What if I know the reason lives are filled with stress and Christians are ineffective witnesses for Jesus? What if I told you correcting this one thing could alter the trajectory of your life? And what if I told you the answer to this problem isn’t complex.
We live in a fast-paced, super-charged culture. One that demands more. One that asks us to go in fifth gear. Pedal to the medal. Every minute of every day. I know you have felt this weight. It is expected of us. And this dangerous expectation drives us to the brink of exhaustion, then asks us to keep going. It asks us to juggle fifteen balls with only two arms.
So, what is the answer? Why are we overcome with stress and ineffective witnesses for Christ?
“Margins? What are you talking about Frank?” This is how Richard Swenson defines it in his book, Margin.
Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.
And if you are a Christian, margin is the gap between properly and improperly stewarding the life and resources God has given you. Here is where “the rubber meets the road.” Margins are a stewardship issue. And if we are honest, we have been bad stewards. Our “marginless” lives are destroying our calling as followers of Jesus. They are preventing the world from seeing Jesus. And they are hindering us from growing into the image of God.
So, I want to highlight 4 ways margins impact our lives and finish with some tips for creating margins.
1.) Margins give us opportunities to steward our finances well.
Our country is in massive debt. According to one site, the average American adult has $4,878 in credit card debt. If you really want to be depressed, check out the National Debt Clock, which estimates each American’s share of the country’s debt to be $56,580.69 (as of this writing). We live in a culture that operates on debt.
But this is not God’s way. Look at this.
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.Ephesians 4:28
Why should followers of Jesus make an honest living?…”To share with one who has need.” Now, contrast Paul’s words with the state of Christianity in America. In this country, Christians give an average of 2-3% of their income to a local church. I understand many Christians give to other non-profits and kingdom efforts. But don’t miss the point. If everything we have is from God, why is more not going back to his church? Why is more not being used “to share with one who has need”?
No margins. What is the cultural expectation? Upgrade in salary = upgrade in standard of living. And we believe God would do the same in our shoes. He would buy a bigger house. He would buy a new car. He would buy a retreat house. But what if we have taken the God of the universe and painted him in American colors for our own justification?
I am not saying boats and cars are wrong. But they are wrong when having them erases the margin in our finances and resources. Those things are wrong when they put us in massive debt. Your finances often reveal the things most important to you. How important is God?
2.) Margins allow us to steward our lives well.
A “marginless” life equals a stressful life. I saw a statistic today stating approximately one out of five American adults suffers from some form of depression, anxiety, or other related illness. I understand chemical balances and legitimate health issues exist. I am not talking about those. I am talking about the cases of anxiety and depression that are a result of a life littered with events and busy schedules.
I am a great example. Two years ago, I reached a low point in my life. I was anxious. I was hopeless. I even considered suicide. But my problem wasn’t a chemical imbalance. My problem was I exchanged the truth of God for a lie. I believed rest was for the lazy and weak. I believed a schedule filled with events and activities was a life of productivity. The lie drove me to the edge…and eventually it pushed me over.
Come on guys. Really?
What happened to a night at home with the family? What happened to a weekend with nothing on the schedule? Even family vacations are considered a waste of time if they are not filled with stuff. No downtime. No stopping. Every hour of every day must be filled. It is madness.
We bought the lie that says busyness equals production and success. But God isn’t impressed with our busy schedule. He doesn’t sympathize with our busy lifestyle. It’s time to create margins. It will reduce stress. It will open up time to spend with God.
3.) Margins create opportunities to steward our mission well.
Let’s face it…Christians are ineffective because we are too busy. For many of us, it’s really not a lack of knowledge or even fear. We just don’t have time in our schedule for other people. We don’t even have time to breath. Ballgames. Dance lessons. Cheerleading practice. Sorority/fraternity events. Favorite tv shows. I am already exhausted.
How in the world are we going to evangelize, disciple, and pour into other people with all this stuff going on?
If we, men and women of God, do not create margins in our lives to fulfill the Great Commission, the church won’t be around after our departure. I contend busyness (resulting from a lack of margins) is one of the single greatest issue facing the church today.
The older generation is too inundated with job responsibilities, board meetings, and tv shows to pour into the younger generation. The younger generation is too busy watching Netflix, browsing all 70 social media platforms, and attending every social event on our respective high school or college campus to allow the older generation to invest in us.
And both generations are too busy to invest in those who don’t know Jesus. It is an act of God that we are able to fulfill every responsibility on the schedule. If Christians want to live counter-culturally, it needs to start with creating margins to invest in God’s work. Without this shift, the church will continue to disappear at an increasingly alarming rate.
4.) Margins help us steward our relationship with God well.
The amount of time Christians devote to God is alarming. Myself included. God often gets our leftovers. He gets the last part of our day (if we have time). Could it be that our ineffectiveness and distance from God are a result of the lack of time we spend with him?
If God really is the creator of the universe, should we not create margins for Him? If God is important, and we understand that he sustains us and is the source of our hope, joy, peace, salvation, we need to create space for Him.
We can say we are too busy for God. But really we aren’t. Other activities are simply more important.
Here are five tips to help you create more margins in your life:
1.) Quit something.
Do it today. Author Bob Goff quits something every Thursday.
2.) Stop looking at social media so often.
One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time. -John Piper
Create boundaries for social media. Stick to them. You might be surprised how much time you free up by simply staying away from social media. You might also be surprised by how your anxiousness, sense of purpose, and general mood improve.
3.) Get up early in the morning.
I wrote about that here. This really has changed my life. You have an opportunity to attack your day, and you set the stage for the rest of the day by starting it with God.
4.) Create 15 minutes of space for every activity and event on your schedule.
This might help you avoid the horn or the “wrong” finger while driving to work. It could help you avoid anxiousness and stress if you are hosting a dinner party. It could prevent you from looking like a monster as you show up for class. It could give you an opportunity to reach out to someone before or after your scheduled lunch. You get the idea.
5.) Make a category in your budget for “helping people.”
My wife and I started doing this recently. We continue to give the same amount to our local church. But we have an additional budget item for any opportunity we see to help other people. This could be non-profits doing amazing work for God, people we pass on the street, or people God introduces to us.
Margins are important. No, they are essential. At least they are essential if we value a life of peace, a life on mission for God, and a life conformed into his image. I encourage you to begin creating margins in your life. “Marginless” living is dangerous. As men and women of God, we must see that he calls us to something different. God calls us to create margins for others. God calls us to create margins for ourselves. God calls us to margins for Him.