Building Margin Into Your Life

We’re beginning a series this morning called “Margin: Restoring Balance to Overloaded Lives.” Some of you may have heard about the pet store delivery truck in Etobicoke last week. As he was making his rounds, delivering pets, he’d stop, get out of his truck, take a 2 by 4, and start banging on the side of the truck. He did this at every traffic light. Finally, the guy behind him was dying out of curiosity, and he asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “Buddy, I’ve got two tons of canaries in the truck. It’s a one ton truck, so I’ve got to keep half of them in the air all the time.”

Some of you are like that truck driver. You’re on overload. You’re batting at everything because you’re carrying too much for one person. You’re exceeding your maximum capacity, and you’re ready to crash.

The price of success these days is high. Consider these statistics. People now sleep two and a half fewer hours each night than people did a hundred years ago. You’re sleeping less than your grandparents did. The average workweek is longer now than it was in the 1960s. You’re actually working longer hours than in the 60s. The average office worker has 36 hours of work piled up on his or her desk. It takes us three hours a week just to sort through it and find what we need. We spend eight months of our lives opening junk mail, two years of our lives playing phone tag with people who are busy or who are not answering, five years waiting for people who are trying to do too much and are late for meetings. We’re a piled on, stretched to the limit society. We are chronically rushed, chronically late, chronically exhausted.

That’s why, for the next three weeks, we’re going to look at restoring margin to your life. What is margin? Margin is breathing room. Margin is a little reserve that you’re not using up. You’re not stretched to the limit. You’re not going from one meeting to the next to the next with no space in between. Margin is the space between my load and my limit.

When I was a kid learning how to write, I asked my teacher why we couldn’t write to the edge of the page. She told me that we needed to keep a margin. A margin preserves neatness. It makes a page legible. It allows for mistakes and corrections. A page without a margin is illegible.

I hope that you have a margin. I hope that your load is not heavier than your limits. But the truth is that most of us are far more overloaded than we can handle and there is no margin, no margin for error in our lives. We weren’t designed to live like this. We were designed to live with margin.

Why are we discussing this right now? We’re looking at this because it’s September. For most of us, this is our new year. For most of us, we are now entering the busiest period of the year – the September to December run. We can’t afford to be marginless between now and Christmas.

The other reason I want to look at this is because of the cost of being marginless. Marginless killing will kill you. Marginless living results in:

Stress – Not all stress is bad. You need stress to keep you sharp. Before I got up to speak to you today, I experienced stress – the good kind. But we weren’t designed to live with 24-hour a day stress. You weren’t designed to live in a perpetual state of stress.
Joylessness – When you lose your margin, you lose your joy. Sometimes we’re running so fast, that we don’t take time to experience the joys of life. Sometimes we’re so serious about life we don’t take time to feel the joy. When you restore margin to your life, you will have time to read the book that’s been on your shelf. You’ll have the time for a walk with your spouse. You’ll have time for more joy in your life.
Shallow relationships – Relationships take time. I’ve noticed in my life that the first thing to go when I’m in a rush is my time for relationships. I stop having time to go on a date with my wife. I end up skimming through life. The people closest to us are getting a busy signal. Few things kill relationships faster than marginless living. This not only applies to human relationships – it applies to our relationship with God. Many of us are living life too quickly to hear from God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (NIV).
Less productivity – It’s ironic, but marginless living results in reduced productivity. The harder we work, sometimes the less we get done. Proverbs 21:5 says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.” Hasty shortcuts can slow you down. It can make you feel like “the faster I go, the more behind I get.” This is counter-intuitive, but most of us would get more done if we slowed down. We would be more focused. We would have more time for what matters most. Proverbs 19:2 says, “A person who moves too quickly may go the wrong way.”

What happens if you begin to live with margin? You’ll have more peace in your life. You won’t be hurrying and worrying all the time. You’ll have time for the small things in life – for playing with kids, and going for walks. You’ll have better health. You won’t have to wait for that heart attack for the doctor to tell you to slow down. Your relationships will improve. You’ll have unhurried time to spend with those that you love best. It won’t be “Hi, How are you?” on the fly. You may rediscover why it is that you married your spouse. And, best of all, you’ll be available to God. You’ll be able to hear his still, small voice. You’ll be ready to live the life that he intended you to live.

Now, it’s not going to be easy. If it were easy, you would have done it a long time ago. But it can happen. Not only that, it should happen. The Bible is full of advice on how to do this. Colossians 4:5 tells us, “Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity.”

Now, not only does the Bible tell us how to do this, but it gives us a living, breathing example of someone who build margin into his life. It’s Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to live with margin. Jesus had thousands of people following him. They wanted to be healed and taught. And yet you never see Jesus in a rush. You never see Jesus working twenty-hour ministry days. Rather, you notice a sense of priority, balance, and beauty in his life. You see that Jesus went to sleep every night without having healed every disease in Israel. Jesus understood how to prioritize. Jesus knew how to build balance in my life. And today and the next two weeks, we’re going to look at how you can do the same.

So how can you build margin into your life? There are three decisions you will have to make:


The first decision you’re going to have to make, if you’re going to have margin in your life, is to pursue contentment. If you’re going to bring order and balance and rest to your life, you’ve got to be serious about dealing with your motivations and your values. What’s pushing you for more? What is motivating you? Everything else is superficial until you begin to deal with your motives and values. And that’s where we’re going to start.

Everything in society is geared to make us want more. It’s about more money, more achievement, more possessions, more thrills and experiences, and more activities. In short, it’s about ambition – that drive to do and achieve more. We all want more than we have right now.

Now, nothing is wrong with ambition by itself. Without ambition, you would have stayed in bed this morning. Ambition is what gets things done in this world. But there is something wrong with ambition out of control. And ambition that comes from unhealthy motives is destructive. Ambition that is unchecked will destroy you. It destroys people; it destroys families; it destroys churches. Ambition can kill.

What are some ways in which ambition can be unhealthy? I have a pastor friend who admits that his ambition comes from GUILT. He works hard because he feels guilty about his past. It’s as if he feels he can make up for past mi stakes with God by working extra hard now. He’s killing himself because of an unhealthy motivation.

A lot of people are motivated by INSECURITY. They’re trying to prove themselves to someone – and that someone may even be dead. They might have grown up in an environment in which “Well done” was never heard. Their parents may not have shown their approval. They may be trying to prove themselves to a teacher who said, “You’ll never amount to anything.” They’re trying to prove that they’re significant and worthy. They don’t want to say no in case they let someone else down. They’re motivated by insecurity.

Others are ambitious because of EGO. They have a self-image they’re trying to preserve. Others are ambitious because of MATERIALISM. They want more and more things. Others are driven by JEALOUSY. Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success by their envy of their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless, like chasing the wind.” It’s like a competition. They want to do better than the people around them.

If you’re going to build margin into your life, the place to start isn’t by clearing your schedule. It’s by examining your motivations. I guarantee that if you just clear your schedule without dealing with your motivations, your schedule will be fine for a couple of months. But it won’t be long before you begin to fill your schedule with more and more activities, clients, and work. The place to start is dealing with your motivation. What’s causing you to want more?

Listen to Ecclesiastes 4:6: “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (NASB). It’s better to have a little if you have peace of mind, than to always be running after more. Let me ask you a question: will you be happier when you have more? Will it give you more peace in your soul? When you buy that new car or get that new position, will you really be happier? It’s better to have less, with peace of mind, than to be busy all the time.

Paul said in Philippians 4:11-12, “I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” What’s the antidote to wanting more? It’s contentment. It’s understanding that more won’t make you happy. It’s saying that what I have is enough.

That’s the first step that you have to take. Examine why you always want more. More won’t make you happy. Pursue contentment.


The second key to living with margin is to pay attention to your limitations. The problem with most of us is that we overestimate what we can do and we underestimate the amount of time it takes to do it. We all have limits. One of the best things that we can do is to begin to recognize our limits and to live within them.

We’re running up against our limitations more than at any other time in history. Our society likes to maximize everything. We push the limits as far as possible. We experience activity overload, choice overload, debt overload, expectation overload, information overload, and work overload.

To illustrate this, I thought we could do a little survey this morning to see how many limitations in your time you’re running up against. Let’s do a little survey. You can mark yourself as we go along. I’m going to give you five questions to measure your limitations. Score yourself, and then we’ll add up your score to see how you’re doing.

?    If you feel rested and relaxed this morning, then give yourself a 0. If you feel that you could have stayed in bed that extra ten minutes or so, then give yourself a 1. If you feel absolutely exhausted this morning, then give yourself a 2. If you’re asleep right now, then give yourself a 3.

?    Let’s look at your finances. If you’ve balanced your checkbook, done your taxes, and kept all your bills up to date, then give yourself a 0. If you’re pretty much up to date paying your bills, but you never balance your checkbook or your credit card statement, then give yourself a 1. If you’re laughing at the question, and you routinely pay bills late, then give yourself a 2

?    Give yourself a 0 if you’re not behind on your laundry right now. Give yourself a 1 if you’re a little behind on your laundry schedule. Give yourself a 2 if you don’t know what a laundry schedule is.

?    If you’ve been on time for your appointments this week, give yourself a 0. If you’ve been late one appointment this week, give yourself a 1. If people are shocked when you show up for a meeting on time, then give yourself a 2.

?    What happens if you hit a light that turns red? If you just stop and don’t get upset, then give yourself a 0. If you brake and talk to the traffic light, then give yourself a 1. If you gun the gas and run the light, then give yourself a 2. If you’ve hit a car or pedestrian going through a red light, then give yourself a 3.

How did you do? How many limitations are you running up against? If you add up your score and had anything over 5, you’re running into your limits. You don’t have margin in your life. You need to start paying more attention to your limits.

I love what one man said. “I am dying of easy accessibility,” he complained. “If Alexander Graham Bell walked into my office, I’d punch him in the nose. If he called, you can be sure I’d put him on hold.” Some of us are so close to the edge of our limits that we’re ready to snap. If we’re pushed any further, we’re not sure what’s going to happen.

God designed you with limitations. You have physical limitations, emotional limitations, mental limitations, financial limitations, and space limitations. You can only do so much. Not only has God designed us with limitations, but he’s designed us with a warning system to let us know when we’re reaching our limitations. This warning system is called fatigue. It’s called pain. It’s called fatigue. It’s called stress. It’s called loss of joy. It’s called irritability. When you see these warning lights, then you have exceeded a limit – a physical, mental, spiritual, some kind of an emotional limit in your life and you’re on overload. And you’re in trouble.

What does this look like? I recently heard someone describe an event in his life. One day they were writing a check, and they thought to themselves, “That date looks really familiar!” It turns out that it was his twentieth wedding anniversary. He went home and told his wife, who had also forgotten, and so they planned to take the next day off to go to a lake. They woke up the next morning, got into their convertible, and drove up to the lake. The husband said, “This is beautiful!” And then they both stretched out and slept for an hour and a half. Then they woke up and drove home. This was a couple living past their limits. And some of you are pretty much the same.

Jesus never lived that way. Richard Swenson writes:

When I look deeper at the life of Christ, I…notice that there is no indication he worked twenty-hour ministry days. He went to sleep each night without having healed every disease in Israel – and he apparently slept well. Neither did he minister to everybody who needed it. Neither did he visit or teach everybody who needed it. There were needs that he simply chose not to meet. Even when Lazarus became sick, Jesus was shockingly slow to mobilize. I would have had a helicopter there in twenty minutes. But Jesus delayed for two days.
Is this to imply that he was lazy or didn’t care? Of course not. But it is to imply that he understood what it meant to be human…Jesus understood what it meant to prioritize and to balance in light of those limits and how to focus on the truly important. We can learn a lesson from Jesus – it’s okay to have limits. It’s okay not to be all things to all people all the time all by ourselves. (The Overload Syndrome)

Jesus never rushed. He always took time for his rel ationship with his Father. He lived only a short time, and yet at the end of his life he could say, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Jesus accepted his natural limitations as a human being, and yet he still accomplished the work that God gave him to do.

We live in a culture that constantly tells us “You can do it all! You can have it all! You can be it all! You can have everything! You can be whatever you want!” The truth is, that’s a lie. It is not true. The Son of God had limits when we was on earth. You’re going to have limits too.

Next week we’re going to look at how to focus your life on what’s really important. You’re only going to have enough time in your life to accomplish what’s really important. So one of the starting points for building margin is to realize you need it because you have limits. You can’t just keep cramming your life full. You’ve got to pursue contentment and then you’ve got to pay attention to your limitations.

There’s a final decision you need to make in order to build margin in your life.


God’s Word – the Bible – is full of instruction on how to live life. It’s filled with insights on how to live. It’s the owner’s manual for life. When God places a commandment in the Bible, he never does it capriciously or lightly. It’s always there for our benefit. God doesn’t give a command to be a downer. When we follow God’s commands, your life is a lot easier and less stressful. You were designed to live according to the Bible – God’s owner’s manual for your life.

Of all the commands given in the Bible, you’re probably familiar with the Ten Commandments – what someone has called God’s Big Ten. One of the commandments that you’re supposed to obey is about rest. It’s the fourth commandment. It goes like this: “Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:9-10). Rest is so important that God put it in his list of top ten commands. It’s right up there with “Don’t steal” and “Don’t kill.” That’s how important this command is.

Many of you would say, “I haven’t killed. I don’t commit adultery and I try not to lie.” And yet you break the fourth commandment all the time. You were designed to work six days a week. But you were also designed, one day out of seven, to rest. You need to take one day off a week to recharge.

I don’t think what day it is matters as much as you taking a day off to recharge. Colossians tells us this. But Jesus tells us that God created the Sabbath for our benefit. It was created because we need it. You need to take a break.
What should you do on your Sabbath? You get physical rest. You take a break and say, “One day a week, I don’t mow the lawn; I don’t do dishes; I don’t even make my bed.” It’s not a legalistic thing. It’s simply a decision you make to give your body a break.

It’s also a time to get emotional rest. You know what recharges your emotional batteries. The Sabbath is a day to do that. Do whatever recharges you. It may be solitude. It may be being still. It may be time with those you love most. Do that on your day off.

It’s also a time to refocus spiritually. It’s a time to return to eternal truths. It’s a day to focus on God, and re-orient your life around what matters most.

You can’t live the life you were meant to live if you don’t focus on eternal truths. Friends, if your life isn’t centered around Jesus Christ – and if you don’t return to that focus at least once a week, and orient your whole life around him – you will never live the life of balance that God designed you to live.

During the French Revolution they actually outlawed Sunday as a day of rest. They wanted people to work. A few years later they had to reinstate it because the health of the nation had totally collapsed. They had to re-institute Sunday as the day of rest. You need to rest on your Sabbath, on your weekly day off.

You need to take these steps. You need to go home this afternoon, sit down, and make some adjustments to the way you’re living. It’s time to begin pursuing contentment. It’s time to begin paying attention to your limitations. And it’s time to begin to follow the fourth commandment, and to rest one day out of seven.

Psalm 127:2 says, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” God wants to give you rest today. He wants you to live a life that’s focused on him. He wants you to experience a life of peace, of focus, of order, and of balance.

Are you tired from living an overloaded life, out of balance, frantic, hectic, moving from one thing to the next with no relief and release? Then I invite you to do three things. First, come back the next two weeks, as we look at how to restore balance to your life.

Second, take the steps I’ve outlined. Pursue contentment. Pay attention to your limitations. Plan to follow the fourth commandment.

But I also invite you to begin following the one who said:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

Let’s pray.

Father, I know that there are a lot of tired, overloaded people here today. They’re living without margin. They’re stressed beyond capacity.
I thank you that you’ve told us, in your Word, that we weren’t designed to live that way. I thank you that you’ve given us wisdom on how to start living a life with margin. I thank you for giving us Jesus – your Son – a man who lived a perfect life. He never rushed around. He always lived a life of margin.
Most of all, I thank you that Jesus invited us to begin following him. He said that if we do, we’ll recover our lives.
If you want to begin following Jesus for the first time, would you pray this prayer:
Jesus, thank you for the invitation to follow you. Today I bring you all the pieces of my life. I bring you my tiredness, my stress, and my fatigue. I admit that I need a Savior – someone to take the damage I’ve caused by my sins, and someone to make me whole.
Beginning today, I follow you. I come to you for rest. And I pray, that beginning today, you would be the Lord – the manager – of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada