, none of their bodies were ever recovered. This disaster brought mining in this region to an end. It was one of the most dramatic and tragic examples of people pushing the limits to see how far they could go.

You know, this is what American culture constantly does – on a personal and professional level. It promotes the idea of pushing the limits of our abilities, of stretching ourselves to be all that we can be, of following our dreams regardless of their impracticality and our own physical, mental, and emotional limitations.

That’s part of the reason why there is so much mediocrity in our professions. People who don’t have the aptitude for certain professions are encouraged to pursue them anyway. Then, when they reach their goal, they only prove to be incompetent in the job. We read of attorneys who attempt the Bar exam nearly 50 times before they can pass it. What kind of an attorney does that produce? A very poor one. What defendant would trust such a lawyer with their case?

But this philosophy of always pushing the limits is also why so many people are suffering mental and emotional collapses. It’s why counseling is such a big business in America. It’s part of the reason why so many people are ruining their health and lives. We wade into depths that are way over our heads. We are pushing ourselves to be more and to do more than God ever designed us for. Like those miners, we keep pushing upward to see how far we can go – until the roof collapses.

The Apostle Paul shares some greatly needed wisdom in Romans 12:3-8. He begins by telling his readers not to think more highly of themselves than they should. Now, Paul may be combating conceit here, but I don’t think so. The context suggests he’s addressing something far more common among humans – the urge to take on more than we can handle. He tells us that should recognize our limitations – that we are just one member among many who make up the body of Christ. He tells us that God has only given us a measure (a limited amount) of faith and that we will not be able to exercise our God-given gifts beyond the limitations of that measure.

But that’s all OK. For God has filled the body with many specialized members with whom He’s surround us to accomplish the mission. We’re not alone. There are many others God raises up to help us. We’re not the whole body, just one member of it. There’s no need for us to be it all and to do it all. If only God’s people would come to rest in God’s sufficiency and in their own limitations, how much happier and more at peace they’d be.


PRAYER:  Dear Father in heaven, please help me to assess myself soberly and to recognize both my strengths and my limitations. Open my eyes to the gifts and talents of those whom You’ve placed in my life to help me carry the burden. May I not be driven by guilt, but let me be motivated by love and guided by Your peace. Lead me to find my niche in Your kingdom and let me be content to serve You there. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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