Whenever you read a book, or look at a computer screen, or an I-Phone or I-Pad, one thing all of them have in common is a margin.
You could make the argument that margins waste space. Just think how many more words you could get on a page if you didn’t use margins.
You could put more words on a page. Just think of how many pages you could cut out of a book.
If you were printing thousands of books, think of all the money you would save.
What if you removed the spaces between the words and the spaces between paragraphs? That would save even more space.
Wouldn’t that be good stewardship? Wouldn’t that be a good use of resources?
It might save paper, but that’s about all. Without margins, we would experience information overload.
Without space around the edges of our page, in between words and paragraphs, it would make it more difficult for our eyes to process the information.
Margin and space make reading possible. It allows our brains to process information quicker and easier.
Removing margins from books might save paper, but we would lose time, waste energy, and increase stress.
Margins in books of all languages teach a universal lesson: we need to build margin into our lives. If we do, that’s good stewardship.
Let me give you a couple of practical examples.
A lot of people have a problem being chronically late. They never seem to be on time.
If you are one of those people that run late, why not build some margin into your schedule?
For example, if you are supposed to be ready for your appointment at 7:00 P.M., build in some margin and try to be ready by 6:45 P.M. That way, when you miss that 6:45 time, you might be ready by 7:00 because you built in some margin.
I realize for all of you chronically late people that just sounds too easy.
May I give you another example? Now I know this isn’t any of you, but why is it that a lot of people who drive nice trucks and cars cannot get them into their garages?
Garages are built with margins. There is usually enough room to park two automobiles and get out on either side.
But many of us have so much stuff in our garages that we exile our automobiles to the driveway.
The garage overflows with stuff until we have no more space in there to park an automobile.
When it comes to managing our money, financial planners tell us we need to build some margin into our budgets.
One reason people get into debt is that they have no margin. Some people spend everything that comes in, month after month, and then one day, boom! Something huge and unexpected happens: an accident, a hospital stay, the air conditioning unit goes out, or someone loses a job.
If we have been planning for such a day, we can survive. If we have built margin in by setting aside money in an emergency fund, we will not have to borrow money.
You have to begin modestly, but financial experts say the goal is to save three to six months of salary for your emergency fund.
The goal is to avoid debt.
Proverbs 22:7 says that “the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender” (NIV).
Anytime we can avoid debt by smart planning, and by building in some margin, we have given ourselves freedom.
In America, we have fallen into the trap of instant gratification. We have been sold on the idea that we can have almost anything on credit and we can have it here within two days.
My wife and I buy on credit, but in our 36 years of marriage, we have never paid one dime of credit card interest. It’s the interest that kills you and undisciplined purchasing habits that sometimes come with the ease of buying on credit.
The average household owes almost $7000 in credit card debt, and most of these carry interest rates around 16%. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/
Most Americans need credit for large purchases like a house or a car. However, the more debt we have, the less financial freedom we have.
When we fill up our lives with debt and leave no margin, there is no room for anything unexpected, no room for a change in income or a change in the economy, no room anyone to get sick or lose a job, and no room for generosity.
Anytime we live outside the margins, we become enslaved to the decisions we have made.
Not all debt is bad.
Most of us could not have a house, or a car, a business, without some debt.
This church borrowed money from the Home Mission Board to build our current sanctuary a hundred years ago. We will have to borrow money to build our new facility.
Borrowing money should be an investment in the future, but it can become detrimental if we do not build in some margin.
It’s been my experience that when God commands us to give as much as ten percent of our income to him in obedient stewardship, most Christians say, “That’s not possible. All my money is already spent. I can’t even give 2%.” That’s about the average most Christians give.
And that is true. There isn’t 2% left to give because we have not budgeted and we have not built in any margin.
Actually, God doesn’t want us giving to him out of our margin, or what is leftover. God wants us to give to him out of our first fruits. God wants to be built into our budget.
God wants to be a part of our essential planning. When we do that, we begin to understand stewardship and we begin see the value of building in margin as well.
Then Jesus taught, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told this parable in Luke 12:15-21: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (NIV)
Notice that this man doesn’t have a debt problem. He is already wealthy, and there is no condemnation for being wealthy.
He is fortunate to come into more wealth as his farm yielded an abundant harvest. But instead of being generous with what he had, he kept it all for himself. He had no margin for generosity.
This man could have easily built God into his life plan and made others a beneficiary. Instead, it was all about himself.
Jesus condemned the man for doing this and reminded those listening that the man’s possessions would do him little good after he died, which happened the day he decided to build bigger barns.
Greed is a problem regardless of how much or how little money we have.
Most of us think, “Well, if I had his money or if I had her money, I’d build in some margin.”
If you are greedy with a little, you will be greedy with a lot.
If you are generous with a little, you will be generous with a lot.
If you don’t build in some margin with a little, you will not build in any margin with a lot.
The more money we have, the more things we see that we want. Our toys just get bigger. Our bills get bigger.
If you have no margin with a little, you will not have a margin with a lot.
It is important to teach stewardship to children. When children learn stewardship principles early, applying them as they age will become a part of life. When you learn stewardship young, it’s easier to maintain when you are older.
If you learn to be greedy when you are young, that’s a pattern you are likely to continue.
Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much (Luke 15:10 NIV).
Good stewardship of our money doesn’t start because our income increases. When our income increases, most just buy bigger toys, take more expensive vacations, and upgrade to a higher standard of living. Good stewardship doesn’t suddenly start. Giving to God doesn’t suddenly start.
All of us have the same 24 hours in the day; so building margin into our lives with our time is a matter of choice and discipline. It’s the same with our money, regardless of the amount that we have.
Even though we all have different amounts of money, the principles of building in margin are still the same.
Here is a checkup list to see how you are doing in building any margin into your life as you strive to be a good steward of all that you’ve been given.
When God puts a person of need in your path, do you have some spare time, money, or energy for that person?
If you get a raise, do you raise the amount you give to the church or raise the margin you set aside for a rainy day?
If you had some unexpected expenses right now, do you have some savings that could take care of them?
Are you living beyond your means? One way to gauge that might be to look at your credit card statement. Are you paying interest on a credit card?
Do you have any money left over at the end of the month? Are you spending money on things you don’t really need?
Are you addicted to stuff?
Do you have peace in your life that comes from having enough quiet time, alone time, and Sabbath rest?
Do you use the amount of debt you have as an excuse not to respond obediently to God and give to His work?
Are you working so much that you never have time to spend with your family or with your friends?
Would you say that you try to build God into your margin or would you say that God is built into your budget or is God in neither place?
If you want to have healthy margins, God must be at the center of your life, which includes your finances.
If you do not have healthy margins in your life, today God is waiting for you to put your house in order. He wants you to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” Matthew 6:33
What things? The needs that you have in life.
Jesus didn’t say all of our wants will be added to us, but all of our needs.
God will take care of us if we seek first the Kingdom of God.
It would be a worthy goal for all of us to get where the Apostle Paul was in his life when he wrote these words:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” Philippians 4:11-13.
The man who built bigger barns was not content. It wasn’t his wealth that was his undoing. It was his greed.
It was his lack of care for anyone other than himself. It was his desire to keep everything for himself. It was his inability to be content. He wanted more.
When his life was demanded of him, he had no margin for generosity. He had laid up no treasure in heaven.
If you need to build margin into your life, then the best way to do that is to center your life, your financial life around God and God’s principles for living.
Life then becomes less about us and more about others. That is part of the secret of contentment.
Photo Credit: martiancraft.com