God-Designed Margins

In Psalm 23:1-4 (Msg), king David writes, “God, You are my shepherd. I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows. You find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

2016 was a very difficult year for many of us. Corporately, we have all had to work at “catching our breath.” We faced immense challenges together, and God has helped us and, I believe, “sent us in the right direction.” I am grateful for your support and prayers, and believe that 2017 will become a year of break through and blessing for our corporate KCCS family as we continue to allow the Lord to shepherd us.

A month or so ago, I attended an educator’s conference in Canmore and one of the keynote speakers was Dr. Terry Young. He spoke on The Mystery of the Margin. The topic intrigued me, as I was personally engaged in a struggle to keep all of my commitments, and was facing higher than usual levels of fatigue.

The thesis of Young’s presentation was that every one of us carries what can be best described as the load of life (alluding to Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things I Carry). When the load we are carrying exceeds our resources and capabilities to carry, we have exceeded margin and will eventually suffer for it.

2016 was my 9-11 day turned into a yearlong experience. The load exceeded my personal resources, and I know that I lost healthy margins. Dr. Young stated, “a good life, like a good book, has margins.” I wanted my life to be a good book read, but I knew my life was being stretched beyond what would actually be healthy: I needed my Good Shepherd’s help so that I could “rest and catch [my] breath.”

R – L = M – Resources minus Load equals Margins

             R – resources: all of us have resources, some more than others. Resources can be described as deposits in our account: time, health, emotional stamina, character, education, skill sets, friendships, financial stability, godly wisdom – the reward of God, blessing. Outlining and defining what they are personally is a healthy process.

L – load: all of us have loads, which are not necessarily negative, but they require withdrawals from the account: work, health, expectations, conflict, emotional stress, pressures, trauma, heavy spiritual lifting, financial debt – the challenges of life. Even bridges have “load limits,” but how do we define our load levels?

Overload has not always been with us. Today is a different day: sociologists are calling it “hyper-living” (David Zach), and many are pointing to a new phenomenon called the “twitching of America” (Bob Greene). Let’s look at some of the load nuances:

  • activity overload – doing two or three things at once, sleeping 2.5 hours less than people did 100 years ago;
  • work overload – 40 years ago futurists were pondering what man was going to do with all of his spare time: eg. in a US Senate hearing in 1967 they stated that by 1985 people would be working 22 hours a week or twenty-seven weeks a year (the average work week has actually increased);
  • change overload – change is now at warp speed;
  • choice overload – 1980 (12,000 choices in the supermarket, today – 30,000 – eg, 186 choices for breakfast cereal);
  • commitment overload – more commitments than time – some people cannot say, ‘No!;’
  • debt overload – every sector of society is awash in red ink – we have less savings than any previous generation;
  • fatigue overload – we are a tired society trying to do too much too quickly (54% of people admit to being more exhausted at the end of their vacation);
  • media/information overload – in my field of ministry, if I read two ministry articles a day, next year I will be eight centuries behind in my reading;
  • possession overload – more toys, more time, and it is estimated that the average person needs to know how to operate close to 20,000 pieces of equipment; and
  • traffic overload – shorter weeks and higher incomes have backfired as people are spending years in their vehicles, over-working and under-relating


M – margin: when our resources are greater than our load, we have healthy margins. In that scenario, if another download occurs, we can sustain it. We have a buffer zone. When our resources are less than our load, overload occurs, margins are lost, and we lose our ability to cope. Overload moves us to work harder and longer, creates intense emotions (irritability, depression), makes us susceptible to physical breakdown (sleeplessness, eating disorders, colds), and opens the door to spiritual attack (prayerlessness, exhaustion and vulnerability). Margins are not a luxury: they are a necessity for health.

Have margins gotten worse, or better, over these past few decades?

The Challenges of 21st C Living

            Dr. Stensen, in his book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial And Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives” says, “Marginless living is now the universal constant. Humanity is on overload, stressed, joyless, overwhelmed, and suffering the pain of diminishing margins….Margin has been stolen and progress is the thief.”

Progress is the thief? Progress isn’t always progress; sometimes it is regress. Progress works by giving us more and more, faster and faster. Progress often increases stress, change, complexity, intensity, and eventually collides with human limitations. It removes from us the room to breathe, to think, even the permission to heal.

Most of our modern idea of progress is connected to the assessment of our physical and cognitive environments (“are we healthier, wealthier and more knowledgeable?”), but most of our pain comes from the social, emotional and spiritual environments (“are we relationally more connected, are our emotions healthy, are we in a better place spiritually?”).

Though the first two environments are critically important (and tend to be the most visible), the next three environments are even more important. William Wilberforce fought slavery for 45 years. When slavery was abolished, he did not refer to progress as coming from wealth, education or political power, but from a shift to the virtues of love, kindness towards his fellow man, and a concern for eternity. Progress was measured by virtue.

Are we progressing where we really need to progress, in the inner man, in the health of the soul, and in our relationship to God and truth?

Words of Pastoral Advice for 2017

  • Plan your time – everyone needs God time, personal time, family time, sharing time;
  • Prune your activity – speeding up doesn’t mean you are accomplishing more: for many, busyness serves solely as a “hedge against emptiness” (Tim Kreider, The Busy Trap);
  • Practice simplicity, contentment and gratitude for what you have rather than racing to get what you do not have – “what does it profit a man if he can the whole world and lose his ow soul?”Give a man everything that he wants and at that same very moment everything will not be everything” (Immanuel Kant);
  • Separate time from technology – take an e-mail, Facebook, Link-in, messaging fast;
  • Get less done but concentrate on doing the right things;
  • Relish memories – thinking back gives context and appreciation for what you have now);
  • Don’t rush wisdom – be willing to wait for it, study, read a bit more, meditate on truth;
  • Speak more slowly – slow your life down, don’t be afraid to stand in line;
  • Smile more frequently – enjoy the small spaces that bring life;
  • Trash the extraneous – you have to learn to lighten the backpack;
  • Learn to pray and to play again – stop, talk to God and connect to others; and
  • Enter your rest – there is a difference between “rest” and “leisure:” our present world has much leisure but is suffering for rest. Some sociologists are calling it “lethal leisure.” Profit-making swallows up our Sabbaths. Our drive to achieve produces greater unrest. Someone said,

We are not called to rest because our work is done;
we are commanded to rest because our Creator ordered it
and created us to have a need for it
God rested on the seventh day, and He wasn’t even tired!”

            So, my prayer for you in 2017 is that the Lord will be your shepherd, that you will find rest for your souls, clean and pure streams to drink from, and that you will, under His direction, be able to catch your breath, and move within God-designed margins, resulting in health and life.