Grab Hold Of Your Life!

Well, it is into the middle of the first month of the new year 2020. And, we are all busy back at our regular routines. Christmas – both the western version and the eastern Orthodox version – are over and done with for another year. And, New Year’s celebrations have become a vague memory. We are back to normal, whatever your normal is. Even in the world of ministry everyone is back to ministering. Normal has returned.
However, regardless of what you do, it is a good time to remember that if we always do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. So, it might be a good time to look at making some changes. After all, 2019 was not the most fulfilling year of your life. You finished the year in a different place than the one you were originally aiming at. Things did not work out the way you planned they would.
There is a word that I have been using a lot more recently. It is an easy word to know, remember, and speak. It is a one syllable word. Simple and easy. Practice it with me. “No!” That it. But, this simple word will change your life allowing you extra time to think, pray, and journal. To just be instead of always doing. After all, you are a human ‘being’ and not a human ‘doing’. To be a human being and have a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus you need margin in your life.

In his best selling book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson defined the term ‘margin’ as “the space between our load and our limits.” What we are currently carrying is our load, and our capacity to carry that load is our limit.
Sadly most of us have erased that space entirely. We live with zero space between our load and our limit. We are living on the edge with nothing to spare. Many are at their breaking point and have nothing left to give. We are just one small decision away from the load circle and the limit circle overlapping on top of each other perfectly. When our limits become our load, that’s when we experience personal (and professional) burnout and depletion.
But  this gets tricky in Christian culture, because we often encourage the idea of being busy to the point of leaving no margin in our lives. How do I know that? Because I hear such statements as:
You are doing the Lord’s work!
He will fill you up and sustain you!
You need to be doing big things for God!
And, these statements are spoken when, no matter what job you are doing in the world, you express that you are tired, broken, over-worked, frustrated…These words are meant to encourage you because you are a Christian and God will support and encourage you. Nonsense! He only supports what He has asked us to do – and He certainly has not asked us to burnout and live without meaning and personal space and time. We were made for more and better than what we are experiencing.
If we allocate 100 percent of our time, we have nothing left over – so if something unexpected happens in our days (which we can count on to happen), we are left trying to rush to the next thing. We are now hurrying ourselves – and those around us. And, we need to remember, “Hurry is violence to the soul.”
One of the quickest ways to curb that violence to our own humanity is learn to say “no” in a world of “yeses.”
If you’re not saying no to good things, you’re probably not saying no enough. With the increasing access we have to each other, we have to make sure we’re saying no frequently. I have personally been trying to starve my schedule a bit more recently. I discovered that whenever I feed it, it seems to only grow plumper – needing more and more food the next week and the week after. More activity, More involvement. More appointments.
Since I first read Dr. Swenson’s book (and I reread it at least once a year) I have placed a ruthlessly high value on space and margin. I fight for it relentlessly, which takes an enormous amount of work. And, at times I still fail and book more ministry and more appointments and more writing deadlines than I can actually comfortably handle and still maintain margin – personal space and time. But I am working on it on a regular basis and moving forward in maintaining margin.
I find it weird that people admire others who are extra busy. But honestly, can’t everyone do that? Last time I checked, it’s easy to fill an entire week. I’m now more interested in people who schedule as little as possible, only what is essential and best for their flourishing. THAT takes work. And commitment. Focus. Vision. That’s countercultural to the society and world in which we live. And totally opposite to the Christian and church culture.
When we don’t make this decision to live with margin and follow through then we will learn the hard way. You will learn from the great teacher Burnout. You will first spend time with Master Overwhelm. You will continue to do things that seem great and awesome and important (which is what hurry feeds on best), but you end the week feeling unfulfilled. Burned out and a little more on edge. Depleted and wound up.
It is time for Christians – and especially Christian leaders – to be asking ourselves: Why do we have a full schedule? Why do we think we have to do these things? What stuff is necessary to live and what stuff isn’t? What if we prioritize doing nothing? What is “being” becomes more important than “doing”?
And, how will al this happen. Ready for it? Make your default answer no.
That’s it. Without realizing it, most of us make our default answer yes. So, a simple switch from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ and you will, over time, regain margin in your life. And thus regain and reclaim your real life.
“Hurry is violence to the soul.”  That is a good phrase or slogan to remember in 2020. And to remove “hurry,” as we saw last time (Part One), we need to learn how to say that little but powerful word “no.”
For most of us our default answer to requests is an automatic “yes.” We seem to believe that time is a more abundant resource in the future than It is now. We have our plate full now with just regular life and yet think that somehow later we will have some free time. That spare time will magically or miraculously appear on our crowded schedules. We refuse to believe that the time we have today is the same time we will have next week and a year from now. But it is not a more abundant resource in the future.
So, we are asked:
Want to come over for dinner? Yes.
Can you meet for coffee? Yes.
Want to come and minister to our people? Yes.
Can you bring the snacks to the next meeting? Yes.
Will you lead a small group? Yes.
And it is not just the people who say yes who suffer from “the YES Syndrome.” Their family and close friends suffer too. Our individuality is only a small part of a web of relationships and interpersonal communications that affect our work and our day-to-day lives – and the resources we have available, especially time.
I have to apply this approach almost daily. As I am asked to travel to various places to minister it is always my desire to say yes. It is what I am called to do. It is how the Lord has wired me as I love to teach, prophesy, and minister. But, I need to be aware that to teach then means preparation time now. That travelling then means being home now.
Another example: I get asked for coffees constantly. People want to meet with me. People want to speak to me (FaceTime, Skype, Viber, WhatApp, iPhone, and on the list goes). I now ask what it is they want to talk about. What is it that they want me to do for them. I simply no longer have coffee just to have coffee. I don’t answer calls simply to talk on the phone (I hate phones). So, what is it that this person thinks I can do for them? What are they wanting from me? I want to invest my time wisely and not just spend it or waste it. So, I don’t say yes until I know why they want a piece of my time.
Remember, you can’t save time for the future. You either invest it, spend it, or waste it. But it is always now.
Here is what I had to learn: It is nor selfish to say no. This is about having time to love ourselves and love our neighbours better. So we practice and get really good at saying no. In our world, if we don’t learn how to say no, we will lose, simply because we have access to more things than ever before.
I have had to learn to say no in two different areas, and both have not been easy.
The first is saying no to the incredibly, awesome, “once in a lifetime” things. And the other is saying no to the daily micro-mundane asks and decisions that eat away at our flourishing like water damage in a house. Slow and steady, and methodical and toxic.
Don’t buy into the lie that a full schedule means productivity or holiness, or success, or achievement. It is okay to turn the cell phone off mid-evening so you can have some quiet time. It is definitely alright not to turn it on as soon as you get up in the morning. Admit it, we can be called, texted, tagged, snapped, voice memoed, commented to, FaceTimed, DM’d, private messaged, Voxed, e-mailed, WhatApped, and more anytime. While we are sleeping. When we are on a day off. When we are on vacation. When we are cooking or cleaning or going to the bathroom. We literally cannot escape someone trying to communicate with us. And it can be almost anyone. Because we live in a culture of reachability and access when we demand, in nice Christian ways, of course, access at all times to other people.
I receive a large number of “messages” daily. Because I work here and on the opposite side of the planet, where they are 12 hours ahead of us, they come in all day and all night. And, often if I don’t answer an email right away I get a text telling me they just sent me an email. Or, they write a Facebook message and if I don’t respond in an hour or two I will get the same message by email. If I don’t return a call within an hour, they call again. So, I have had to learn to say no to an immediate response, period! I get to them when I get to them. When I have time and am not rushed I answer them if I know them. The rest may get an answer if time allows. Instant access simply exists for a very select few and only if they don’t misuse the privilege.
We often don’t get to control how much people ask of our time. Thankfully, though, we do have control over our yes and no. It is time to learn to say no more often.
As a believer we need to realize that “time” is not a renewable resource or a replaceable asset. It cannot be bought, rolled over, transferred, or cashed in. It can only be stewarded or wasted. And by “wasted,” I don’t mean being lazy. I mean the opposite: wasting time by being busy and over scheduled. When we treat time the same way we treat the earth – something to exploit, use, and squeeze every last drop of life from – that’s truly wasting time.
Time is sacred. It’s not something in a petri dish or beaker to be measured and broken apart. We are not in control. Time is something to be submitted to. A table to sit at. Where every moment is holy and beautiful and special.
I have been recently been relearning to carve up my time wisely. God first, me second, family third, close relationships fourth, community involvement fifth, and then ministry (and I am carefully selecting which invites to say yes to and which I say no to). And, I make sure that there is always margin (see first two blogs in this series) to be able to listen to God’s voice so I don’t miss moments He puts in front of me to interact with my neighbours or people at coffee shops.
After that, the clock hits zero. The asset called time is drained. The biggest change in me after embracing this formation is that now I’m simply willing to admit that my time is limited. I hold no illusions. I cannot do everything asked of me or everything I’m able to or want to do. In fact, isn’t it weird we think that at all? Recognizing that limit, in my opinion, is the first step to what feels like a superpower – much more meaning-focused spiritual work, and much more anchored and loving presence of being.
It’s not about being selfish or weird or introverted. It’s about creating a life centered around priorities we care about most, making sure they don’t fall by the wayside. There simply isn’t time for everything. I personally don’t feel restrained by that. I once did. I now come alive because this realization gives me permission to be all in with me (personal time and space), my family, Jesus, close friends, my Church, and my neighbours and community.
So if you want me to hop on a phone call or listen to your new idea, you’ll have to tell me which person or thing on my priority list you’re more important than, and then maybe we can talk. And that not even me trying to be mean. I now view my day as a jar of rocks already full. Rocks represent those things that are important to me. So for your rock to fit in, one must come out.
It’s okay to believe we have a finite amount of time. It’s okay to believe we cannot add anything else to our schedules. We reveal ourselves with our asks – and how we respond to others’ asks. Thinking we have all the time in the world is costing us something. Our sanity. Our family. Our health. Our joy. If you don’t have enough time to do nothing, then you don’t have enough time. (Reread that last sentence – it’s important).
We aren’t God. And so we should stop acting like we are. Being human means embracing the limits, not trying to cheat them.
Not many of us recognize – and rarely do we wrestle with – how much we actually love chaos and franticness and busyness. We don’t admit that it does something to our soul and we enjoy it. It gives us purpose and meaning. We feel needed. We feel important.
And, most of all, we implicitly believe the lie that we need to take care of ourselves, because God just might forget about us. But I believe God takes care of His people – even more when they are honouring Him and trusting His design and Spirit. And He’s been doing this since the beginning of the story.
We have mentioned “margin” in this short series of blogs. We can only truly give from margin. Financially,. Emotionally. Vocationally.
Purposely living below our means and not buying everything the world says we need – and maybe saying no to an extra cqar, or a bigger house – leaves margin in our finances. It leaves space. We are spending less than what we have, so we have margin. And when we have margin, we have freedom. Freedom to give, freedom to invest, and freedom from stress.
Same goes with our time.
Don’t spend all the time you have. So you can be free and use it to serve.
When we read through the Gospels, some of the craziest stories about Jesus happened because He lived with margin. Because He had margin He let Himself be interrupted. He wasn’t in a hurry. What He was on His way to do could wait. He was open to the Spirit’s leading.
Most of us today schedule the Holy Spirit right out of our calendar, so we don’t have space to be ready to serve in the ordinary, mundane, unnoticed ways.
So many love to be busy. Volunteering at a scheduled service project. Taking a mission trip (and never seeing the people again after we leave). Leading a small group (but never seeing any of them the rest of the week).
I believe passionately that my street and neighbourhood matters. That we are called to live in those places and in those stories. And furthermore, within those ordinary places, we are called to live in ordinary moments as we go through our days, and to specifically and purposely create space (margin) so we have time for them. And for the people we live with. And next to. And see over and over again.
I wonderful, as do other leaders I relate to, if our busyness with ‘big things’ or ‘big dreams’ or the Great Commission (Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 to go into all the nations and “make disciples”) is actually our excuse to not have to know the people who live next door?
When we hear the words Great Commission, we immediately think of going out from the call of Jesus to do superhero-type work in a big, loud way. I mean, Jesus Himself said “go and make disciples of all nations,” right?
But have we somehow forgotten that the person across the hall, and the mailman, and the neighbour, and the barista qualify as people and live in a nation? So why do we have to go do some crazy big thing for God, when the command He gave us can be fulfilled by just being faithful and loving well over and over again?
We probably buy into this lie because we don’t remind ourselves that the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, are a highlight reel. It’s the memorable stories of the early church, compiled to pass on the teachings of Jesus and tell the story of the first-century movement. But it covers just under a hundred years, and it’s a pretty tiny book!
Christianity did not become a movement that turned the world upside down because a guy named Paul was crazy, brave, adventurous, and bold and travelled the world to tell others about Jesus. That contributed, sure. But the world got turned upside down because there were thousands of people who loved Jesus – people we will never hear about or whose names we will never know – and they ate dinners with the people around them.
They said hi to their neighbours.
They lived as witnesses in their daily routines.
Ministry is not just heading out to preach and teach in a church somewhere. Ministry is not just being ordained and having a position and title. Ministry is not this huge, public, notice me event that we plan and execute with precision. Ministry is simply living daily life aware of God’s presence, walking in His peace, releasing His power as we are led in the details of that daily life by the Holy Spirit. We need to choose to have a relatively “boring” life full of incredible richness and meaning. Not one overloaded with activities and events lived on the edge of exhaustion and collapse.
But, to have real life and thus real ministry to the people we come into contact daily we must first have margin.
Seneca (an ancient philosopher) wrote that one of the more complex and truly confusing things about our human experience is how we treat time. And how we weirdly treat it so much differently than other assets or things under our rule. He said,
“No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbour can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives – worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passers-by, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers. You can only hand so many hours of your day over to other people before there is nothing left.”
Even if there is something left, you may have lost the clarity, the energy, and the capacity to do anything with it.