The word “no” is the most powerful word in our language. It’s the first word learned and spoken by children. No! It’s the word required or implied to negotiate a fair and comprehensive deal if there’s to be an outcome of a win/win for either party. “No” is part of a leader’s life because they’re visionaries. They see things others do not. What they see and envision requires focus, strategy, and implementation in order to move forward—leading those who follow to the ultimate goal.
In every area of our lives—spiritually, physically, emotionally and intellectually—we make thousands of decisions between yes and no. Good leaders are always surrounded by people who are drawn to their “grace” of gifting and authority. People naturally want to receive from your strengths, areas of expertise, wisdom and insight. They want your time. Some will demand it; make you feel guilty if you don’t say yes. Voices inside the head of a leader also demand things. Fear, shame, or guilt may be among those voices pushing you to say “yes”—make you more concerned about what others think about you, than what God thinks.
In the gospel accounts of Jesus, his prime objective was to reach the lost house of Israel and preach the good news about the kingdom of God. He was sent to usher in “his” kingdom, not man’s notion of what that might look like. Imagine the voices screaming at him from the crowds, clawing for him, pushing against him, begging him, pleading with him to touch them, heal them, heal their relative, bless their child, come eat with them at their house, or clamoring to make him Israel’s king and overthrow the occupation of Roman. He had to say no to their agendas a hundred times a day.
Once when Jesus returned from a solitary place where he prayed, Simon Peter and others came to find him and said, “Everyone is looking for you!” The day before, Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law and a multitude of people previous night after sunset. At some point he had to stop and get some rest. Because of his physical limitations, he had to say, “no” so as to rejuvenate his body for next day’s mission. He said no to work and yes to sleep. The next morning, people from the night before were up early at Peter’s house, expecting Jesus to pick up where he had left off in the lineup of needs. After all, it’s a good thing to heal—right? Of course. But not if it prohibits you from the main purpose of your calling.
Listen to how Jesus responded to Peter. “[No] let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Notice that Jesus didn’t yield to the demands of “yes,” nor was he shamed into healing the people he had left unhealed the night before. Jesus said, “no, Peter,” my mission is to preach the good news of the kingdom of God—throughout Galilee—to the lost house of Israel. The good news included healing, but it wasn’t only about healing bodies. There was a greater mission in mind.
If you’ve spent any time reading through the gospels, think back on how many pushback “no” scenarios Jesus had with Satan in the wilderness, the people, his accusers, teachers of the law, the Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, and even his own disciples. Countless decisions of no that he gave to those who tried to derail him from his mission. He didn’t worry about offending them, either. He simply did what the Father told him to do. Yes, to Abba—no, to man’s agenda.
This has been one of the greatest challenges to me as a leader—knowing when to say no, and knowing when to say yes. Many people have good ideas. Many people have needs. Most are worthy of our attention. But not all are necessary when by saying “yes” to every demand for our involvement, derails and destroys our health and our mission as leaders. Learn how to say “No.”
Suggested Reading: The Power of No, James & Claudia Altucher (a secular book, but filled with wisdom on when to say no), 2014.