The Power of Saying No

As a church leader, I find myself getting invited to all kinds of different things: City-wide church prayer meetings, leadership gatherings, both local and city-wide, and many, many assorted types of conferences. Conferences on prayer, how to lead well, how to plant churches, apologetics, the list goes on. There are also para-church organisations that want to pull at my time, some quite broad and social action-y, some quite niche.

On the whole, most of these are important meetings and groups, and I’d get involved with everything if I had all the time in the world and the energy of a small fusion reactor! But the simple fact is I can’t commit to it all, and I shouldn’t. 

That’s when the power of saying no comes into its own.

I’m getting better at saying no these days, and my life is all the better for it. However, there was a time when I thought it so important to build and maintain different kinds of relationships that I would say yes to pretty much all that I was invited to. Or I’d say yes to requests for help for all sorts of things that I was very capable of helping out with. However, when you make promises over and over again, it gets a little overwhelming. I still occasionally struggle not to say yes. It may be that there’s a slight feeling of guilt that’s pushing me to go to or do stuff I really haven’t got the time or headspace for.

I think if you were to look over the UK Christian scene, you might find you have the opportunity to spend every weekend attending different kinds of conferences and prayer gatherings. There’s also probably some evening event you could go to every single night if you really pushed it. Most of them will probably be very good, with the training and information given invaluable. I also want to stress that I’m not saying prayer, and praying together isn’t essential, as a Christian, it most certainly is. But here’s the rub, when do you take all that you’ve learned and actually use it, in the real world as it were, if you’re stuck saying yes to every prayer meeting, training session and conference weekend? If you’re a Christian and all you’re doing is spending most of your time with other Christians, at what point do you share the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who don’t believe? When does the revelation brought from time spent praying, and soaking in God’s presence, move you to action? When do you work out the command we’ve been given from Jesus, to make disciples of all nations?

Sometimes you’ve just got to say no, no matter how amazing it sounds and how life-changing it appears it might be. For the good of your health and your mental well being, saying no might be the medicine you’ve been needing to take.

Conferences and meetings aren’t the only things you might need to say no to. There are many other areas of our lives where saying no will relieve some of the pressure. For example, none of us can meet every need or care for every person in distress that we come across. I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t do this at all; that wouldn’t be very Christ-like! In fact, the Bible consistently tells us to take care of the children and widows, in other words, those that are the most vulnerable. What I am saying is that if we keep on pouring out, we are heading for burn out, with no time to rest and recuperate so that we actually are in a position to to say yes and help those who clearly need it.

Give yourself permission to say no and be happy and at peace with that decision, this is good and even Biblical. In the Book of Matthew chapter 5, there is a concise verse that powerfully tells us to let our yes’s be yes, and our no’s be no; anything more than this comes from evil. That push to always want to say yes, with a feeling of guilt if we say no, might actually have it’s source in something unhealthy, something that wants to cause division and strife. In Christianity we believe we have an enemy that is opposed to God’s plans and this enemy would rather a Christian be exhausted and spent and unable to cope, rather than one who is rested and strengthened and raring to go.

So where in your life might you need to make changes? What things do you need to apply the power of saying no? I’m not suggesting you go on a ‘no rampage’ and pull back from everything you’ve previously committed yourself to. You might simply need to talk, readjust the plan, be gracious until the task is complete and then apply the power of no to some future requests.

The power to say no, ultimately allows you to say yes … to some things.

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