“Margin” in our lives (a little bit of buffer in our schedule) often becomes a lot easier to find when we are not controlled by “have-to’s”. I’m a big fan of technology, and have a lot of networked devices in my house, but when I “have to” check my e-mail (or the sales on the various App stores, or the news feeds from sites that I follow, or games that reward me for checking in daily) every evening, I lose margin and control – over being able to attend to my family or my own rest, for instance.
These “Have-To’s” come from a variety of sources:
Some are a product of our society. Most of us “have to” file a tax return. Many people “have to” go to work to earn a living. These are generally honorable activities, and our control over these extends to choosing how to fit them into our larger schedule. Be careful that these do not grow beyond their original intention, though.
Others are a product of our responsibilities. We may “have to” take the garbage out each week, or “have to” fill up the car with gas. Here, we can manage our margins by making choices to fulfill our responsibilities at a time of our choosing. Rather than waiting until the low fuel light is on (as I tend to do), look for a time when you have a few minutes between other errands, and fill up (even if your car isn’t yet running on fumes).
Yet other “have-to’s” are self-imposed. Because someone on TV says that we should act a certain way (because it’s healthier, fashionable, or trendy), we feel that we “have to” follow certain routines. Even well-meaning church leaders often give suggestions for how to live out the Christian walk, but when these activities – rather than the specific instructions from God that these activities were meant to fulfill – are treated like a requirement, they become unnecessary “have-to’s”.
A Christian leader’s guidance on how much time to spend in prayer, or habits we should practice (or avoid) should be considered prayerfully. However, if we listen to enough sermons, we’ll receive many more instructions (that is, “good suggestions”) than we can pack into our day.
In this category would be the belief that we “have to” be in a church building for a certain number of hours (or days) per week, or that we “have to” give a specific percentage of our income to a particular congregation. While the Bible is clear that we should spend time with other Christians (see Hebrews 10:25), and live generously (see Psalm 112), the exact way that we should fulfill those commands is defined by God, not mandates made by well-meaning people.
Instead, take the elements of truth from what you hear, cross-reference them with what you read in the Bible, and ask God to show you which specific activities belong in this season of your life. (Don’t be afraid to vary some of those activities, either, as you progress through life.)
On the other hand, our freedom is not a license to abandon the Christian disciplines and instructions that God gives us. This freedom shouldn’t be an excuse for sinning – see 1 Peter 2:15-16. So, don’t skip out on following God’s commands because you have a misguided sense of the freedom that we have in Jesus.
Spend time with God and the Bible (but not as a requirement, just as a good practice), and learn about His freedom for you to live your life – just the way He designed you – rather than just following a bunch of “have-to’s”. To learn more about this freedom, read Galatians 5. Verse 1 is a key point here, but verses 13 and following give more details about this life of freedom (with both love and responsibility).
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 NASB
I suggest (but don’t mandate) that you read through that entire chapter, and see if you are convicted about any “have-to’s” in your life that need to be changed to “used-to’s”. Once you have settled on those with God, you can fill your life with the things that you “get to” do, both to enjoy God’s blessings and to live out your purpose for Him.
For further reading, see also:
A version of this devotion originally appeared at fcccanton.com, as a Study Guide for the September 29, 2013 message, “Making Necessary Endings”.