Now, before you rightly rebuke me for misquoting Jesus and James, let me explain what I mean by “let your yes be no”. I think too often in ministry, be it paid or lay, we automatically say yes to things instead of saying no. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it does become a major problem when we too easily become doers for Christ instead of followers of Christ.
There is also the problem of mixed motives. Often our yes is a result of our pride and our desire to impress people as much as it is to serve our Lord. For example, if you were asked to speak at some major conference, or be a part of some exciting new ministry, would you be tempted to say yes even if you were too busy to do it?
While for some the problem is too often saying no, here are four quick reminders for those of us who tend towards workaholism.
In our zeal to serve others and be a part of various ministries, we need to make sure that we don’t compromise our own personal godliness. For example, in an evening congregation I was a part of, many of us were involved in multiple ministries that left ourselves little room for our own personal growth. Bible reading and prayer soon became pushed to the fringe to make room for more activity preparation time.
I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. While Mary took the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he had to say, Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:39-40). In her zeal to serve, Martha neglected what was necessary at that time—listening to Jesus!
So we must be careful that, in our zeal to serve, we don’t neglect the things that are fundamental to being followers of Christ, like being immersed in the Word and prayer.
We are not the Saviour! Plain and simple. It is Jesus who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3), not us. And so a right understanding of God’s sovereignty will help our yes be no.
To understand God’s sovereignty is actually to understand our Christian freedom. As followers of Christ we are called to faithfully serve him in all things, but we are not ultimately responsible for saving people. While God does use us, and while we are created in Christ Jesus for good works “that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10), God knows who are his elect (2 Tim 2:19). That is, God will do his work with or without us.
This point is especially important for those of us who are husbands and wives, and mums and dads. No faithful Christian would deny the importance of their commitment and responsibility to family. However, in saying yes to too many things, we soon act contrary to our own convictions. Suddenly, in our busyness, family takes a back seat, and we aren’t around as much as we should be. Or, if we are around, we are so exhausted or pre-occupied with the things we need to do, that in reality we are absent.
We should remember the biblical call to prioritize our marriages (1 Cor 7:1-5; Eph 5:22-33) and to teach our kids to love and fear the Lord (Deut 6:7).
In Going the Distance, Peter Brain helpfully reminds full-time ministers that the church can quickly become “the other woman”, warning that “churches can actually promote and applaud the pastor’s affair and ‘adultery’ with the church”.
We must remember that loving our families is an important and faithful work.
Regardless of your view of the Sabbath or its theological significance, there is wisdom in resting. Taking time to rest reminds ourselves that we are finite human beings and benefit from sleep and leisure. Even Jesus got tired and took the time to sleep (Mark 4:38; John 4:6). To serve God faithfully for the long term, we need to establish good patterns of rest.
Taking time to rest and enjoy family, friends, and all the good things God has given us is also a great way to remind us to be thankful to God, and of our eternal rest that is coming in the new creation.
So there you have it. Four quick reminders to help our yes be no. A wise man recently told me that in saying yes to some things we implicitly say no to others. Let us make sure that we are not saying no to those things that help us be followers of Christ and not just doers for Christ.