Permission to Say “No”

Most of us know to say no when someone asks us to do something wrong. But sometimes you have to say no to something good in order to be available when God calls on you. Pete’s friend (we’ll call him “Steve”) discovered just how important saying no can be.

Given the state of the economy, it was no surprise when Steve was laid off from his high tech job a couple of years ago. While disappointed to find himself without an income, he wasn’t overly worried. He had salted away some savings, and figured he’d find another position before too long. After all, he had excellent technical skills, and plenty of experience in his field.

However, Steve was in for a surprise. When he started praying about his job search, God clearly told him, “Don’t look for a job. I’ll bring your next job to you.” That sure ran against the advice everyone else was giving him. How could he just sit around and wait for God to do all the work? Still, he was obedient, and did not send out his resume or fill out applications. And the months passed.

Another friend of Pete’s (we’ll call him “Frank”) was put in charge of a major project for the ministry he worked at. This project was critical to the ministry’s goals. It was top priority. Yet, Frank didn’t have anyone working under him who could implement the technology the project required.

At that point, Frank thought of Pete. Pete is involved in technology and he knows a ton of people. Maybe he’d know someone who could help. So Frank gave Pete a call. As he described the project, Pete realized that the skills necessary were exactly the skills that Steve had. Maybe God was up to something here! So Pete put Frank and Steve in touch with one another.

As Frank met with Steve, it was clear that Steve was perfectly suited to meet Frank’s need. Steve loved God. He was qualified and would find it easy to do the work. He lived near by and had plenty of time on his hands. It was so obvious, why couldn’t he get started immediately? But Steve wanted to pray about it first. Well, it’s hard to tell someone not to pray about something, so Frank agreed to wait for Steve to call him the next day.

But when Steve went home and started praying, something totally unexpected happened. God said no.

Even though everything looked exactly right, it was very clear that God did not want Steve to help Frank. So he called him back and expressed his regrets.

Frank hit the roof. How could Steve say no when it was abundantly evident that God had set up the whole situation? I’m afraid he was a bit “unchristian” about it. But Steve held firm. He explained that if he agreed to help Frank after God told him not to, it could cause harm in two ways. One, he would be busy doing this project and would not be available for what God did want him to do. And two, the person God had called to help out would be deprived of the blessing he or she would get by helping.

One week later, Pete got another call from a different mission leader. Again, this ministry had a huge problem with their computers, and they needed someone who could volunteer to fix the mess. Once again, Pete thought of Steve. Incredibly, Steve’s skills were a perfect match. He had exactly the right kinds of technical expertise and experience to handle the problem. Plus, he was still available. This time, when he asked God if he should volunteer, God said yes.

Steve spent the next nine months volunteering with that ministry. He proved immensely valuable in that role, and many people were blessed though his efforts. Then, shortly after he finished the project, God was faithful to do what He had promised. Steve was approached by a commercial company who made him a terrific job offer.

And Frank? A few days after his blow-up at Steve, God sent someone else who was able to meet his technical need and the project was completed on time.

I really appreciate the lesson here. Steve could have bowed to pressure and said yes the first time, but I’m so glad he didn’t. Instead of settling for something merely good, he waited for God’s plan and received God’s best.

So often we get pressured to get involved in good activities. Pastors, Sunday school teachers, community organizations, our friends and family… they all could use more of us. (I’ve often wished I could clone Pete!) And those of us who say yes most of the time end up overbooked, overworked, frazzled and exhausted. It takes humility to remember that we are not God’s answer to every problem. Sure, we can do a good job, but is it our job? Or are we taking blessings away from other potential volunteers?

I’m trying to remember to pray about every request for my time. I want to listen to God and only do those things He says I should do. In fact, tomorrow I have to return a call to someone wanting me to volunteer for something at church. God, what should I tell her?

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