September Reflection by Richard Parrish - Creating Margin For Mission
“And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits… And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
“Is there no end to the demands,” he asked?
It was a brief comment, uttered out of frustration. My friend’s statement, however, revealed an all too common issue for pastors and church leaders. And, I’m confident there aren’t many of us (pastor or not) who can’t relate to the demands of an overwhelmed life!
Even as I write this today, I’m aware of numerous items that clamor for my attention: Bills to be paid, re-schedule a doctor’s appointment, submit my expense report, outline the next chapter of a book I’m writing, etc.!
There is no end to the things we have to do. And, if by some slight miracle — if we were to discover “free time” on our calendar, — if you’re inclined as I am, you fill it with something else to do!
The progress we’ve seen in the last several years, with all the time-saving devices and apps designed to try and “save” time, isn’t working! Time-efficiency has not prevented our lives from being over-taxed with things to do. And, an overwhelmed life (one without margin) only encourages anxiety.
Most people are familiar with anxiousness. Dr. Richard Swenson reminds us:
“The conditions of modern-day living devour margin. If you are homeless, we send you to a shelter. If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps. If you are breathless, we connect you to oxygen. But if you are ‘marginless,’ we give you yet one more thing to do.” [Emphasis mine]
Jesus understands the danger of living a “marginless” life. He is all too familiar with the never-ending demands of crowds asking, pleading, and demanding his attention.
However, Jesus understands: a “marginless” life produces fatigue and drains energy. Living with no margin erodes security and encourages anxiousness. Jesus commands us: “…do not be anxious about your life.” “…Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to [your] life?” (Matthew 6:25, 27).
Jesus sends the twelve disciples out on a mission (Mark 6:7). He gives them instructions — and authorizes them to go in His name. They are empowered to cast out demons and heal the sick. They are not to be burdened with too much.
“He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.”
Later, they report to Jesus, revealing the success of their mission. During such an incredible report, Jesus says: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
To be effective in mission requires margin!
Without margin, our resources (emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual) become depleted. And, when we’re exhausted, our mission is impaired. We do not have unlimited capacity. You can’t go “full-throttle” forever. Eventually, you will run out of gas.
It’s common for me to hear passages of Scripture quoted by church leaders; selectively chosen to support something that’s not true. One young minister was struggling emotionally, physically, and spiritually. He said to me: “Although I’m tired and feel exhausted, I have to hold on to God’s Word: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”
The human body cannot fly. If you decide not to eat anything for the next six months, good luck! We are not infinite. Our energy is not inexhaustible. Limits are real. The apostle Paul’s declaration that he can “do all things through Christ,” is not intended to support a life that is out of balance!
Genesis 2:2-3 reminds us that God rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. Our Creator ordered a “sabbath” for our well-being. And, as Richard Swenson writes: “Jesus did not heal every case of leprosy in Israel.”
Jesus frequently pulls himself away from the crowds to go to a “deserted place.” Time with the Father is essential if we are to hear His voice. Time for rest and refreshment is critical if we are to be effective in our mission. Failure to create margin opens us to pain: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Years ago, I faced a critical time in my ministry. Asked by my denomination to start a church, I was full-time with no staff. I was also taking a full-load in seminary. Much younger, and not wise, I kept telling myself: This is temporary. I can continue to do this. However, I failed to notice the symptoms.
There was an ever-present sense of anxiety. I noticed little things would trigger an angry outburst. I found myself resenting others. “Why wouldn’t they step up and do more?” “Why am I the only one who takes ministry seriously?”
Then one day, I stood in a hallway in our home, sobbing uncontrollably. “What’s wrong,” my wife asked! Trying desperately to find words to bring clarity to my emotions, I remember saying: “I can’t get out from under the cloud.” Those words were my attempt to describe how severe depression can be. I had no margin left!
Through counsel and the support of others, I slowly began a journey to restore my mind, soul, and body. The process took time. The pain didn’t go away overnight. But gradually and faithfully, God, with the help of others, restored my soul, healed my mind, and refreshed my body.
I’m continuing to learn how to be more intentional in setting boundaries and understanding that God is more concerned about my “being” than my “doing.” I recognize that mission must never overshadow margin!
How about you? Are the responsibilities of your mission, (your ministry; regardless of your profession – pastor, professor, mechanic, or mother) overshadowing your need for margin? Is it time to create margin in your life?
Jesus taught his disciples — and us — that being with him is necessary if we are to be effective in mission. He understands that a “marginless” life robs us — and others. He still invites us:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Is it time to re-evaluate how we are doing life? Is there a need for your soul to find rest? The invitation is always there for us. Are we ready to accept it?
What are some areas in my life, which produce anxiety?
What boundaries might help me guard myself against becoming “over-taxed?”
What things am I currently doing that others could do? Am I willing to empower others by letting go of those things?
What are some practical steps I can take to create margin – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?
Am I in need of rest? Am I willing to accept Christ’s invitation to come to him?
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 6:7,13.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 6:30–31.
 Richard A. Swenson, MD, MARGIN: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives ( Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004)
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 6:8–9.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 6:31.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.