Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reflections on Life Margin

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

John 15:1-5 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

As John 15 so eloquently portrays, “connection to the vine” is a foundational requirement for good fruit. Life margin is the intentional cultivation of a God honoring lifestyle that embraces harmony and balance among the key life domains, (God, family, work, church, community, rest, and recreation) under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We cannot reduce margin to a legalistic formula given the complexity of life and God’s intricate plans. There are seasons of intense work followed by rest and family emphasis. What are some of the key principles for remaining “connected to the vine?”

We are frequently our own worst enemy when it comes to life margin. Regent professors and students are very achievement oriented, and we do not like to lose. Satan inflates the importance of the ends to encourage the use of illegitimate means, or to deceive us regarding the moral integrity of the ends. Our drive to succeed can enslave us as we attempt to achieve goals that we falsely believe equate with enduring success. We use the wrong standards and measuring stick to assess success. Godly success occurs through the ongoing work of sanctification and Christian character development as we learn to live, work and play like Christ. It is a pernicious lie that success and peace comes from things, not the creator. Our challenge is to recalibrate our standards of excellence and the goals/ends pursued according to God's metrics. As author, Richard Swenson states in his book Margin, the most important criterion of success is the cultivation of obedience through loving relationships.

Satan adroitly uses the temptation of accomplishments and recognition to distract each of us from our true mission and purpose. In effect, our spiritual job description is always the most important element. The pride of performance, recognition, and wealth is a powerful drug that manifests diminishing returns thereby increasing our craving for more attention and recognition. Many Christians are enslaving their lives to the God of mammon blinded by the allure of power, wealth, and material comforts over relationships. No one on their deathbed regrets not making more money; it is the deep pain of lost time and relationships that trouble the soul. Let us commit to place our hearts and minds on the things of God. Only the blood of Jesus provides the solution.

We must make time for the simple, but profoundly important elements that are the heartbeat of God, which is time spent in loving God and others. Modern life presents the continual temptation to substitute activity over being, by the need to prove our spiritual mettle by works. Busyness disconnects us from the vine and the life giving presence and voice of the Holy Spirit. A hectic level of activity promotes legalism, a spirit of works, and a spirit of pride as we are unable to discern the best from the good. Our frenetic activity level leaves us vulnerable to compassion fatigue, discouragement and an absence of joy. We become vulnerable to all forms of temptation given that we are not walking closely with our first love. Is the root cause of our malady the amount of time, or is it something else?

The key factor is to ask the Lord to identify our root motive for what we do. We must rest in the spirit of grace if our motives are to flow from God's perfect will. The challenge is to separate the “best from the good.” Clearly, the answer is resting in the grace of God and receiving his instructions that define the true “best” elements.

God frequently brings us to the end of our personal resources to snap our lethargy and spirit of self-sufficiency. The absence of Godly vision distorts our lenses. When we operate under our own power and authority, we alternate between pride and fear, impatience and procrastination. I understand how frustrating and painful such a time of overload represents (both in a physical and emotional setting), but this weapon that the enemy formed against you will not prosper. I pray for the liberating presence of the Holy Spirit to guide your steps as you "right-size."

Working mothers have great challenges in this area, and the key is to avoid labeling family member “wants” and luxuries as necessities forcing women to become "super moms." Our journey in life takes many circuitous paths, and one of the burdens we add is assuming an inordinate degree of responsibility for our family success and safety, especially for single parent families. Being from a broken home myself, I understand the pain and the fear. We must focus on the essentials as directed by God. Given the inherent stresses and spiritual warfare burdens that single parenting create, the single parent's level of margin is narrower than a fully intact family. This requires an even more enhanced prioritization process. The absence of margin can assume the role of a spiritual stronghold and a generational curse. God provides the means to deliver us from generational sins if we confess, repent and renounce our sins and seek first the Kingdom of God. Breaking the yokes of oppression includes remedying the absence of margin and simplicity. We must be available for our children. The family is ground zero of the spiritual warfare battle. The wounds inflicted on children are designed to imprison and yoke them with lifetime burdens and to promote sinful and dysfunctional means to meeting needs.

Margin entails the ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines. To pray continually means that we are mindful and God communicates to us in our everyday activities. When we dedicate our everyday activities to the Lord, they become a sacred prayer and hymn of worship. To meditate on the word is important, as quantity is not nearly as important as heart-based reflection. The challenge for each one of us is to build Godly margin so we can engage in a vital two-way relationship. We must set God-honoring boundaries to cultivate margin and the energy to love others deeply. One key element is to keep the Sabbath a time of God, rest and family. This entails limiting our work hours, taking time for exercise, sleep and rest, and eating correctly.

We must separate the best from the good through ongoing communion with the Lord. One of the great temptations that we must face is simply adding unessential tasks and duties. If we sweep our house clean, and do not keep it filled with the Holy Spirit, we will continue to add more clutter. Our role is to obey God and perform to the best of our abilities. An honest day's work and be content with our wages. God is responsible for the outcome and the fruit. If we take responsibility for success and failure, we are implicitly assuming control over the outcome promoting a prideful attitude. May the Lord provide His ongoing blessings guidance as He provides greater levels of margin based grace.

Swenson, R. (2004). Margin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives. Colorado Springs, CO: Navigation Press.