Margin: A Book Review

There is nothing like a free book! Okay, maybe I should say that there is nothing like a free book that is also a book worth reading. Especially if it comes just when you need it. That is exactly what happened to me when I downloaded Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. to my Kindle after Melanie Shock tweeted that the e-book was free for a day.

In this book Dr. Swenson makes a strong case (with a Christian perspective) against progress as we know it. That is progress defined and dominated by money, technology, and education. All three offer value but they do not do much to meet our transcendent needs. “What about the relational life?” asks Dr. Swenson. After all, life is all about relationships; with God, with ourselves, and with others.

“As we have already seen, progress builds by using the tools of economics, education, and technology. But what are the tools of the relational life? Are they not the social (my relationship to others), the emotional (my relationship to myself), and the spiritual (my relationship to God)? None of the tools of progress has helped build the relational foundation our society requires.”

Along with this false sense of progress comes the incredible rate of change that our society now faces. Change does not happen linearly, it happens exponentially. As a result “the circumstances of our age are quantitatively different from anything previously encountered, and the dramatic nature of this difference is consistently underestimated.”

“No one in the history of humankind has ever had to live with the number and intensity of stressors we have acting upon us today. They are unprecedented. The human spirit is called upon to withstand rapid changes and pressures never before encountered.”

These problems and others have combined forces to rob us of any remaining margin in our lives. The results have been catastrophic! We are on a collision course with self-destruction and the only way to avoid a disaster is to change our ways.

Progress and change have stolen our margin and we must buy it back. Dr. Swenson prescribes that we take a healthy dose of margin in emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. These medicines can be administered through contentment, simplicity, balance, and rest.

This book, written in 2004, carries even more relevance today than when it was written. Do yourself a favor and read this book. Restore the margins. Restore relationships.

The Toll of Making Change

Tourists don’t change. Tourists observe. Tourist may have an experience. Tourists gather stories. Tourists study their surroundings. Tourist may even come to appreciate the places they visit. However, despite all of their observation, experience, and appreciation, a tourist is one who makes no significant change.

Photo by garryknight

Seth Godin describes the posture of a tourist: “The tourist isn’t seeking to change herself. She’s seeking a checklist item, an experience, sure, but not too much.” You can come back with your photos and souvenirs, but “if you went as a tourist, you will come back as you went.” The same.

I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with the UPCI missionary team and national Church in Ghana, West Africa! I am closing in on the half-way point of this trip and as I begin to think about what lies ahead it would be easy to fall into the role of a tourist; waiting to check another visit off of my list of life experiences. I would rather experience change.

“The toll of making change is that you will be changed.” – Seth Godin

Tourist don’t change, neither do they make a change. The greatest difference they make, as anyone who lives in a major tourist destination will tell you, is to get in the way of the locals. When a tourist determines to make a change, they roll up their sleeves and get down to business. The moment they open themselves up to change, they cease to be tourist and become an active participant.

When was the last time that you got so involved that you were changed? I have no desire to be a casual observer. Regardless of where I am, I want to be an active participant. I want to change and be changed.

The Ingredients of Change

It’s safe to say that leaders lead for change.  Ministers minister for change.  Communicator communicate for change.  The goal is improvement, forward motion, and positive growth.  Whether it is the lost being saved, the children being raised, or the company succeeding; the goal is positive change.

So what are the ingredients of change?  What ingredient of change are you as a leader?

Photo by David Reese

Today’s popular term is Catalyst.  “Be a catalyst for change.”  I understand what someone means when they say this, and I don’t have a problem with it.  But let’s dig a little deeper.  Are we really the Catalyst?

A Catalyst is “a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected” or “something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.”

Did you catch that?  A catalyst is not affected.  It doesn’t change!  How well can we lead if we stop changing, growing, and improving?

True leaders are reactants; they react to the catalyst.  And it is my hope that my positive reaction will lead to a chain of positive reactions all around me.

So what is the catalyst?  It is that which causes the change but doesn’t change itself.  In terms of ministry the catalyst is God.  It is His Spirit, His Truth, His Love.  Those things never change but they certainly cause a reaction!

Building Fires

Here is another little tidbit from John Maxwell’s latest book Everyone Communicates Few Connect

Mr. Maxwell writes of the importance of marrying passion with the vision.  “A vision without passion is a picture without possibilities.”  It is difficult to be passionate about something that we haven’t personally experienced.  This is why the best sermons, the best songs, the best poems and stories are always born out of a personal experience.  Mr. Maxwell gives four questions for the communicator (minister) to ask concerning vision and passion.  These are good questions to ask ourselves as we prepare to minister.

1. Do I believe what I say? 

2. Has it changed me?

3. Do I believe it will help others?

4. Have I seen it change others?

If we can answer yes to all of these questions, we have married passion to our vision.  When we do this in ministry we will, as Mr. Maxwell so capably says, “do more than just light a fire under people; we will build a fire within them!  If you have that fire, it will ignite in others.”

A fire underneath somebody causes them to move for a moment.  They may get stirred up while you preach or sing, but is it lasting?  But when the fire gets inside them, that is a different story.  A fire on the inside will make a lasting change!

Where are you building fires?  Underneath or within?

If God is going to use you to set the hearts of men on fire for Him, He will have to set you ablaze first!

Stay Hot!