Mastering one of the hardest words

People learning English as a second language often say it is one of the hardest to grasp, with its vast assortment of idioms, punctuation rules, and pronunciations that can change literally depending on what zip code you’re standing in.

Yet there’s one word I’ve found that’s hard to pronounce whether you’re from Dubai, Des Moines, or Dallas: No.

We just don’t like telling people no. And that’s a problem.

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of having a conversation with Lance Witt, who will serve as the keynote speaker at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Equip Conference in August. Witt is among a growing number of voices trying to convince followers of Christ—including pastors and church leaders—to pay at least as much attention to nurturing their own lives and souls as they do members, budgets, and strategic plans.

On our way to that healthier version of ourselves, at some point we’re going to have to learn to say no. I love how Witt put it during our conversation: “We need to realize that every no is rooted in a higher yes.”

That statement is profound, but it’s not rocket science, is it? We all know that saying yes to some things will naturally mean saying no to others. So why is saying “no” so difficult, especially in ministry contexts? Because if we say no, we will feel like we’re somehow not meeting someone else’s needs. We might feel like we’re not being nice if we say “no.” In some instances, we might feel like saying no will shatter the tenuous peace we’ve been able to keep with the person pressing hard for a yes. 

"You can’t be all things to all people. Let’s let God take care of that role. His shoulders are big enough to handle that kind of load."

I’ve been there. As a lead pastor with a penchant for people-pleasing, I admit I had a hard time saying no. One particularly busy week, I was behind on sermon prep and knew Saturday was going to have to be a catch-up day for me, so I said no to a family who invited me to their teenager’s birthday party. In another instance, we had a truck driver in the church who would often call my cell because he got bored on his long drives—usually as early as 5 a.m. or after midnight. For my own sanity (and sleep!), I had to set a firm no boundary there, as well. Neither instance was easy, but the higher yes came in being prepared to deliver God’s Word on Sunday morning and protecting rare times of rest. 

What about you? Are you getting ready to deliver a yes because it seems too hard to say no? Your yes may keep the church activity wheel turning, but will that come at the expense of a season God might intend for you to be still as He opens another door in His timing? Your yes may keep that grumpy church member happy, but will it come at the expense of an activity your child is participating in that will never happen again?

Don’t get me wrong—if we find ourselves saying no all the time, we’re going to miss golden opportunities to minister to others and share the hope of Jesus with those who desperately need to hear it.

But you can’t be all things to all people. Let’s let God take care of that role. His shoulders are big enough to handle that kind of load. 

Chances are, yours are not. 

Jayson Larson pic
Digital Editor
Jayson Larson
Southern Baptist Texan
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