I Got Rhythm, I Got Margin (Who Could Ask for Anything More?)

For those of us in ministry, fatigue can often seem like a badge of honor. “Look at me! I’m so sold out for God that I’m burnt out all the time!” But God didn’t design us to be perennially run down. It is possible—and far preferable—to steward our bodies and minds, living healthy lives instead of constantly fatigued ones.

To be consistently healthy, you need two things: rhythm and margin.

Rhythm: Familiar Yet Novel

God made the world according to rhythms, and there is something inherently beautiful about them. Rhythms combine our innate desire for the familiar with our equally innate desire for the novelRhythms are simultaneously comfortable yet exciting.

In Genesis 1, God created the universe in a beautiful, sequenced rhythm. The seasons follow each other in the same fashion. Our bodies reflect this rhythm, as our lungs and heart follow specific repeating patterns. Music, even the most bizarre, always follows a set rhythm. Stories, too.

Rhythm keeps you from running down. The alternative to following a rhythm is that you will find yourself rushing from one thing to the next, getting “inexplicably” tired. But it’s not inexplicable: it’s by design. Running wide open in everything you do wears you out.

Many people feel like adopting a rhythm or pattern in personal areas of life means that they’ll become routine and stale. When we schedule something, we think, we risk cheapening its authenticity and sincerity. But I’ve found the opposite to be the case. If I don’t make intentional for most things, they don’t stay fresh and authentic—they simply don’t happen at all.

Take, as just one example, reading books. People often ask me how I read as many books as I do. A lot of that is that I set aside 30 minutes every night to read. It’s a part of my daily rhythm. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish when you have designated time in your daily or weekly rhythm.

To recover a rhythm in your life, you need intentionality and constancy. Designate a recurring time for the important parts of your life, and stick to it. Do your quiet time at the same time every day. Carve out time with your spouse and your children. And if your work is like mine—requiring many of the same activities week after week—then follow a pattern. Brainstorm, execute, celebrate, rest.

Most people can sustain tremendous amounts of strain if they know what to expect. And that is precisely what rhythm accomplishes.

Margin: Don’t Max Out

Margin dovetails in to the idea of rhythm. A rhythmic life will be one that has plenty of “give” to it. Stress doesn’t just come from challenging tasks, but from maxing out all of our capacities. Margin means we intentionally keep ourselves from constantly running “in the red.”

So pull out your calendar and ask yourself: what do you need to do in the upcoming week? This should be a short list. Eat. Sleep. Grow spiritually. Perform your job well. Love your family. These aren’t necessarily easy tasks, but they should be simple to come up with.

The next step is always easier to say than to do: ensure that you have time for these “big rocks,” and keep the peripheral items peripheral. You need to take control of your calendar, because if you don’t, someone will take control of it for you.

As Reggie Joiner says in Parenting Beyond Your Capacity,

“By prioritizing what matters most, you end up with more time. Well, maybe not more actual time, but more margin. You cut the clutter out of your life. You begin to sort through the issues that both positively and negatively affect your capacity. You’ll tend to learn what’s most important because you’re doing more important things.” (173)

More margin means more energy. Asking ourselves some simple questions can identify whether we’re recharging how we should be. Do I regularly exercise? Do I know how much sleep my body needs, and carve out time for it? (Approximately 1–3% of the population can legitimately get by on less sleep. Be honest: it’s probably not you.) Do I know my body’s diet needs for maximum energy? Do I regularly retreat to find beauty in nature, literature, music?

One particularly dangerous thief of margin is social media. When it comes to social media, there are a lot of benefits. But nothing can eat up margin (and subtly increase stress) like Facebook and Twitter. Social media jumbles up the brain, amps up anxiety, and reduces motivation. It’s a mess.

So what to do? This article had some helpful tips. For instance:

  • Schedule your social media time, and stick to it. You can still look at Twitter, but set aside a 15-minute slot to do it, and be strict with yourself.
  • Don’t check it at night. Social media is a stimulant, so checking it just before bed keeps you from winding down. If I check out Twitter before I lay down, I find myself jittery and unable to relax.
  • Unfollow some of the people you envy. Nothing can kill my motivation like seeing a few tweets from successful people. The tweets themselves may be wholesome and helpful, but they often draw me down a road of jealousy. Next thing I know, I’m bitterly focused more on what I’m not doing than what I am doing. That’s not healthy for my heart or productive for my time.

It’s no sin to be exhausted. But too many of us are needlessly exhausted. Cultivate a life of rhythm and margin and trust God to work, even while you are resting.

Risking for Christ Is Dangerous (but Not Risking Is More Dangerous)

In an excellent little book called Risk Is Right, John Piper points out that most believers in Scripture aren’t given guarantees of safety. “The Christian life,” he says, “is a call to risk. You either live with risk or waste your life.” Obedience to God always involves risk. We either obey by risking what we have, or we disobey with the illusion of safety—and the guaranteed anger of God. Risking for Christ is dangerous, but not risking is always more dangerous.

Nowhere is this seen more starkly than in Jesus’ parable of the talents. Two servants take great risks to increase their master’s wealth, while a third servant refuses to risk, and is condemned as wicked because of it. What made the difference? The faithful servants had two ­­­attitudes that the wicked servant did not:

1. Trust in the Master’s goodness

The first two servants had a sense that their master was good and trustworthy. You can sense in their responses that they were awaiting his return eagerly, like a child waiting for his dad. Because they trusted his goodness, they felt freedom and confidence in risking what they had for him.

We should feel the same confidence in light of the cross. If the cross reveals how God feels about me, why would I not feel safe jumping into his arms? And if the cross reveals how God feels about the world, why would I not ask God for great things?

The gospel teaches us that we should measure God’s compassion by the cross and his power by the resurrection. What if we really saw the world through that lens? Wouldn’t that change how we pray? How we plan? How we dream? Does the size of our prayers match the size of his sacrifice?

Our church has avowedly big dreams for our city and our world—dreams like planting 1,000 churches in this generation. Sometimes people challenge us: isn’t it a bit presumptuous and arrogant to have such ambitious goals?

Yes, our vision is ambitious. And no, I can’t guarantee that God will bless all of our plans. But what I do know is that Jesus didn’t die so that we could have a comfortable little fellowship that ignores our community. Jesus died to make our neighbors worship. He died to gather the diverse masses of the world to himself, bowing down together around his throne. He died so that the gates of hell could be trampled down by his faithful followers, bringing the message of life to those who are dead and dying.

Any vision less than that is unfaithfulness to our master and an insult to his goodness. Do not insult his sacrifice through your weak dreams and flaccid prayers. In the words of D.L. Moody: “If God be your partner, make large plans!”

2. A desire to share in the master’s joy

When the master in Jesus’ parable returns, he gives his faithful servants two things—greater responsibility and a greater share of his joy. Sharing in the master’s joy was (and is) a central motivator for God’s faithful servants.

Despite the agony of the cross, the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus faced his execution with joy: “for the joy set before him, [he] endured the cross, despised its shame,” and now enjoys the joys of his labor at the right hand of God (Heb 12:2). That joy was for me and youlooking forward to drawing us into reconciliation with the Father.

When you get a sense that Christ not only died, but died for you, then your life begins to look different. Living in light of the cross means seeing our lives from the perspective of eternity. You ask yourself, Does this have eternal value? Will this matter after I’m dead? You begin to realize that life here is just a vapor. In the words of C.T. Studd, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

It boggles my mind how many Christians have been meticulous with their finances since their youth, planning for the last 20 years of their lives, but have nearly ignored the next 20 million. What does it say about our source of joy when we spend our last 20 years playing golf and visiting the ocean? Is that really risking what Christ has given us?

Risking it all because Christ is my joy means that I can give cheerfully, even when I don’t feel cheerful. Sometimes I give of my resources as an act of faith. By sacrificing what I have now, I am saying, “I know that one day, when the master comes back, I will be glad I did this.” My sacrifice is a risk, but it is also an investment—both in God’s kingdom and in my future joy.

Where is God calling you to obey? To risk what you have to follow him? It may be sharing Christ with a co-worker, going on your first mission trip, adopting an at-risk child, or giving regularly to your local church. The opportunities will vary, but the call is plain: live with risk or waste your life.

 

For more, you can listen to the entire sermon here

3 Critical Truths About Our Money

Zacchaeus is a household name for most Christians, thanks to the annoyingly catchy Sunday School jingle. Sadly, most of us don’t know much about Zacchaeus except that he was a wee, little man—or, in the modern vernacular, “vertically challenged”—who knew how to climb trees.

But Zacchaeus’ story is an incredible picture of gospel-motivated generosity. In Zacchaeus, we see a stingy, fiscally corrupt man become one of the most generous people in the entire Bible. Zacchaeus teaches us three critical truths about our money:

1. Money problems usually come from money idolatry.

Idolatry describes the posture of our heart when it craves, depends on, and demands something other than God. “Without this,” idolatry says, “I could never be happy.”

Zacchaeus worshipped money as the greatest thing life had to offer, so he was willing to steal, lie, and hurt his own people because he loved money more than anything. No one sells out his own people naturally: for Zacchaeus to have become the corrupt “chief tax collector” that he was, money must have had a tenacious grip on his heart.

We may not idolize wealth as flagrantly as Zacchaeus did, but the love of money still leads us to all kinds of evil. For many people, that means cheating on their taxes, or hedging on their time cards. It means overspending, and going into massive debt to acquire a standard of living they have just got to have. It means being eaten up with jealousy when they see other people with something they cannot afford themselves. It means refusing to be generous, telling God that his dominion doesn’t extend over our wallets.

As Chip Ingram notes, a biblical vision concerning money is to be smart, wise, and generousSmart—spend carefully. Wise—save regularly. Generous—give extravagantly.[1] Or, as one of our staff members says, “Steward the temporal with gratitude. Invest in the eternal with abandon.”

But a heart worshipping money will never see things this way. That leads to number two:

2. Only an experience with the gospel changes our heart’s attitude toward money.

Zacchaeus didn’t become generous because Jesus commanded him to. (Go ahead, read through Luke 19:1–10. The only command in there is, “Come down from that tree!”) No, he became generous because he wanted to. Zacchaeus didn’t sit through a sermon on generosity; he soaked in the grace of Jesus, and that did more than 10,000 sermons on generosity ever could.

Zacchaeus deserved to be rejected, yet Jesus invited him into the warmth of fellowship, sharing a meal with him. Zacchaeus climbed a tree because he was despised. But Jesus would die, hanging up on a tree, cursed and despised for all mankind. Jesus traded places with Zacchaeus—so Zacchaeus got the joy, while Jesus got the pain.

We should all see our story in Zacchaeus’ story. We deserve to be rejected by God for our sin, but God invites us into fellowship with him. Jesus offers to take our place on the tree, offering his joy in exchange for our pain.

Just a glimpse of that turned Zacchaeus into the most generous man in the New Testament. How much more should we, who know the full extent of Jesus’ grace toward us, change in light of that grace? Zacchaeus got the crumbs, but we get the whole feast!

The only way our stingy, wee, little, fearful hearts will change is by looking at the cross. And when that happens, we will begin to be generous—without a single command.

3. People who ask, “How much do I have to give?” don’t get it.

I am often asked how much Christians should give. Some who ask this are looking for wisdom, but many are looking for an out. They want to know how much is enough to get God off their backs, to fulfill their duty. And that attitude is miles away from the gospel.

Gospel giving is about love, not law. It’s not about percentages, but about a person. Zacchaeus throws out some numbers, but not because Jesus gives him the benchmark first. He does it out of sheer joy, as a love offering to God.

A lot of people who ask, “How much do I have to give?” labor under the delusion that God needs their money. In their minds, God is like the government, endlessly low on funds and constantly seeking more funding. But God doesn’t need our cash.

That’s why 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that God loves a cheerful giver. If God had needs, he wouldn’t care why you gave; he would only care that you gave. I’ve never gotten a letter from the IRS saying, “Yes, you paid the legal amount, but we sense that it wasn’t joyful giving. We’re concerned about your motives.” No, the IRS needs money, so that’s their bottom line.

But (thankfully) God isn’t like the IRS. God loves cheerful giving because gospel giving is primarily about worship and joy, not meeting needs. I have heard it said that God measures our generosity not by the size of our gifts, but by the size of our sacrifice, because sacrifice expresses the affections of our heart to God.

And if we find ourselves growing stingy and fearful once again, the answer is not to try harder. The answer is to look back at the cross, where God was lavishly generous with us. Because those people who truly experience the gospel become like the gospel—overflowing with grace.

  

For more, see chapter 4 (“Changed without a Command”) of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.


[1] Chip Ingram, The Genius of Generosity, 15.