Excitement and Frustration
The beginning of a new year brings excitement and anxiety. We are excited about new opportunities and adventures but also concerned about the future and safety of our families.
If a survey asked people to list what are the most common sources of concern or frustration, placed on the top of that list would be fatigue. Time and money pressures are genuine concerns. They make it hard to relax and enjoy what God offers us. Trying to make ends meet can be exhausting.
Fatigue can result from being overcommitted. We like what we do so we pour all of our resources into it. This, to some degree, is satisfying but stress and uneasiness about the future can be emotionally exhausting.
Many of us live with too much stuff jammed into our bag. We say yes to too many things, then we pull back, only to jump back into doing too much after a brief resting period. This is a fatigue cycle. Can you imagine Jesus jamming too much into his life?
What was the ministry of Jesus like? In the Gospels, we read that people were constantly pressing on him every day and from every direction (Lk 8:42-48). Their needs never ended. On one occasion, after Jesus had decided to follow Jairus and heal his twelve-year-old daughter, he was confronted with a crowd so large it almost crushed him. In the crowd was an individual woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. After spending much of her savings she was unable to find anyone who could heal her. She approached Jesus from behind, touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. No one owned up to touching him. Peter was perceptive enough to realize people were crowding and pressing against him from every side. It was impossible to isolate any one person. But Jesus continued, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Knowing she couldn’t hide from Jesus, the woman came trembling and fell at his feet. She confessed it was her who had touched him. Jesus stopped everything and spoke with her. He encouraged her faith, which God used to bring about her healing. But Jesus didn’t stop and heal everyone.
Jesus is never described in the New Testament running to anything. Would Jesus have worn a beeper or a wristwatch? Can you imagine Jesus speaking to Jairus and opening up his appointment book to schedule a time when Jairus could bring his daughter in so he could bring her back to life? I don’t think so.
Jesus went to bed every night without healing everyone who needed help. Lazarus is a good example of Christ’s lifestyle. Jesus waited so long to go to Lazarus’ house that he died. Humans have limits and need to prioritize what’s important, rather than trying to fix every problem. Jesus had a lifestyle that included what Dr. Richard Swenson calls margins.
Jesus Taught to Set Margins
After Jesus’ apostles had a long day of ministry, he called them away to rest (Mk 6:30-31). The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him of all their activities and teaching opportunities. They were excited over their success and like you and me probably wanted to go right back out and do it all over again. But, as in previous times, people crowded around them and presented them with so many needs that they didn’t even have a moment to eat.
Jesus, seeing the real need of the moment, called his apostles to himself and said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Jesus offered them marginal space between the pressing needs and the need to be rejuvenated. He called them to rest.
When God created the heavens and the earth, he took one day, the seventh, to rest. Not everything was finished. The processes of life had just begun. But God finished the work he had planned and on the seventh day he rested (Gen 2:2). If God included rest in his busy schedule, then it must be important. God blessed that day knowing that margins set aside for rest were as important as the work itself. He left us a lifestyle model to follow.
Culture Isn’t Following God’s Pattern
Western cultures find it hard to follow God’s pattern of work and rest. We over-commit and suffer from fatigue and constantly live under a tremendous amount of time pressure and deadlines.
Many think speed, efficiency, or money will solve our problem of emotional or spiritual exhaustion. If we work faster or are more focused, or if we throw enough money at a problem then we will be successful and have more time for other things. These are not God’s solutions when you feel overwhelmed.
Let me speed read Psalm 23 as a solution for generating more time. What is the result of such a reading pace? I have learned nothing, will probably remember nothing, and though it only took fourteen seconds to read the Psalm–that time was wasted time because it accomplished nothing.
Let me slowly read Psalm 23 and notice the difference in valuing what this Scripture has to offer. “The Lord …” Who is in charge of time? The Lord. What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? We can’t get past the first two words of God’s Word before we find ourselves facing rich and meaningful words. Speed, efficiency, and money won’t teach us the meaning of Jesus is Lord. If Jesus rested after six days of creating, if, under the pressure of crowds he took his disciples away for rest, and if he didn’t let the urgent need of a dying friend alter his pace of ministry, then margins in life are important for accomplishing our calling from God.
Margins Reenergize and Make Life Interesting
Within the ministry of Jesus were margins of time to reenergize. We are maxed out emotionally. We have no margins within our schedules to reenergize. If everything goes fine we can get away with no margins. Yet, it takes just one problem to arise and we explode. We have no margins. Our resources are depleted. Irritability, parental fights, and arguments often are the results of a lack of margins.
Even books have margins. It’s estimated as much as 40% of any given book is dedicated to margins. Margins in print make the content aesthetically pleasing and create interest in wanting to read more. In life we need margins to sustain a pleasing and interesting lifestyle. Without margins there is no time left to develop relationships.
People live on overload. There’s no space between what you can handle and your limits. Life is marginless. We have trusted in the gods of increased speed, productivity, and efficiency to generate margins. In the end, these idols cause us to break down and cry or get regular headaches. We are chronically busy and life seems out of control. These are symptoms of being overloaded. Everything we were doing was good, but doing everything caused our lives to become out of control. We believe in rest, but rest has become an abstract idea.
Culture today has lost its Christian focus and with that gone there are no longer healthy boundaries or buffers. We have become racehorses when we were designed to be cows. God demands holiness, not exhaustion, and that requires margins of time alone with him meditating on his word, as a cow re-chews grass to obtain needed nourishment.
Slay What Enslaves You
This is counter-cultural advice, but it’s biblical advice. Christians are not to fit into the culture but are called to live counter to the business of our culture. Culture is in a freefall. In Christ, we have a place to stand so we don’t fall.
Dr. Richard Swenson suggests that the answer is not to work harder. We can’t fix all the problems in the world. But we can use the weapons of Scripture (truth, love, faith, hope, grace, compassion, care)—the Word of God and Spirit of God to slay that which enslaves us with overwhelming expectations.
Jesus taught, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Mt 6:25-27 NIV).
The Church must stop being a sub-culture and be counter-cultural in the lifestyle it encourages. We need to slow down the pace of life and value what God values: people over things. Jesus did this when he stopped to personally engage the woman who touched him. We see Jesus leading his apostles out of the fray of urgency into rest. We need not exhaust ourselves trying to plan for the future. Our lives are directed by a sovereign and loving Lord. He will take care of us.