Within days after making our recent cross-country move from California to Tennessee, a friend from back in California persisted in calling me. When her number popped up on my caller ID yet again, I thought to myself, “Why does she keep bothering me? Doesn’t she know I don’t have time to chit chat right now?” My negative and ungrateful thoughts immediately convicted me. After all, having a friend who cares about me and wants to know how I’m doing is a blessing! Could I really not take a moment to honor someone by sharing a few minutes of my time with her? What would please the Lord more: taking time to nurture relationship with one of His children, or filling up every waking moment of my time with organizing, unpacking and running errands? It occurred to me that I was making myself so busy with my to-do list that I wasn’t allowing any “margin” in my time.
Margin. It’s a word I’ve been hearing a lot lately, and it’s become my mantra in this unnecessarily busy season of my life. Most of us are familiar with the definition of margin as “the space around the printed or written matter on a page”. However, another definition of margin perhaps better explains the term as I’m referring to it. Margin may also be defined as “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary”, or “a limit in condition, capacity, etc., beyond or below which something ceases to exist, be desirable, or be possible”.
Though I’d heard the term margin in this context before, I never thought of it as a concept I needed to apply in my own life until I learned about it in Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. Then my pastor mentioned margin in one of his messages. I know that when God is trying to tell me something, He continues to bring it up in a variety of settings until I take note.
I admit that there is very little margin in my life at the present time. The lack of margin is apparent in the way my stress level goes through the roof when someone asks me to go out for lunch or coffee or to take on a minor service commitment. I freak out because I just don’t know where I’m going to find the time! Another example of my need for margin presented itself during last week’s church service. Our pastor informed the congregation that the church’s weekly offerings are falling far short of what’s needed to cover weekly costs. I wanted to help, but unfortunately I have nothing to give. Guess why? No margin in my finances. From month to month I strap myself by spending my paycheck before I even receive it. I have left no margin for giving gifts, tithing, or contributing to important and worthy causes. Every month my paycheck is already spent to pay the credit card bill I racked up the month before.
The idea of leaving “blank space” in my life for God to speak to me, guide me, and direct me greatly appeals to me and is a necessary practice in my Christian walk. In order to honor the Lord when He calls me to do something and to love my neighbor as myself, I must leave margin in my time, energy, and finances.
So how can I create more margin in my life? A solution came to me through a woman in my Bible study group. She shared how a friend had reminded her of our need to ask the Lord to order our steps. When we do so, He will help us identify what’s really important and say no to the unnecessary:
The LORD directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the LORD holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37:23-24; NLT)
A fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Boy do I need it! At all times it’s important to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in me to produce all of the fruit of the Spirit, but at this juncture in my walk with God, my need for self-control is paramount. The Holy Spirit began helping me develop restraint the moment I started praying for it! I recognized the Spirit’s work in me during a recent trip to Target. In weeks previous, I had spent hundreds of dollars at the store for things I “needed” for our new house. However, on my most recent Target visit I passed up the $100 area rug I wanted, and with the exception of a $1 Yoda cup for my son, I only purchased what I intended to purchase (a spiral notebook and a sympathy card). Yeah, God!
Notice that there is only one fruit of the Spirit. Though nine spiritual qualities are listed (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), they are not Spiritual “fruits” plural. This is because the characteristics are intertwined, complementing and supplementing each other. For example, as the Holy Spirit grants me greater self-control, the other fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in my life at the same time. If I have greater self-control, I am able to say no to activities that are not a good use of my time. In doing so, I develop peace. When I feel peaceful, I am more loving, kind, and joyful. When I am joyful, I am more patient and gentle. When I exercise self-control with money, I am able to give and demonstrate faithfulness to God. So the fruit is one, and in order to obtain it I must walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26; ESV; emphasis mine)
Lord, may I glorify you in every area of my life – with my time, money, and possessions, and with my body and in my relationships. Help me preserve margin for friends, family, financial giving, and for just being still with you.
Enjoy Switchfoot’s This is Your Life
Dictionary.com, s.v. “margin,” accessed October 31, 2015, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/margin?s=t.
Priscilla Shirer, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 2014).