Several years ago, I realized that if I was going to finish well I would need to invest in those things that allowed me to go deeper in my intimacy with God. Over the years of ministry I have seen the encroachment of demands and needs taking over my calendar and daily schedule. I wanted to make an adjustment, but I did not know how.
As I processed this with the Lord, I knew he wanted me to create a space somewhere in my week where duty wasn’t present. God wanted the creation of a place where I did not study or create responses to the demands of others. This would be a place where I did not have my daily devotional time with God or study for sermons. God wanted a place that was a clean slate – a place that would resemble a walk with God in the coolness of Eden’s evening.
At the time I was first processing this, our church was having a weekly Wednesday night service. I would normally go into the office at 9:00 a.m. each Wednesday and stay through the evening. It made for a long day. I remember distinctly the Lord saying, “Give me Wednesday morning.” I began to ask him what that would look like.
Where we live in Southern Oregon our home is nestled in a small historic community surrounded by hiking trails. I knew this is where I wanted to spend my time with God each Wednesday morning. The next Wednesday was still a week off so I had time to think about what those times might look like.
God was asking me to create a spiritual cartilage between me and the demands of life. This would be a place void of any task. God wanted me to give him a moment in time solely devoted to him. At first thought I should bring my bible along on these hikes. He said no. I thought I should go up on the mountaintop and have formal devotions with him. He said no. With each suggestion I brought to him to show I would be faithfully involved in some task – He said no. He wanted nothing from me, but my presence. This was not to be a "productive" place.
When that first Wednesday morning rolled around I put on my hiking boots and set out for the trails. I distinctly remember crossing the threshold between the city and the forest. As I crossed that threshold for the first time I said, “I am all yours, God.” I have been saying those same words each week ever since for the last 10 years. This weekly hike with God has been one of the most significant places where God has developed me as a person and as a pastor. I hike year round in the rain, snow and sun.
One personal impact from these Wednesday hikes is the creativity they release. An uncluttered mind is free to dream and pray for those things Paul described in Ephesians 3:20 that are “beyond.” Things beyond all that we would ever dare to ask or think or imagine are called into our reality in these times. My own ministry of writing got its birthing push on the trails above Jacksonville, Oregon on my weekly hikes.
I have come to call this Wednesday hike, my “Margin Time.” Margin Time is that space we give to God that is not invaded with anything. This place is where he can have us untethered to any form of duty or productivity. This dedicated time becomes a creative garden where the seeds of heaven are planted in our lives. For me, this margin time has been my walk in the forest. For others it is getting on a motorcycle or riding a bike. Some will sit in private place and simply wait. The way you spend this time is between you and God.
Recently, I told a group of pastors some of the best books are being written by leaders after they experience burnout and failure. Some of the books, written before the burnout, were all about cramming more and more “good” things into your life to get the most return for your investment in ministry. The books written by these leaders after their personal crisis are now asking us to pursue places that resemble a spiritual mountain trail where the stress of life and ministry does not have a voice.
Like a human knee without a cartilage to cushion the knee joint, our lives can be so bone-on-bone that we end up becoming crippled. It is the cartilage – that space between the bones – that allows us to move forward. Each leader needs to create a place of margin time where the presence of God acts as a cushion between the urgencies of life and our long-term effectiveness. God is already present in your margin time. He is waiting there to be discovered.
It is Sunday as I write this and I am already looking forward to the upcoming Wednesday morning in the woods. God is already there waiting for me for our appointed hike.