If You Want Some Margin In Your Life, Start Here



Every time I asked my friend how he was doing, his weary answer was the same: ‘Oh, just busy. But good.’

Deep down, though, I wasn’t convinced.  Just beneath his dutiful response was a world of fatigue.  And a sense that things would never change.

Can you identify with my friend?  Do you feel perpetually busy and overwhelmed?

I can sooo identify with you.

Some time ago, my (then) six-year-old asked me to do something with him.  As I rushed through the room, barely looking at him, I became snippy:

‘We’ll see… I’ve got a lot, a lot… a LOT to do’.  He was hurt, but accepted it because he had to.

In that moment, my interior world was a mess.   ‘You don’t understand my life… I’ve got way more to do than I can possibly handle.  You have no idea how busy I am.  I’m way beyond my limits.  I’ve got to use every possible second in the best possible way if I have any hope of having any rest’.

Maybe you can relate.  Based on a reader survey I did, a lack of margin and balance is your most common problem, so I’m guessing you can.

But I’m guessing you also feel stuck.  Like there’s no way out.  Or, forward.

Jesus’ Busy Day

That’s an understandable lie we tell ourselves way too often.  There is hope.  And there is a way forward.

So let’s take a look at one of Jesus’s busy days to find out where to begin.

By the way, there are a ton of tips out there about time management, scheduling and prioritizing.  Maybe I’ll get to those another time.

But all of that won’t do us an ounce of long-term good if we don’t take a few steps back and go deeper. To the principles that tie them together and make them really hum.

Jesus was a ridiculously busy guy.  We read about one of his busiest days in Mark chapter 1.

Look at his schedule for the day:

  • preach the morning sermon (verse 21)
  • cast out an unclean spirit (26)
  • become a spiritual rock star (28) (which actually created problems for him, and was no doubt exhausting)
  • heal Peter’s mother-in-law at her home (31)
  • as night falls, get surrounded by the entire city, casting out more demons and healing people with all kinds of diseases (29-34)

Things only got more difficult as his ministry went on and led him to the cross.  If we think we’re busy, Jesus was busier.  Under more stress. Doing more intense things.

Jesus’ Secret Sauce

How did he survive under all that pressure?  What was his secret for managing his busy life?

Mark tells us, with amazing simplicity, in the very next verse:

‘And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.’ (35)

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  He just prayed, talked to his Father.

I wish Mark had done an extensive interview with Jesus about his ‘7-point formula for managing my busy life’, something I could easily replicate.  Like starting his day with a special smoothie, his favorite books and time management strategies, and how to say ‘no’ with grace.

But he just prayed.  Whatever else he may have done, apparently God didn’t feel the need to highlight that.

Finding Margin: Simple, But Not

And yet, the road to margin is not quite that simple, is it?   When we look at that verse, a lot is either explicitly stated or implied.

  • Prayer – talking to His Father – was his highest priority and he actively chose it.  Notice how he got up really early, and got away from everyone, to make it happen.  Remember that he was truly a Man, so it took effort for him just like it does for us.
  • Jesus believed God was present and would answer his prayers, giving him strength to keep pressing on.  Why else would he put so much effort into it?
  • So, prayer was not just an isolated activity that Jesus did, as if it were merely the highest priority on a full to-do list.  Instead, his relationship with His Father was everything to him, and one way he demonstrated that was through prayer.

These are not small things.  They are easy to understand, but very, very hard to believe and do with consistency.

The Principle Of Prayer In Action

Watch what happens next.  When Jesus prays, it has a huge impact on his life and schedule.

We don’t know how long he prayed, but even early in the day Simon (Peter) and others are searching for him.  Everybody wants a piece of him: more teaching, more healing, please!

When they find him (36-37), you’d expect him to say, ‘OK, guys.  I’ll head back into town and we’ll finish what I started yesterday’.

But that’s not what he does.  Instead, he says, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out’. (38)

There’s lots of work to be done, but he says ‘no’ and moves on.  His intimate connection with God, fueled by times of prayer, helped him say ‘no’ to some urgent things and ‘yes’ to other, better things that were less pressing.

Through his prayerful relationship with his Father, he had a sense of priority and purpose that cut through others’ expectations and the endless opportunities to do more.

This is the epicenter of how Jesus managed his busy life.  And where we need to start to manage ours.

We need to believe that God is with us, that he sees our busy lives and then talk to him about that in prayer, trusting he will give us a sense of what we’re supposed to do.  And not.

I know a physician, for example, who began every day with this simple prayer: ‘Lord, show me where to pause today’.  As he raced through his crazy day of 25 patients, he believed that God would show him which ones needed more attention and time.  And he did.

It will take some real effort and trust to live like this, but it’s so worth it.  If we want to live with a sense of purpose and priority in our crazy, busy world, this is the place to start.

Let’s live it out: Do you bring the opportunities before you to God for wisdom and guidance?  How can you take a step in that direction today?

  • Ginny Barnette says:

    I agree that prayer is the place to start, however for me, repentance is key. So many times I am driven by my idols of pride, personal accomplishment, my value being tied to how busy I am, and my need for affirmation instead of the Spirit. “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh……for these are opposed to each other , to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Gal 5:16-17. So, when I see I have no margin, I am learning to ask myself, “What is motivating/ driving me? The Spirit or my idols, ambitions or sin?”

    • Great point, Ginny. I love your simple, but profound, question about asking ourselves what’s motivating us. I think that really gets at the heart of the issue.

  • This post is really good, Bryan. It’s well written and it is relevant to where I am personally and where culture is. Good job.
    As I’ve gotten older and my kids have grown being deliberate about my time had become a necessity. I used to have freedom to be spontaneous, but now I have to schedule margin. It feels backward, but it’s the only way it’ll happen. What a tremendous example of rest Jesus gives us in his times of prayer! It’s such a gift to know Jesus did that and didn’t expect his followers to run themselves into the ground.

    • Hey Chip, thanks for your encouraging words about this post. I completely agree with you that we need to schedule, and be intentional about, margin… there’s no way it happens otherwise. Jesus is an amazing example of that, and we are always blessed for following him into a life of margin!

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