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How Saying “No” Leaves Room for “Yes!”

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

It should have been a peaceful weekend. My overloaded brain and heart certainly could have used the downtime. Instead, I found myself stuck for two and a half hours in the car with three of my kids in standstill traffic—which is exactly as fun as it sounds—for an event I hadn’t been keen to attend in the first place.

I ended up being in a packed concrete building with foreigners staring at me and my children playing an instrument as sweat trickled between my shoulder blades.

As I reflected in my consternation and yes, weary tears, it occurred to me there was one reason I had ended up in that van and that building—not to mention coloring my kids’ experience performing on instruments I longed for them to enjoy.

I didn’t even think about saying no.

 For many in my culture, when we’re asked “How’s life?”, a  frequent response is “Busy!” Maybe it’s just me—but I find that my spirituality has compounded that reluctance to say no.  After all, who wants to say no to something God might be putting in our paths?

That weekend’s little debacle, which left me exhausted and, well, resentful, left me mulling over the reasons I overcommit.

 

1. FOMO, meet FOHO.

Heard of FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out? Well, I’ve got FOHO: Fear of Hurting Others. My inability to say no frequently stems from my fear. I fear others’ disapproval or hurting their feelings when I reject them. I fear not doing the right thing or missing an opportunity from God. I fear my life and contributions being insignificant.

There’s often a yawning gap between the person I want to be and the person I am actually capable of being. My dreams and desires often surpass my time, energy, abilities, and capacity. I end up saying “Yes” to too many people, not wanting to miss out on opportunities—but leaving me exhausted and angry (yep, even though I’m the one who got overinvolved).

 

2. I’m asking the wrong questions

Most of the time, whenever I’m asked to do something, I ask myself: “What if I don’t do this?” Maybe I should be asking, instead: “What might God do in the event I said no?” Thinking about “no” is just as essential as thinking about “yes”.

Recently, someone asked me to help take care of children at a young moms’ weekly Bible study. I’ve been an exhausted young mom before, and I know how critical this need is. But my husband pointed out that I’m also in the first, critical months of starting my own business as a Christian freelance writer. If I fail to gain momentum, I may not be able to work from home—something that allows me to spend more time with my children—and miss all the ministry opportunities that come with it.

So I actually said no. And though God doesn’t always tie up ends so neatly, this time He did: I got to use my writing business to assist a development organization in Afghanistan, as well as gain four ministry clients in need of a specific skill set.

 

So how then do we know when to say yes, and make choices we won’t regret? Here are some considerations that have helped me.

1. Choose quality over quantity;depth rather than breadth.

Africa is kneading into me this idea that relationships and discipleship take time. Expecting them to stay within the bounds of a status update or a snug time slot is unrealistic.

A friend of mine has become more and more interested in Christianity as a result of her recent divorce. I understand that she needs lots of time to talk about her questions, along with support of Christians coming around her, as she sorts through her broken marriage and her new responsibilities as a single mom. She needs to study and understand the power of God’s Word as she applies its principles to her life. If all I’m investing in is a short few hours every few months, I could personally lose the opportunity to be there as she comes to faith—and her girls, and the generations after them.

 

2. Say no to keep ourselves in the best shape to love others well.

“Making a mistake doesn’t mean you should keep doing the wrong thing.” This was a nugget from my husband as I battled exhaustion. Even if I’d said yes to too many people, I should try to gracefully back out or get help from others so my family and other people whom I care about don’t keep paying the price of my exhaustion, subsequent irritation, and my general lack of loving behavior.

Once, my husband said to me: “I want you to know that sometimes your over commitment affects how the gospel is played out in our home.” It still rings true for me. When I overcommit, I have less energy and patience to be kind. My kids don’t see Jesus in me like they would if I’d said no. Essentially, you love less well, and with less joy.

Author and preacher Christopher Ash reminds us in his book, Zeal Without Burnout, that it might sound heroic, even romantic to burn out for Jesus. But is that really what Jesus wants of our lives—a frazzled shell with a long spiritual resume and a soul of ashes?  Ash aptly writes: “Until God takes us home to be with Jesus, we are to offer ourselves as those who have a life to offer, rather than a burned-out wreck.”

 

Working for five and a half years in Africa, I realized that for any long-term ministry, I need to run as someone running a marathon—not a sprint. Any professional runner learns to deny himself—to say “no” to everything from the beer benders with friends and the bags of potato chips, to days playing video games and the comfort of sleeping in. He says “no” to the inessential to say “yes” to training at the gym . . . and its rewards.

The “No”s that we say are made for the sake of critical “Yes” we have to say. If I said “Yes” to all the opportunities in Africa, I would be saying a gigantic “No” to my family. I would be saying “No” to my sustainable presence in Uganda. I would be saying “No” to serving God with joy as His daughter.

What things can you say “No” to today?

Ozark and dealing with the consequences

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

What if you make choices based on your own personal gratification, but never stop to consider the consequences of your actions? Ozark, a popular crime thriller series that’s now showing on Netflix, explores this idea as it follows the story of financial planner Marty Byrde (played brilliantly by Jason Bateman), who along with his partner Bruce launder money for the second largest drug cartel in Mexico.

Marty is living a sterile and joyless life with his wife Wendy (Laura Linney), who is cheating on him, and Charlotte and Jonah, their two teenage kids. When Bruce is caught stealing from the Cartel and executed, the Cartel plans to kill everyone associated with the enterprise, including Marty. However, Marty convinces the Cartel representative that he can launder US$500 million in five years in the cash-rich tourist area of the Missouri Ozarks. So Marty packs the family up and heads off to the Lake Ozark area, where he finds trying to launder money in a small resort-community more difficult than he realized.

[WARNING: Some spoilers follow] A later episode retrospectively reveals how Marty began working with the Cartel. Initially, Marty isn’t interested. However, things are tough. Wendy is pregnant, and things are financially tight. Slowly, we see Marty’s moral principles shift ever-so-slightly, a step at a time, as he is wooed by the charismatic cartel boss Camino Del Rio.

As he discusses the deal with Wendy, we see Marty rationalize his gradual slide down the slippery moral slope: “I wouldn’t be a mule. I wouldn’t be a dealer. I’d be just pushing my mouse around my desk.”

Watching Marty rationalize his decision is uncomfortable. Seduced by the money and the lifestyle that accompanies it, he thinks himself far removed from the ugliness of the business. This utopian illusion comes crashing down when Marty, having accepted the invitation, is forced to watch as his predecessor is brutally murdered for being suspected of dealing with the Feds. He now realizes there is no neutral ground.

The book of James has a passage that seems apt at this point: “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). The apostle Paul writes to his protégé Timothy: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). And there is plenty of ruin and destruction resulting from the desire for more in Ozark.

One reviewer describes Ozark as “one of the darkest shows on TV”. And it is. The Ozarks is a place where the ravages of corruption, revenge, addiction, avarice, and murder are commonplace. In protagonist Marty Byrde, we witness the warts-and-all portrayal of a brilliant but flawed human being who mistakenly trusts in his own abilities and resourcefulness to save himself and others.

Christian pop-culture commentator Stephen Woodworth sees the show’s brilliance in “its truthful depiction of life without hope. Life all alone. Life without a lifeline.” As Marty responds to each crisis, things go from bad to worse, and we see him sliding deeper into the hole that he’s trying to escape. Marty rejects the idea of a guiding hand of providence; there is no divine power to cry out to, no Savior to rescue him. Many of the characters are trapped in a hell of their own making.

 

Choices and Consequences

 A trailer announcing the second season of Ozark is captioned, “You made your choice. Now deal with the consequences.” The importance of our decisions and dealing with the consequences of our actions forms a constant theme throughout the series, as Marty expounds on the significance of choices as he discusses finances, moral principles, and work ethics.

We also  see this played out in the biblical story. A key example is that of King David, who suffered greatly as a result of poor choices. He commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders her husband Uriah. David later receives forgiveness from God, but the consequences of his choices continue to echo through into the next generation. David’s son Amnon rapes his sister Tamar; then, in retaliation, David’s son Absalom kills Amnon. David does nothing. Absalom then rebels against his father, and is later killed (2 Sam 11-18). From this point, David’s life and reign falls into ruin. Did God forgive David? Yes he did; but David had to suffer the consequences of his ruinous run of bad choices.

In Ozark, we see a similar chain of bad choices and devastating consequences.  Every choice has a consequence, and each character must live with his or her choices.

What choices await all these characters in the upcoming seasons? Can the morally compromised Marty Byrde find redemption for himself and his family? Or will he continue down the road to destruction?

Series one finishes with a momentous choice. The Cartel, the local heroin kingpin, and the FBI are closing in. Wendy, Charlotte, and Jonah, rather than going on the run with new identities, choose to return to the Ozarks so they can be with Marty and remain a family. It’s a truly touching moment. But I can’t help but think that there are going to be consequences for their choice.

As Christians, we know that God has created us with the ability to freely choose, and sometimes we must deal with the aftereffects of our bad choices. But we can live in the certain knowledge that even though we might have to experience the consequences of our poor decisions, our sin has been paid for by Great David’s greater Son and God’s empowering presence will be with us every step of the way. He will provide strength and comfort for us as we endeavor to turn from worldly ways and walk the righteous path.

We Are Not the Sum of Our Bad Choices

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

You might have encountered them on the streets. The lonely, the homeless, and the addicted. They started off just like the rest of us, but somewhere along the line, one wrong choice after another led them on a downward spiral. Now, they think it’s too late for them to try and amend their ways—God wouldn’t possibly want anything to do with them anyway.

Or perhaps you have a friend or have heard of someone struggling to take care of her baby on her own after a series of bad choices. Life is hard and lonely for her. Even if God exists, He wouldn’t know or care about her predicament, she tells you.

All around us, there are plenty of such people. In fact, some of my neighbours have the exact mind-set like those homeless guys on the streets. I find it sad that they’ve allowed their past choices to trap them into living such defeated lives—because it doesn’t need to be this way.

That’s what I’ve learned from my recent study on Nehemiah 9. At this point, the people of Israel are making their way back to Israel, after spending 70 years in exile in the land of Babylon. Nehemiah has been rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem amid some fierce opposition. Now all those who have returned are gathered together and they have a decision to make: Would they follow God?

The answer is a resounding yes—they want to follow God. Nehemiah 9 therefore is their prayer of repentance. It’s a long prayer and it covers all that God did for them as a nation and all their mistakes. Just like the people we see around us, the Israelites made some very poor choices. They rejected God and did what they wanted, even when they had just witnessed God doing amazing things for them—like rescuing them from slavery.

They must have been filled with regret and shame as they recounted their past mistakes. But what struck me about their prayer was not so much the extent of their sinfulness, but how God responded to them each time they failed. Interspersed through Nehemiah 9 are beautiful phrases like these:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,” (Neh 9:17)

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness.” (Neh 9:19)

But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.” (Neh 9:27)

And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.” (Neh 9:28)

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” (Neh 9:31)

And that made me think, wow! What an amazing God we have, who has compassion and still loves us even when we do our own thing and ignore Him. In my own life, I too have failed God’s instructions like the Israelites. And one of the things that gets to me the most is when I choose not to tell someone about Jesus, because I’m afraid how that person might react.

In the UK, people often don’t know or don’t speak to their neighbours. In my street, we might say hello to each other as we leave our houses at the same time, but our conversations never go further than the weather. So even though I can see that my neighbours need Jesus, I say nothing more than “hello” when I see them, because I’m afraid that they will think that I am crazy.

When I think of all the opportunities that I’ve missed this way, I’m left feeling horrendously guilty. I know I’ve been ignoring what God has instructed to me to do: to tell people about Jesus. And I can’t help but think that He must be really mad at me.

So to read these verses is a huge relief. It feels like someone has lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders. And that is what God promises if we take time to pray, confess and ask for His forgiveness; He will free us from guilt and cleanse us from our sins. Sure, I still need to be responsible to tell people about Jesus, but I can do that because I want to obey God and not because of my guilt conscience.

So here’s the thing. Maybe you’ve made some bad choices. You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd or you’ve gone too far in a romantic relationship and you know that your actions haven’t honoured God. Or maybe the choices you are making leave you feeling hollow and guilty. If you’ve messed up and feel like there is no way God could forgive you, then have a look at what God says in His Word. Look at who God is and what He has done for you on the cross.

Come back to the God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” He won’t turn you away. Let’s not be trapped in our past choices.

When I Realized Working Hard Isn’t Everything

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

A colleague of mine recently retired after working for the same organization for 35 years. He was one of those who worked 24/7 and gave his heart and soul to the job at hand.

Often, we meet people who can’t seem to care less about the job—but he wasn’t one of those. He was passionate, competitive, always on top of things, and involved in everything happening in the office.

We threw him a farewell party and gave him a gift and a card. By the next day, a new officer had taken over his position and his email was removed from the staff mailing list.

To be honest, I was on track to become one such worker not too long ago. I gave everything to my job, dreamed about my job at night, and talked about nothing but my job. I was so fixated on my job that I stopped wishing or aiming for a life outside of it.

I stopped engaging with friends because I was always working or replying to emails. I couldn’t keep a relationship going because I was always the last person in the office to leave for home or always on my phone, anxiously waiting for that message I had to respond to. I got upset if I was told that other things mattered in life and that I had to learn to live a little.

Lessons Spoken From Retirement

Then one day, I fell ill and had to be off work for a while. Only one colleague sent me a text message to ask me how I was doing. I had no one to talk to, no one to help me, and because I had practically ignored God, I felt I couldn’t go to Him either. I realized there and then that there was more to life, and that I had not been created to work in pursuit of material gain; I was created to fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9) and glorify God (Isaiah 43:7).

After that revelation, I arranged a meet up with my retired friend. He shared that he had no idea what to do after retirement. He was divorced because of the job, and had long given up all his hobbies in favor of work and ambition. All his life, he had been chasing after deadlines and promotions, and had often felt that everything at work would fall apart if he was not there to hold it all together.

But at the point of his retirement, he realized that all his labor amounted to nothing. He was easily replaced at his former job. In pursuit of his career, he had lost focus of everything else. He lost his friends, his family, and the ability to “function” outside of the office.

He shared that his mistake was fixing his eyes on the present and immediate future. Because he was so fixated on achieving excellence at work, he had failed to look beyond the present, and to realize that there would be a day he had to leave that job.

It was only on hindsight that he realized investing in family, community, and faith was more important than his title. Making an impact on the lives of others around him, knowing his neighbors, serving God, reaching out to those who were lost, would have been far greater achievements than a paycheck at the end of the month.

I was deeply impacted by his sharing and it motivated me to reflect on my own life. Reading through Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, I learned that for everything, there is a right time (Eccl. 3); work cannot take up my entire life. And unless God blesses the work, it will simply be futile and frustrating no matter how hard I labor (Psalm 127). From personal experience, I’ve also realized that just as God gave me the job, He is more than capable of taking it away or giving me another one in its place.

A Refreshing New Approach

That’s not saying that we don’t need to work hard—the Bible does call us to work diligently (Proverbs 6:6-11)—but my goal must be to exalt God above all else. In all my endeavors, I pray that He gives me the grace to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”, and to trust that all the things I need will be given to me as well (Matthew 6:33).

My security lies not in where I am and what I do, but whom I am with. Life is not about knowing all the pit stops or even the destination; it is about trusting in the One who has our life in the palm of His hands. When we truly learn to trust God and let Him have His way in our lives, we will stop fixating on the little things, and on the here and now. Instead, we will learn to look at the bigger picture and realize our lives are not our own—but God’s. We need to live it according to His way.

These days, I choose to ask God to use me for His glory, to let me be His hands and feet (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) in whichever way that pleases Him. I try to look at the big picture and not focus on what my flesh or the world tell me is important.

This has meant setting a particular time to leave work every day—as far as possible, I try not to stay in the office past 7pm. There are occasions that I do need to stay late, but I make sure it’s never the norm. I’ve also started saying yes to friends, writing, volunteering for causes close to my heart and serving God at Church. I also promised God that I wouldn’t work or check my emails on Sunday.

Making these changes took time but I’m determined not to make my job a god or an idol. I am made for the Lord’s pleasure. He is God, and I am His vessel.