What do you do when the answer is no?
Do you get frustrated? Angry? Do you feel out of control?
Lately, a lot of us are hearing no on a regular basis. No, we can’t go see our family or friends. No, we can’t go out. No, we can’t take that trip. Sure, we can think of things to do at home—try that recipe (if you can get the ingredients), tackle that project, garden, wash our hands—but we’re used to having the freedom to do so much more, and now we can’t.
It reminds me of other times I’ve encountered a lot of no’s.
Since we transitioned from a steady income to full-time ministry, our finances have been unstable, to say the least. Paychecks are erratic, and often nonexistent. While God generously meets all our needs, we rarely have discretionary income so, when we want to do something, or buy something, or go somewhere, the answer is often no. No, we can’t go buy new clothes right now. No, we can’t go out to eat. No, we can’t take that vacation.
Whether it’s due to a pandemic or due to a lack of resources, it’s hard to find life’s limits. Yet there are many times we’re unable to do what we want. It may be physical, as in the case of illness, disabilities, or advancing age. It could be time constraints, having to work when we’d much rather do something fun. It could even be immoral, illegal, or simply a bad idea that our common sense is telling us to avoid.
Our culture doesn’t do well with being told no. We want our personal freedom. We want to do what feels good, hence the huge shift in what’s now considered acceptable behavior, especially when it comes to sexual norms and drug use. Who is the government (or the church, or your neighbor) to tell you no?
I’ve seen more than one person walk away from God because God told them no, and they weren’t willing to obey. They want to live life on their own terms. Yet, when we become Christians, we agree to submit to a higher authority. Jesus isn’t just our savoir—He’s our Lord. And while we prefer to focus on the freedom we have in Christ, there are also things we are not to do. Just look at the Ten Commandments! God explains why He made these rules, as Moses repeatedly explains:
Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time. (See Deuteronomy 4:40, 5:29 and 31, for example.)
Being told no isn’t fun, but it’s often for our benefit. Just as we’re told to stay home to avoid contracting a potentially deadly disease, God tells us no to protect us. Just as we place our trust in the CDC and other experts, believing that they both understand epidemiology and have our best interests at heart, we need to place our trust in God, that He in His wisdom and love knows what we should do and not do.
While I find restrictions unpleasant and often chafe against them, I want to obey God, so I’m trying to have a better attitude about being told no. One discipline Pete and I both find very helpful is that of fasting. (We may fast all food, certain types of food, or other things. I could even consider our lack of funding as a form of forced fasting from over-consumption.) The Holy Spirit uses fasting to teach us self-control (one of the fruits of the Spirit listed at the end of Galatians 5). And the more self-control I learn, the easier it gets to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).