Margin is a reserve from which you may meet the needs of others. It applies to time, energy, money, etc. If you maintain margin in an area, you have a constant reserve available to help other people. Maintaining margin also helps you to have what you personally need in times of crisis.
For example, if I maintain margin in the area of money, I have the cash needed to fix my car when it breaks down or to buy food for someone who has experienced loss. If I do not maintain margin, though, then my car emergency becomes a big deal and it keeps me from being able to give to someone else in need.
If, in the area of energy, I maintain margin by physically resting, walking with Christ daily, and taking breaks or vacations with my family, I am prepared emotionally to deal with bad news or to counsel someone else working through a problem. If, however, I am constantly running on fumes, stressed out, burnt out, and at my wit’s end, bad news puts me over the edge and I can’t handle other people’s problems.
Sadly, many believers, especially those of us in ministry, often do a poor job of maintaining margin. Whether it’s time, energy, or money, we often stretch ourselves so thin that we are not capable of meeting others’ needs well, much less those of our own families.
This was not Christ’s example! Even Jesus had to have some time to himself! After the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew says this:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
Time and time again in scripture we see Jesus sleeping, drawing away from the crowds to be alone, and relying on His relationship with the Father to strengthen Himself for the task at hand. If even Christ Himself needed these things, how much more do we!
To speak personally, I think we over the course of our marriage have done a fairly decent job of maintaining margin. However, when we received the news back in December that our ministry plans were on hold and that we’d be grounded here in the states indefinitely, we were already near the burnout point with preparations for leaving for the field. With zero margin then, what would normally have been just a shock to our family ended up being a rather traumatic crisis. Our physical energies were depleted, our emotions were raw and effusive, our mental energies were zapped, and we were struggling to just make it through each day. I have to tell you, that is not a place I like to be.
With the Holy Spirit’s help, we are coming out the other side of that now. We have begun to build up our reserves again (though a steady stream of sicknesses in our family has slowed the process). Our emotions are beginning to ease back into normal levels (though the children continue to have outbursts). My creativity is returning (which for me is a sure sign my stress levels are going down), and my desire to do ministry is beginning to surface again. We still have a long way to go, but little by little God is restoring us. We need rest, we need encouragement, and we need hope–both to get us through, and to allow us to give the same to the people around us who need it.
If you are reading this, whether you are in the ministry or not, please follow Jesus’ example and seek to maintain margin in your life. The cost is too great not to!