Should you say yes or no to leading?
For many of us, saying no to the invitation to lead may be a more difficult act of obedience than saying yes. I cannot do everything that comes before me. Even good ideas, if they are not the will of God for me, can become the vehicles for pride, sin, fatigue and depression.
Rather than take responsibility for these symptoms of imbalance, we often blame God for our busy lives. But I suspect that our busyness actually stems from complications we — not God — have brought into our lives. But even if we could prove that our busyness is in doing “God’s work,” it borders on blasphemy to imply that our loving Father wants us to do more than he has equipped us to do.
Richard Foster, in Freedom of Simplicity, calls Christians to a life of simply doing what God wants, rather than being pushed and pulled by inward and outward demands. In the book, he quotes Thomas Kelly: “We have seen and known some people who seem to have found [a] deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where no as well as yes can be said with confidence.” Foster describes that confidence as simplicity. It could also be called obedience.
Is this really God’s will?
Common to the lifestyle of busyness is a “bless-this-mess” syndrome. It goes like this: I see a need, or someone taps me for a project. Without carefully evaluating the request for my time, I say yes because I like to help people, I like to be creative, and I don’t like to let people down. Then when the going gets rough, I ask God to bless me anyhow. “Please help me to make it, Lord. Take care of my health, my family, even my prayer life so that I can make it through this crisis.” In other words, “Please, Lord, bless this mess.”
Everyone gets into predicaments like that occasionally. But when one crisis bumps into another, we need to stop and ask ourselves if this is the life God wants for us. How can I hear the still small voice of God when I don’t even have time to pray? How can the breeze of the Holy Spirit sweep into my life when I am stirring up endless dust storms on my own?
Consider the subtlety of one practical example. If I say yes to leading a Bible study, that study may take an hour to prepare and an hour to present. And if I want to befriend the people in the study, it may take another two or three hours a week. I may be very eager to do this, but if I do a good job, there will also be an emotional and spiritual drain, so that another hour or two of restoration is involved. So, my Bible study from 9-10 p.m. once a week means that I must say no to at least six hours worth of other activity.
I really feel good saying yes to requests for my time and talent. But that immediate reward soon tarnishes if I am expending my energies on things God has not called me to do.
Why we can’t say no
Our unwillingness to say no may be a modern form of idolatry. We enthrone our own desires, our pride and the lure of appearing busy. It may be that we still feel we must prove ourselves to God by doing good works. Perhaps it is just too painful to sit down alone and face our limitations. We need to be ruthlessly honest if we find ourselves always too busy, too tired or too discouraged. In the name of Christian witness or service, we may have abdicated our responsibility to consider which opportunities are God’s will for us and which ones pull us away from higher priorities.
God has good works planned for each of us to do. In our busy, complex culture, we need to pray for the courage to do only those good works. It takes courage to be simple. Sometimes, it is embarrassing because we are misunderstood and labeled as uncommitted. Always, simplicity takes the glory away from us and gives it to the Father.
One of the reasons we have so much difficulty experiencing simplicity is that we have taught ourselves to live in crisis. In fact, a crisis may motivate us to action more than a desire to please God! How much better to serve him freely, and to come to him frequently, motivated by a desire to do his will rather than merely to survive a crisis.
In this regard, I know of no adequate substitute for daily quiet time with God. Because of my tendency to want to do more than I can, I desperately need to be confronted with God’s thoughts in Scripture each day, and to be very quiet before him as I sort out his will. If my days seem to be more than I can bear, I dare not leave my devotions until there is a sense of order and peace. Perhaps I need to go through the pain of giving up an outdated value, a selfish desire or a pressure I feel from some source other than God.
Discerning between what is the will of God and what is not is the critical issue. Much has been written about how to know the will of God. Perhaps something should be said about how to know what the will of God is not. I would like to suggest five symptoms of a lifestyle which may mean that God’s will is not being done.
- If your inner life is seldom joyful, peaceful or ordered, then you may not be living in accordance with Scripture. Take the time to assess your walk with God and your relationships with others.
- If those close to you are frequently feeling left out, lonely, discouraged or disappointed, it may be that you are not available to be used by God in their lives.
- If, as you consider an activity, you feel overwhelmed emotionally or experience physical signs of stress (stomach tightening, extreme fatigue, headaches), you need to stop and ask God quietly if this is his will for you. Not all that God wants us to do is easy, but we are taught to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and it may be that God will use physical and emotional signs to indicate a false spirit prompting us to do something.
- If you are too busy to pray about an activity, you are too busy to do it.
- If you are too busy to handle an occasional interruption or emergency, you are too busy.
Have you ever wondered why prison interrupted Paul’s ministry? Perhaps God used it to slow down Paul so that he would write letters to the churches. “A man’s mind plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
Revising our expectations
Crises, stomach pains and unhappy people, however, are not the only, or the best ways, to learn God’s will. I find that virtually every day of my life there is more to do than time to do it. Not everyone is like that, but for those of us who are, we need to figure out how to choose between what is God’s will for us and what is not.
One day I made a list of my expectations for a given week. Then I listed the number of hours I had at my disposal. My expectations exceeded reality by almost ten hours! That meant that I was expecting to do ten hours of activity which were not God’s will for me. What a sobering, painful conclusion. But what freedom it brought to come to the Lord and say, “What is it that you don’t want me to do?” It is God’s gift to us to be able to work hard, every day, in his service, and not live with a sense of unfulfilled expectations.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). May God give us the grace to live willingly with the yoke we have acknowledged, to find rest, to find simplicity, and to find only his will for our lives.
— Alice Fryling