The Principle of Margin

Today we’re taking a break from the “series” on secret obsessions to talk about something I’ve been implementing in my life for the past 2 years, The Principle of Margin.

Where this came from

In our church tradition, there’s a time in every service where we collect God’s tithe and our offering. We always get up and do a little explanation about what we’re going to do, just in case someone is unfamiliar with what’s about to happen. It usually goes like this: “We recognize that God provides for us and takes care of us and blesses us. He gave you the ability to do your job. Therefore, we give 10% of our earnings back to him in the tithe, and we give over and above that our offerings.” And then we usually quote Malachi or Proverbs etc.

Fun fact: when I was really little, I used to think they took the money out back and burned it. Because, like, in the OT, that’s how they “gave stuff to God.” And how else are you going to get it to heaven? Only later I realized A) Burning money is illegal, and B) The church uses the money to further their existing work and to fund projects they feel God is calling them to complete.

But I work with a lot of young adults, who are often in college and don’t have jobs or have jobs that pay very little, so they say “I can’t tithe money” and instead “tithe my time” by volunteering in the church. I’m not even going to go into what crap theology that is, nor how many $7 Starbucks drinks I see them drinking per week, nor the fact that “tithing your time” adds up to 16.8 hours a week, not 15 minutes a week.

But I did like their idea of expanding the definition of “tithe-able” resources to more than just our money. After all, God gives us LOTS of things to make our lives function. Could we set aside 10% of those things for, like the tithe, God’s guidance and direction?

Brainstorming Resources

So I started to look at my life as a collection of resources, each God-given and God-owed, and I started to think, can I apply the principle of the tithe to other areas? God-given, God-owed resources I was able to come up with are my time, energy, and talent. (There’s probably more but this is a good starting point.)

Around this time I also started calling it the principle of margin (which is not a term nor idea I coined, but I haven’t read any of the other stuff so I can’t make any recommendations.) because, in my best analogy, I was carving out a margin line like on an old-school piece of lined paper--a line that saves a little extra at the end.


Once we’ve brainstormed resources, how do you actually margin one? Back to the tithing idea, one of the things we’ll often say is to simply “learn to live on 90%.” The goal here is to look at each resource, find out where you’re using it, and cut some stuff out in order to reserve 10% of it for God’s direction. (If you’re looking to cut time, think about limiting social media. Studies say people spend 14 hours a week, or 8.3% of their time, on social media.) You could take only 15 hours of classes instead of 18, or….*heresy coming* take a step back or lessen your church role for a season. Cut back your work hours, or stop working after hours from home. Or figure out how to utilize new technology to help you, like how curbside grocery service is a revelation in my life rn. Or re-allocate existing talent, like If you’re using 100% of your writing talent to write your epic novel, maybe only write your novel 90% of the time and donate 10% of your writing talent to helping your church with their website text.

You may be surprised about how much of your resources you literally waste your life on. This is the worst part of self-reflection. When God called me to take a look at how I spent my time….you don’t even want to know how much Instagram and Youtube and Friends reruns took up my life. You. Don’t. Even. Wanna. Know. More importantly I didn’t even wanna know.

The Goal

Once we carve out the margin, what do you do with it? Well, again looking to the tithe, the question then becomes: “Ok God, you have 10% of ___, how do you want to use it?”

Let’s say that’s time. That means 10% of your time (16.8 hours a week) should be directed by God. You may feel God calling you to focus on your family this season, or minister to the homeless, or write a book, or spend extra extra time with Him.

The goal ISN’T, again, ISN’T to do nothing. It’s to do the SOMETHING God is calling you to DO. (I did have exactly 1 month where God called me to focus on rest. That was nice. But be warned: it comes right before an incredibly busy season.)

And while we’re on this topic, I should note, this doesn’t mean you just get to spend 90% of your resources on whatever you want. God calls us to, whatever we do, do ALL to the glory of God. God has called me, for example, to love my husband and raise Godly children, serve his church, write, and serve young adults. Back when I was in school, long term education goals were a part of that list as well. All the things I fill my calendar with feed into those goals, even the mundane chores. In that way, 100% of what I do and how I do it is glorifying to God. This margin idea is a more immediate 10%, being sure that my immediate resources are immediately expendable and available, whether it’s helping out a friend financially, or taking time out of my day to be a shoulder to cry on for a young adult, or being able to serve God this week with my talent. (Separate sermon on preparedness sold separately.)

Your Next Step

Put down Instagram for 5 minutes. Think of a resource, brainstorm about how you can reserve 10% for the Lord, make a plan to make it happen, and pray God would direct you to using that 10%.