Americans are among some of the most anxious people on earth, according to the New York Times. One study found that Americans were significantly more anxious than residents of nations like Nigeria, Lebanon and Ukraine. We spend billions of dollars every year on anti-anxiety medications and additional millions to fund research into the causes and cures for anxiety disorders. It might be worth pausing to ask why we struggle so with anxiety.
That would be a good thing to pause and reflect on, but the truth is many don’t have enough unscheduled time (margin) to do so. Could it be that the lack of healthy margin — margin being space between your load and your limits — is a major reason for our constant anxiety? The Bible points to the need for margin with your time. Consider two specific impacts from establishing Biblically-based margin in your life.
Margin Leads to an Eternal View of Your Time (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
One of the most valuable things we have in life is time. The fact that we have a limited amount of time is in part what makes it so valuable. While we cannot add to the amount of time we have, we can, through wisely chosen margin, add significance.
Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, said the following about the time we have: “There is a time for everything” (v. 1a). “Time” here has two implications: first, it identifies that your life has a fixed or appointed beginning and end — you only have so much time in life. Second, it infers that God desires to give you insight and direction on how your time can be used in significant and meaningful ways.
Solomon, continuing to speak of the gift of time says, “and a season for every activity under heaven.” (v. 1b) “Activity” refers to human activity or choices. In other words, the time you have in life is a gift from God, but how you choose to use it is up to you. With the help and direction of Christ, you can use time in ways that are significant and meaningful to you and others; or you can waste it. It is your choice.
To make better use of your time begins with how you view it. If you really view your time each new day as a gift from God, then you are more likely to make better, more significant use of it. Apart from the involvement and direction of God (the One Who gave you time), Solomon concludes life ends up being meaningless. But it does not have to be — let Christ lead and inspire intentional space (margin) in your days, weeks, months.
Margin Leads to a Better Use of Your Time (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14)
We see an overarching point Solomon is making in vv. 9-10: when God is truly directing your life (don’t forget… you have to let Him), it can lead to meaning and significance in multiple ways — even in the midst of your “toil” (v. 9) or work, or when life brings you a “burden” (v. 10). You have to first see your need for God’s involvement in deciding how to use and invest your time.
Three other things you will experience by setting healthy margin in life:
1) You’ll begin to see and experience the “beauty” in the moment that God has made (v. 11a).
2) You will have space and time to experience joy (vv. 12-13). To “be happy” and “do good” refers to joyful moments in life that are a gift from God (v. 12). “Find satisfaction” (v. 13) literally means “to see good”. Without margin you will tend to blow right by those joyful and good moments in life.
3) With God’s direction, you’ll experience eternal significance in your life. God has, “set eternity in the hearts of men (mankind)” (v. 11b). You will develop an eternal perspective about your life.
Consider This: Dr. Richard Swenson, in his book Margin, gives some practical steps to take in order to establish margin with your time:
- Expect the Unexpected: As a proverb from Ecuador says, “Everything takes longer than it does.” Do you have enough margin to learn from and grow in the unexpected?
- Learn to Say No: Saying no to the lesser things allows you to say yes to the meaningful things of life.
- Place Limits on Screen Time: The average person in the U.S. burns 5 hours a day watching television (not counting other screen time). That will result in, on average, 9 years of life consumed by TV alone.
- Prune the Activity Branches: Just because you can does not mean you should. Trees grow best when pruned on occasion.
- Choose Long-Term Vision over Short-Term Flurry: What is the long- term significance of what you choose to spend your time on? While you cannot add to the number of hours per day you have, you can choose to add to their significance.
Ecclesiastes 3:1; 9-14; ref. vv. 2-8
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:”
“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.”