Building Moral Margin – Week 3, Day 1

Daily Scripture Reading:

Romans 12:1-2 – “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”      

Colossians 3:1-2 –So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

My friend often says: “We may not know what God’s will is but we certainly know what it’s not!”

Some things are clear about God’s will. We know that the following choices are NOT God’s will: lying, cheating, abusing our bodies, abusing others’ bodies – to name a few.

We know that the following choices ARE God’s will: loving one another, forgiving one another, seeking God first, etc.

Some things are not as clear or may take a longer time to discern: life’s vocation, which college to attend, whether to marry or not marry, etc.

In all of life, God is calling us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Romans passage reminds us that when we ask God to renew our minds, it’s then that we know the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.

Prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.                                                                             – Prayer from Psalm 139:23-24

Reflection Question and/or Application for the Day:

Is there an area of your moral life that you KNOW is out of step with God’s will? Are you being honest in your relationships? Are you being fair in your business practices? Are you being faithful in your marriage?

Ask God to show you where you need to get in step with His clear will. What one action can you take today to make that happen?


Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Margin to Reduce Stress – Week 2, Day 5

Isaiah 43:19 – “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  

Psalm 37:3-5 – “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.”                                                       

“Say NO for a better YES.”

I’m doubtful that this statement is original to me. I may have heard it or read it somewhere.

Reducing stress and changing our pace in life is often easier when we say NO to some things in order to say a better YES to others.

Let’s face it. All of us are probably doing something in our lives that is not life-giving. Instead it’s life-draining. We dread going to it. We dread doing it.

What would happen if we said NO to it? This is NOT a license to do nothing. Instead this is a license to pour your gifts and talents into the opportunities that God IS calling you to do.

We need to also be realistic. Work and school may not be fun every day. Sometimes it IS draining, but what can we do to find joy in the midst of the activity?

Are you living the abundant life that God calls us to lead?

Prayer:  Gracious God, show me this day how I can live a more abundant life – a life that brings joy to me and to others. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Reflection Question and/or Application for the Day:

Name 3 activities that are life-giving to you.

Name 3 activities that are life-draining to you.

Are these activities necessary? What can you do to find joy in the life-draining activities?


Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Margin to Reduce Stress – Week 2, Day 4

Psalm 16:5-6 – The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.                         

 Psalm 55:22 – Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.                  

1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Do you ever have trouble figuring out what is your responsibility? Another way to say this: do you often think that it’s your job to “fix” everything and everybody?

I can still hear the counselor’s comment now: “Trish, you’re not that important!” Now, that doesn’t sound very nice, does it? But she was oh so correct. Sometimes my sense of responsibility got warped. Still does.

Sometimes it’s too easy to think we are responsible for everyone and everything. We are not. God did not intend for us to carry this burden.   He said for us to cast our burdens on Him. We are called to pray for and care for others, but it’s not our job to fix everyone.

Boundaries (those limits that help us see our responsibilities) help create margin for our lives. They help to reduce stress and give us a healthy perspective as we care for others.

When we listen and obey God’s instructions for life, our stress levels go down. Margin for listening to God helps us live more stress-free.

Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen

                                      – Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

Reflection Question and/or Application for the Day:

What are the concerns or worries that are most often on your mind?

What’s my part in these concerns or worries? Am I contributing negatively or positively to these concerns?

Can I change anything about the concern or worry? If so, what change can you make today?



Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Photo by Will Archer

Building Margin to Reduce Stress – Week 2, Day 3

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17

I . . . beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”     – Ephesians 4:1-3

Henri Nouwen wrote that “busyness has become a sign of importance. Having much to do, many places to go, countless people to meet gives us status and even fame. However, being busy can lead us away from our true vocation.” *

Observation: Folks too often “glory” in busy schedules. Unfortunately, folks in ministry are not immune. When clergy ask one another what they’ve been doing lately, the answer “taught 5 Bible studies last week, had 2 funerals, a wedding, 2 staff meetings, a trustee meeting and didn’t get home to my family until 9:30 pm every night” seems far more productive than “played ball with my child, read a good novel, had a great meal with some friends, or had some great quiet time with God on the beach”.

Do we ever think that God gives out productivity sheets for our lives? The more I do, the better God is going to like me?

Well . . . I think we’ve got it wrong. God’s acceptance is not based on the things we do. God’s love is based on the grace that He extends to us. We then serve BECAUSE we are accepted.

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, when I think what I DO makes You love me more. Help me rest in the knowledge that You love me for me. Help me then serve You because I’m accepted by You. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Reflection Questions and/or Application for the Day:

Are you trying to have a good productivity sheet for God?

Think about the activities that you’re involved in. Why are you doing them? Do you ever feel that you are doing them to make God like you more? Do you ever feel that you are doing them to make others like you more?

Are you serving God or just busy? What is your purpose in serving God?


* Nouwen, Henri. The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

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Building Margin to Reduce Stress – Week 2, Day 2

Daily Scripture Reading: Luke 8:40-56

vs. 42-43 – “For he (Jairus) had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying. As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years . . .

vs. 47 – “When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling and falling down before him (Jesus), she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.”

I call this story “A Healing on the Way to a Healing”. Or you might call it “Jesus, the Multi-Tasker”. Yes, Jesus was good at multi-tasking. He knew how to do it. He was on the way to see Jairus’ daughter who was dying but while he was moving that way, he encountered a woman who also needed healing.

The woman tried to go unnoticed. She thought, “I’ll just reach out my hand, touch his garment, be healed and he’ll never know.” But Jesus could do 2 things at one time. The scripture says, “the woman saw that she could not remain hidden”. Jesus noticed her. He noticed the power going from him. He noticed that someone else was in need. Jesus was good at multi-tasking.

How about us? Are we good at it or are we trying to do so much that we are only giving a small bit of our attention to the people and/or tasks before us? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s quite a bit of research that shows that multi-tasking actually costs us productivity.

Jesus could do it and still does it because . . . . well, he is Jesus!

God calls us to be fully present for Him and for one another. When we are fully present, we deepen our relationship with Him and with one another.

Prayer: Jesus, just for today, keep me focused. When my mind wanders, bring me back to You. When I try to do too many things at one time, draw me back. Help me to remain focused on the people and the opportunities to which you call me at that moment.

Reflection Question and Application for the Day:

Are you trying to do too many things at one time? Choose to apply one or more of these suggestions this week:

  • When talking on the phone, turn off or turn down the music, the TV, the gaming system – whatever is going on around you.
  • Check and answer email at specified times. Depending on your place/occupation in life, this may be on the hour, twice a day, or once a day.
  • Turn off the automatic notifications on your mobile phones or computer. Try it for a day!
  • Limit your time on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Check it once or twice a day. Do something radical – maybe even give it up for a period of time.

DON’T text and drive! This is not a suggestion. It’s the law.


Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Margin to Reduce Stress – Week 2, Day 1

IMG_2239 - Version 2

Daily Scripture Reading: Read John 11:1-44

vs. 6 – “After having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

vs. 21-22 – “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ ”

 I don’t think I’ve ever read of Jesus running through the desert, saying, “Hurry up, John! Get moving, Peter! You disciples are so slow! We’ve got places to go, people to see!” Jesus certainly traveled throughout the land but he was intentional about when and where he was going.

When Jesus got word that his friend, Lazarus, was sick, he didn’t rush to his bedside. He stayed in his present location for 2 more days. Sister Martha was not happy. Why did Jesus not rush to his friend? The Bible does not say but I like to think that Jesus was doing something important in his location. He was fully present there.

Rush Slowly, these words on a sign hanging in a restaurant in the southern-most tip of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, sum up the pace that Jesus seemed to keep in the scripture. He went where he was needed but he traveled at the pace that kept him fully present wherever he was.

Maybe we could all ‘rush’ a little more slowly. How present are we with the people we encounter? With our families and friends? How present are we with the people at work or at school? Are we talking to someone, but in our mind, we’ve already moved on?

Prayer:Reach down inside me now, O God, and change the gears that race and roar. In place of turmoil give me peace. In place of frenzy give me patience. Then I shall be more like Jesus, who taught us to make room for you in our hectic days. Teach me, God, to make room for you in all the events and affairs of my days. Then I shall find rest. Then I will be at peace with myself and with you.”   Amen *

Reflection Question for the Day:

What one action can you take to slow down and be fully present?

Examples:   Physically walk slower. Look at people when you are talking to them.

*Prayer written by Norman Shawchuck, pages 342-343.  A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2003.

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

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Building Margin – Week 1, Day 5

Daily Scripture Reading:

John 15:1, 2, 4 – “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit . . . Abide in me as I abide in you.                                       

Psalm 1:3 – “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”                                                      

My Dad has always been a gardener. He worked all day at his job, got home about 6:00 pm, ate dinner and went outside to plant, weed and harvest whatever was in the vegetable garden. He was precise in his gardening – holes dug exactly the right shape and depth, the correct amount of water placed in the hole and the plants placed in just the right position.

A few years ago, I helped him plant flower bulbs in beds near the front of their house. Again, precision! He used string to be sure the line of bulbs was straight. He pulled out the yardstick and spaced the bulbs exactly the same distance apart. I remember thinking “What??” But he knew that plants need space to grow to their maximum potential.

So do we. We need space to grow to our maximum potential. We need margin to grow. We need nutrients to be fed. We need weeding to get rid of the junk in our lives that causes us not to grow to our full potential.

Are you growing in Christ? Are you feeding your spiritual life? What needs to be gone from your life so that you can be all that God has called you to be?

Prayer: Gracious God, help me to create space in my life today that I might grow to my full potential for You. Show me how to take the time to spend in Your presence and guide me to draw nutrients from You. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.

Reflection Question and/or Application for the Day:

How much space are you creating for God in your life?

In addition to reading this devotional book daily, consider waking up a few minutes earlier or going to bed a few minutes later so that you might have some intentional quiet time with God. If necessary, ask your family for a few minutes of privacy. Whatever time is best for you – be intentional!

What are areas in your life that need growth?

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Photo by Jon Strother

Building Margin – Week 1, Day 4

Daily Scripture Reading:

Psalm 27:14 – “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 40:1 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”

Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God!”

Observation: People don’t like to wait. There’s ample evidence in life: blowing horns, hand signals at traffic lights, comments in stores when the clerk is not moving fast enough, loud sighs, drumming fingers, eyes glancing at watches. I know. I’ve seen or done all of these things.

When have we enjoyed waiting?

When my son, Will, was in elementary school, I spent a lot of time waiting in the school pick-up line. His school dismissed at 2:30 and I soon learned that I had several choices: get there by 2:00 and be the first in line to get out of the parking lot, get there about 2:20 and wait on the highway to eventually get in the pick-up line, or get there by 2:40 and see sad little Will waiting for his mom while all of his friends had been picked up. My choice: go early.

Surprisingly, the time spent in the pick-up line became MY time or rather GOD’s time with me. The car was in park. The music was off. It was quiet.

As I waited, I sometimes read my Bible or a devotional book. Sometimes I sat with my journal and just wrote what came to mind. Sometimes I just sat. Amazingly (or maybe not so amazingly), I wrote more sermons, more messages, and more lessons in this location than I thought possible.

Why? Because I was still. I was waiting.

For full disclosure, this was before smart phones. Now while waiting, it’s too tempting to check email, look at Facebook, or play Candy Crush. But suppose we did turn off the phone while we waited? What would happen if we turned the music off? What would happen if instead of wondering why the clerk is so slow, we prayed for him or her?

Life gives us lots of opportunities to wait. Maybe those times can be times to hear God in a new way.

Prayer: Jesus, teach me to wait. Forgive me when I’m impatient. Lord Jesus, instead of getting agitated while I wait, speak to me. Calm my mind. Teach me to listen for you as I wait. In Your name I pray, Amen.

Reflection Question for the Day: Think about the day ahead of you. Is there a time that you KNOW that you will be waiting? While you wait, turn off your phone or at least put it on vibrate. While you’re driving today, turn off the music. Instead be quiet. Today while you’re waiting in a line, say a prayer for the person in front of you, the one behind you, and for the clerk who’s helping you. Just for today, enjoy the time you wait.

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Margin – Week 1, Day 3

Daily Scripture Reading:

Isaiah 30:15-16 “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused and said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses’ – therefore you shall flee! and, ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’ – therefore your pursuers shall be swift!”

“Come on, people! We’ve got places to be!” No, this was not me yelling at traffic but the voice of my son, Will, yelling from the booster seat in the back of the car. He was 7 or 8 years old and he was only repeating what he had heard someone say. His mother most likely.

I was probably late for something. Maybe I had thrown one more load of laundry in the washer before I left the house. Maybe I had talked on the phone a little too long. Maybe I hadn’t allowed time for getting a child, his stuff, my stuff and myself out of the house. Whatever the reason, I was in a rush.

And I was teaching my son to rush.

Isaiah spoke of our salvation coming from rest and returning to God. He spoke of quietness and trust as our strength. He said, however, that we refuse this salvation and strength by fleeing and riding away swiftly. We rush, we speed and we reap the consequences.

Building margin into our lives helps us make room for calmer spirits. It teaches us to return to God for our strength. It also helps us set more peaceful examples for others. You never know who’s listening.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for your calming presence in my life. Forgive me, Lord, when I rush instead of seeking your peace and your salvation. I don’t allow the time that is needed to move peacefully through life. Forgive me when my lack of margin in my own life affects the lives of others. Teach me this day to trust You in all areas of my life. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.

Reflection Question and/or Application for the Day:

Think about your week. Would you say that you have had a calm week? Have you rushed from place to place? Have you sensed God’s presence throughout your days?

What can you do today that will give you a sense of God’s presence in a deeper way?


Keep a brief prayer in your mind that draws you back to God. (Examples: God, be my strength or God, be my peace)

Memorize a verse of Scripture:

Is 30:15 – “In quietness and in trust shall be my strength.”

Prov 3:5 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”


Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Building Margin – Week 1, Day 2

Daily Scripture Reading:

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 – “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

“Life is like cross-stitch.”

No, this is not a line that you missed in the Academy Award winner, Forrest Gump. Forrest said “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” [1]

“Life is like cross-stitch” is my observation based on life and my experience with this needle-craft, strands of colored thread stitched in a pattern of X’s in special fabric, woven to create a picture.

Cross-stitch is two-sided. One side is the creative picture. The other side of the project shows the “real” work: the changing of threads, the underside of the French knots that look great on one side but not so much on the other side, the pull of the thread from one place on the picture to another place. If you are not careful, the underside can get pulled and stretched in a way that distorts the picture on the other side. Dark threads that are supposed to be hidden can too easily show through the lighter fabric. Threads become tangled. Stitches become undone. When the project is complete, I’m happy to show you the “picture” side, but would prefer you not turn it over.

And thus is life. We look good on one side but we’d rather that folks not look too closely underneath.

It’s so easy to get pulled and stretched. We move from one project to another. Our lives get distorted. Our lives get tangled. Our threads get loose. We become undone.

Margin creates space for us to move through life less pulled, less stretched, less tangled, less undone. Margin gives us room to breathe – to enjoy the moments of life. Most importantly, margin creates space for God to speak, for us to listen, and for His life to be shown in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, some days I just feel pulled, stretched, almost undone. Show me, Lord Jesus, what I need to change so that just for today, I will reflect your work in my life. In Your name I pray, Amen.

Reflection Question for the Day:

Is there an area of your life that is becoming distorted? What one action can you do differently today that will cause you to be less pulled, less stretched?


[1] Forest Gump, movie released in 1994.

Devotion from Building Margin for a Balanced Life, devotional book, small group study and sermon series

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved

Photo by Jon Strother