Do you remember the SNL skit, “Gotta have more Cowbell?”  It became a pop culture buzz complete with t-shirts. The skit featured famed record producer Bruce Wilkerson and a band trying to make a hit record. After each take was recorded, Bruce Wilkerson tells the band the sound is great, but concluded that “I gotta have more cowbell.”

In official and unofficial talks with people I sometimes feel like Bruce Wilkerson, except I’m not a record producer and I don’t have a thing about cowbells. But, I often want to be a broken record like Bruce by saying “I gotta have more margin.”

People are pushing every aspect of their lives to capacity – spending as much as they bring in, or more, working absurd hours to fuel their spending and their concept of a career, rushing through things in their life just so they can rush through more things. Then, when something bad happens like a job loss or an illness, we don’t have that extra gear – we have no margin.  Let’s face it –  life in our fast-paced world has a way of depleting every last drop of time, energy, and money that we have.  If we aren’t intentional about keeping reserves, we tend to exhaust ourselves over and over again.

“I gotta have more margin.”

In the first sermon of the series I said that our definition of margin is the “space allowed beyond what is necessary.” Are we at the point that leaving some space or margin in our lives is optional? Because here is what I know from experience. Margin always gets filled with new activities, new products, new experiences. All of which contribute to our lack of financial margin, the topic of our teaching this week.

I wonder how many of you would be willing to admit that you occasionally or maybe even often have some financial stress in your lives?  If so, you would not be unique. In our culture today, financial stress is completely normal. Today, living paycheck to paycheck, is often standard operating procedure. Monthly payments is pretty standard as is accumulating debt. The byproducts of debt such as worry, anxiety, and fear are pretty routine stuff. Tension, even fights with your spouse about money is normal. But is the new normal working? The short answer is no. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t long for financial margin.

Our finances is a touchy subject. The only thing more troubling than people knowing how much we earn is knowing how much we owe. As Americans, we live in a culture that encourages us to acquire, spend, buy and consume the majority of our income. There are some things money can’t buy, but for everything else, there’s MasterCard, so in it comes and out it goes. But God has a different dream for your life. And it includes financial margin.

What does financial margin look like in our everyday lives? Here’s what it looks like: It is having money left over at the end of the month. Margin is the ability to be financially at rest. Not anxious, not worried, and not always afraid.  It’s having money available to help someone who is in need. It’s having money available to give without feeling stressed when you give. And it’s putting Jesus first in our lives, then in our margins and resources. After all, who truly deserves our margin?  The answer is Jesus.

If Jesus is first in our lives, then we will be with him in our margins. We will serve him with our margin. We will share our faith with our margin. Our financial margin will increase his Kingdom rather than ours. I believe that God wants all of us to have financial margin.

I said in week one of the series that “the best things in life happen when we make space.” The things you need most in life to be happy and to live a life of significance will never be bought or sold in a store. Unless you have a money tree that you haven’t planted, obtaining financial margin will require some very hard lifestyle choices that may hurt on the front end, but bring freedom in the end.

When Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, a new element was introduced into baseball: the warning track. The barrier was designed to give about three steps of warning to outfielders.  It allows them to know where they are on the field, and when they are approaching the danger of crashing into the wall. Today, every major baseball field has them. We need a warning track in our lives to warn us when we are near the edge, when we are running out of margin. We need a warning track for the margin in our lives and schedules.

Financial wisdom begins as simply as this, you must live on less than you make. Just like there are margins on a paper, you need financial margins, with God and with man. The margins come from giving and saving and both are important but neither can be done without the discipline of spending less than you earn. So determine from the very beginning to give a portion away and to put a portion aside. If you did not hear the message on this subject this Sunday, I encourage you to listen to it for more detail on this subject.

“I gotta have more margin.”