When Saying Yes Means Saying No

We are not trying to please people, but God, who tests our hearts. –1Thessalonians 2:4b

I want to say yes. I want to serve others. I want to make other people happy. After three decades of involvement in youth ministry, saying yes is almost instinct. It seems so Christian. Yet, since it is simply impossible to do everything at once, I’ve learned that each time I say yes it most always involves saying no to something else. Too often, particularly in my younger years, by saying yes, I found myself unintentionally saying no to the things that mattered most.

I know it’s really tough to say no to people you love or a request that seems like an easy yes. But, along the way, I’ve made progress. Here’s an email dialogue I had with a colleague at church some years ago:

Colleague: Hi Doug, on Monday night October 15, we are having a church membership class. Would you be able to come and speak so we can video you for use in future classes?

Me: Hi! Thanks for asking! Can you please give me another date? Monday is my day off and I will have just returned from a several-day youth ministry conference where I will have gotten very little sleep. I may actually be dead that day.

Colleague: Don’t make me tell you that Pastor Rick is coming in on his day off!!! Unfortunately, it’s the only date we can do it. Come on buddy, please?

Me: If guilt techniques worked on me, I wouldn’t have lasted almost 30 years in youth ministry and I’d probably have a boring job like yours. Let me give you an answer in my bilingual tongue and communicate it in many different languages–“no.”

I share this illustration because I want you to know I completely understand how difficult it is to say no to conniving, weasel-like, manipulating family, friends, or colleagues who use multiple exclamation points to try to get their way.

With that particular request, a yes response to teach during that membership class would have become a no to several more important things–

• A yes would have been a no to my Sabbath.
• A yes would have ben a no to rest and reflection.
• A yes would have been a no to my wife and kids.

And quite frankly, my work responsibilities require me to say no to my family more than enough already. Therefore, when I have the choice, I will say no to many opportunities and requests (many of which are good and meaningful) so I can say yes to what matters most.

Here’s the good news: you can learn to do the same! Most of the time, we really do have the choice to say no. When we say no, we may run the risks of missing a great opportunity or of not being asked again. But, almost always, we have the choice to say yes to what matters most. What will you choose?

1. When have you said yes to a request that resulted in having to say no to something that mattered more?

2. Today, what do you need to say no to, in order to say yes to what matters most?

1 Corinthians 6:12; Galatians 1:10; 1 Timothy 5:8

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Doug Fields

Doug Fields is the senior director of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of leaders, teenagers and parents each year. He’s also the author/co-author of 50+ books including: Parenting in a Screen Saturated Culture; Intentional Parenting; 7 Ways to be Her Hero – the One Your Wife Has Been Waiting For; and To Have and To Hold. In addition to Doug’s speaking and writing, he is also the co-founder of DownloadYouthMinistry.com and the youth pastor at Mariners Church. Doug has been married for more than 35 years to his wonderful wife Cathy, and they live near their 3 married children and 3 grandchildren in Southern California.

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