Steve Jobs once said, "It's only by saying 'no' that you can concentrate on the things that are really important." Jobs talked about innovation and leadership being tied to knowing when to say yes and when to say no. This line of thinking is both freeing and intimidating, because we are given permission to say no some of the time, but also a great responsibility for discernment in knowing when to embrace an opportunity or request, and when to turn it down.
As Christians, let's take it a step further. God is actively working in our lives. He has created each of us uniquely, and has designed us to do his work in our own special way in the world. Thoughtfully considering where we say yes and choose to commit our limited time is of vital importance. Consider what you value and where your priorities lie. The demands of life ebb and flow; there will be seasons of greater commitment than others. Be aware of where you are and what you need, what your family needs and what God is putting on your heart.
Let's delve even deeper as Christ followers, and consider another layer of what it means to be a "yes man" (or woman). We know the draining affect it can have on our personal lives to say yes to every request before us. Beyond the personal impact, what is the impact on others if we never turn down an opportunity? Who else could serve and grow, given the opportunity to step into a new role, if we weren't so quick to fill the need? When we say yes to every opportunity, we may deny someone else the chance to hear God calling and say yes themselves.
We've all heard of the proverbial glass ceiling that exists in some organizations for women rising in leadership. I heard an interesting view on this in a recent discussion that suggested perhaps as women we may be part of the problem. If we plant ourselves so firmly in a leadership or volunteer role and never make way for someone else to fill our shoes, we may actually be creating a barrier for other women gifted to lead and serve. Sure, we may be very good in a particular role or opportunity, but what about the women coming along behind us? Is it possible that by saying no to an opportunity that we could be making way for someone else to discover their talents and abilities through their yes?
I've seen this play out in my own life several times. I love opportunities that allow me to solve problems and try new ideas, but I've learned that there are many wonderful women around me that get charged up by those same opportunities. Sometimes God is not calling me to assert myself into the situation, but rather to encourage someone else to do so. I remember sitting in a gathering at my church, where a pastor was casting vision and giving folks the opportunity to serve in various capacities. One of the opportunities sounded so fun to me, but then I remembered I already had several volunteer commitments in the church. I thought about my friend sitting next to me, who had great people skills and was so talented in many ways. I poked her with my elbow and said, "That volunteer role he just mentioned sounded perfect for you. I've seen you in action and you are so organized and inspiring. Why don't you volunteer?" She looked surprised, thought about it for a minute, and then did just that. Sometimes what God is calling us to do is not take up a job, but to be a catalyst for someone who could do it even better and just needs a little encouragement.
The Gospels provide compelling evidence of how Jesus interacted as a leader and a friend. Jesus gave capacity to others. He sent out 72 followers, two by two, ahead of him. They came back charged and energized and passionate. Several times we see how Jesus goes off in the evening or the morning to have a time of quiet reflection and prayer. In Mark 1, Peter finds him and tells him everyone is looking for him, everyone needs something from him. I imagine Peter to be a little frustrated and irritated with Jesus at this point. The disciples want to send the hungry crowd away, but Jesus pushes them to respond to the crowd, to see a miracle.
It is amazing to consider the God of the Universe said no, and took time to be by himself. By example he gave us a living reminder that we are not meant to carry the whole world on our shoulders. He pushed his disciples outside of their comfortable ways. Jesus helped them consider miracles when they could not see a way forward.
Sometimes Jesus stepped back or stepped away so someone else could step up. In unlikely people and in unlikely ways, Jesus was developing his leaders, his followers and his church. Part of this holy process happened when Jesus said no, and allowed someone else to rise to the occasion. Imagine the 72 men Jesus sent ahead of him in Luke 10– men who felt ill-equipped, or even afraid. Some among the 72 must have felt a knee-knocking sense of, "Wait! What? Jesus must be crazy to think we can do this!" Imagine if Jesus hadn't called these men into action and stepped back to allow them to lead? Where would the church be? Where would you and I be?
Have you ever been part of a meeting where a request was made for volunteers, and it was if crickets were in the room. The silence stretches on and on until it cannot be born anymore and suddenly, almost without willing it to do so, your hand is raised and you are adding yet another activity to your plate . . .
But maybe we need to allow the silence to stretch longer, to stretch beyond the meeting, giving space for God to move in hearts.
Understanding ourselves and listening for God's direction takes leaning in, being uncomfortable and gaining confidence in knowing who you are and what God has called you to in this season. And occasionally it means saying no in order to allow ourselves and others space to give our best yes to our most important callings.
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