Saying “No” to Good Things

A key part of leadership, whether at home or work, is knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” There are so many factors that flow into those decisions. We first take into account what God says. When he says “no,” that makes it simple for us to agree with God and say “no.” When we know that something is bad or harmful for us, our family, or organization, the “no” becomes clear.

But most decisions are not so cut and dry and easily labeled good or bad. Most of our decisions are about good vs. great! An effective and wise leader has the wisdom and ability to say “yes” to great things and “no” to good things.

But why would a leader, parent, church, or organization say “no” to good things? It’s because there are just too many good things to which we can say “yes.” If we say yes to too many good things, we’ll end up doing good things poorly because too much good crowds out what’s great. Too many good things diffuse our focus and that leads to a loss of excellence and effectiveness.

The good is the enemy of the best.

You’ve likely heard this. It’s become an American proverb and idiom. It’s true.

I’ve been in seasons when I hit the wall. What’s ironic is that I wasn’t tired or discouraged. I didn’t feel or sense the typical signs of burnout. Once you get to burnout, it’s clear that you waited far too long to say “no” to a lot of things and failed to say “yes” to the right things.

But I’ve been in pre-burnout and in those seasons some things that are vital were being infringed upon by a pace that was unsustainable. In one of those seasons, our church had just built a new building, were in the final stages of completing a church merger which required that we change most of our systems, and were in a growth spurt that produced more opportunities and challenges. Our staff was stretched, including me. It is in those times that more than ever, I (we) have to be deliberate in what to say “yes” to and what opportunities get a “no.” The leader has to lead the way!

It is never easy to say “no” to good things. We often feel guilty when we say “no” period. I do. I hate to let people down. I hate to say “no” when I know, in fact, I can do what is being asked of me. It’s funny that when we were 2 and 3 years old “no” was the first and easiest of words out of our mouths. Now it is one of the hardest words to use.

So let me challenge you to practice intentionally saying “no” to things. In that hard season I mentioned above, I made some hard decisions to say “no.” I said “no” to teaching a course at an institute that I helped start in Ukraine. I really wanted to do it and it could have made a huge difference. I actually made a list of things I said “no” to and gave it to our board.

But here’s the part I haven’t addressed yet. In order to say “no,” you have to know what you are going to say “yes” to. My challenge is for you to take some time and really think about what you want to give yourself to. What is the bigger “yes” in your life? What does God want you to say “yes” to? What is it at the end of your life you’ll be grateful you said yes to?

Now, before I share my list, I’ll admit I don’t always live these values out as well as I want. When I fail to say “yes” to these things, it is usually because I’ve said “yes” to the wrong things or less important or urgent things too often. Here is my yeses list and I’ve put them in the order I prioritize them:

  • Abiding with Jesus, loving God, and listening to the Holy Spirit
  • Serving my family, especially my wife
  • Being a pastor to pastors and to our city
  • Ensuring that I’m healthy in order to be healthy for others

That’s my “yes” list. Of course, there are lots of details under each bullet point. And that’s why I have to say “no” to so many good things.

What’s your yes list? Until you know your yes list, you won’t be able to say no to both good or bad things. Let your yeses list lead you to what is best. Your best is that which God has uniquely designed and positioned you to do – that which you can and should say “yes” to.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *