Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 18, 2013

Margin Space: On the productivity of being unproductive

I wonder if Jesus carried around a day planner? I am reading through the gospel of Matthew right now and it seems like Jesus’ ministry schedule was rather sporadic. While he certainly had some intentional rhythms of prayer and teaching, he was also very free to respond to the needs that came before him. He would stop what he was doing in order to provide healing, or he would take advantage of a teachable moment with his disciples.

This morning a friend sent me an e-mail reflection which included the following quote by Dr. Richard Swenson:

“Many people commit to a 120% life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life pre-scheduled to only 80%, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected things God sends our way.”

This was a timely insight for me today. I began the day with a large color coded checklist of all the things I needed to get done. While I find that this type of intentionality helps me stay focused, it can sometimes distract me from being attentive to the leading of God’s spirit. For example, I was so focused on an administrative task today that I rushed a conversation with a guest that had stopped by the church. My preset agenda trumped an opportunity I had to be a gracious host.

Most of us subscribe to a 120% schedule because we want to be successful and productive. Driven by the ego’s desire for money, status, or control we work ourselves into a frenzy. The irony is that our commitment to hyper-productivity can actually be counterproductive. If we never create space to be still and wait on God, we can miss out on what God is calling us to. Furthermore, our pursuit of results and ego-strokes can take the joy out of our work. If we become overly focused on results we become either full of despair if things do not work out, or addicted to the feeling of success if they do. When it becomes all about our sense of productivity we miss out on the liberating experience of simply being faithful to what God has called us to.

We would do well to heed God’s call to the psalmist when He says, “cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NASB). I appreciate this translation. While we often translate this verse, “be still and know that I am God,” the Hebrew emphasizes that we actually need to cease from striving so hard for success. Perhaps one of the most productive things we could do is plan to be unproductive every once and a while!


  1. Amen from the margin man

  2. I grew up thinking Ps 46 was a call to quietness, Quaker thinking I’m sure, but I like the don’t strive better. Keep on keepin on!

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