The Art of Saying No

I write this as no expert, in fact quite the opposite. The inspiration for this article comes from the perspective of a ‘yes’ man. To me ‘no’ was a word that I didn’t feel I had the right to use; learning to use it has been a steep learning curve. Part of the ‘yes’ response was from growing up in a church culture which at one point adopted the phrase ‘burning out for Jesus’. Understandably this might appeal to anyone wanting to give their all for Jesus but it doesn’t make my list of top ten mission statements!

When I think about the phrase ‘burnt out’ I see desolation. An eerie silence where life once existed, with only a few pieces of ash left floating in the wind. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too poetic, but I don’t need to look far to observe the results of having ‘burn out’ as a mission statement.

I prefer the vision of my favourite scripture “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). I love the thought of the end goal. Pressing on long-term to be greeted at the end with “Well done, you good and faithful servant”.

Anyway, back to the subject.

It’s okay to throw yourself into life but there can come a point when it starts to have negative effects and feed on weaknesses. People can say yes for a variety of reasons. Unstable characters unable to commit or persevere with most things or the people-pleaser saying yes for recognition and affirmation. Proud people with a point to prove and driven to succeed struggle to accept their human boundaries. Flowing from all this comes resentments, breakdowns and feelings of inadequacy.

When your output becomes greater than the input your life is not sustainable. Here are three pointers I learned:

  1. Be true to yourself

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Tired and worn-down people make mistakes. Sometimes very big mistakes. Recognise and respect your time and energy limits. As a Christian, you are called to be part of the solution, not the problem. It requires a level of humility to say “I don’t think I can do this”.

  1. Be true to the team around you

In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. The church should not rely on individuals, we say yes together by including everyone, trusting people and sharing the workload. How does your yes or no affect those close to you?

  1. Be true to your mission

If you are seizing an opportunity or pioneering into the unknown, consider your end goal. See the vision. Gather the team and go for it. Always keep your aims in sight and use ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to lead you there. Don’t get distracted.

What about Jesus? He spent His whole life serving, giving and dying for us.

Mark 5:21-43 tells of Jesus stopping to heal a woman in pain. Meanwhile, the child he was on His way to heal died. As Jesus brought the child back to life, He taught the disciples a valuable lesson about faith. Reading through the New Testament portrays Jesus as always in demand and busy with people.

As disciples of Jesus, we still recognise and experience a great need among humans. Jesus always responded, which is why we should do our best to follow His example. But when you read the New Testament remember we are the disciples, not Jesus. We are the ones getting angry, asking stupid questions, rejecting people and competing with each other. We still need Jesus to guide us.

Jesus said “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus followed His path on this earth with perseverance. He wasn’t being dragged here and there, he had a mission. If you look closely, every action of Jesus points to this mission. Note Luke 5:16, which states Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

There is a pattern of Jesus taking a trip away to spend time with God. Matthew 14:23: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone. Jesus took the time to pause and ask ‘Father what next?”

The input of Jesus resulted in an amazing output. Jesus inputted people with the power of God’s kingdom – they built the church and spread the message across the globe. Jesus took mocking, beatings and died on a cross. Death and the power of sin over mankind was defeated.

I find the hardest part of saying no is to friends. But I have found friends respond well to honesty and understand reality. In 2014, looked at my ever growing to-do list and decided to set myself a challenge. I called it “No”-vember. Throughout the month of November, I would simply reflect and seek God. Home-life and listening to God were the priority. When I was asked to take on tasks or responsibilities I would say NO(vember). I would not let ‘busy’ get in the way.

I ended up repeating this challenge for 2015 and guess what, it worked! When I took the time to be still I could see I was rushing from one thing to the next. I prayed, read, worshipped, wrote and re-evaluated visions and inspirations. It helped redefine vision and set me back on track where I had got distracted. It gave me the power to begin to say ‘yes’ again.


If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

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