Learn to Say “No”

Sometimes you just have to say “No” to the many invitations and requests from people asking you to do things that they know you can do well. Oftentimes they mean well. They see something in you. They see that you have something significant to contribute that can be of help to others. You can be a great blessing to many people if you say “Yes” to their request. The problem is we don’t have the time and energy to do everything, especially if we have jobs and priorities of our own.

Invitations will always be there because there will always be a need sometime, somewhere, that others see you have the competence to fill. However, since you can’t do everything, it behooves you to choose and refuse. There will always be more good to be done than I have time and energy for. If I don’t muster the courage to say “No” to the many good things others ask me to do for them, I won’t be able to say “Yes” to the few best things that God has called me to do. Also, I run the danger of inviting unnecessary stress into my life. And that’s how burn-out happens, when we don’t know how to say “No.”

Interestingly, you can find an antidote to burn-out in a book by John Calvin entitled The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. In this book, Calvin reminds us that we ought to be faithful in our callings. Our callings serve as a fence to keep us from doing so many things which we were never called to do in the first place. “He who disregards his calling,” says Calvin, “will never keep the straight path in the duties of his work.” “Every individual’s sphere of life, therefore is a post assigned him by the Lord that he may not wander about in uncertainty all the days of his life.”

It’s possible, however, that some will consider this – concentrating on the duties of one’s calling – a selfish course of action. “Why deprive others of the blessing you can give them if only you do this or that? Why not sacrifice a bit? We need you!” This is the kind of plea that can undermine one’s determination to say “No” because the person to whom the plea is addressed might feel guilty about refusing. But guilt as one’s motivation for doing something is ultimately counter-productive, even destructive. A person who is prodded by guilt to give in to a plea to do something she doesn’t want to do (for one reason or another) becomes resentful. Rightly or wrongly, she will feel that she is being manipulated. What is worse, if one doesn’t know how to resolve the guilt such pleas generate, one will get caught in a vicious circle of guilt and resentment, each reinforcing the other until one simply explodes!

Fortunately, there’s the wisdom of the Puritans that can help us in this matter. Enter William Gurnall, a 17th century English pastor-theologian, who wrote a spiritual classic titled The Christian in Complete Armor. He wrote, “God will not thank you for doing that which He did not commission you to do.” That’s precisely what happened to King Saul when he decided to offer a burnt offering to the Lord because he couldn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to arrive (see 1 Samuel 13:8-15). Offering that sacrifice was Samuel’s job, not his. He paid a heavy price for that error: The Lord took away his kingdom and gave it to David.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that one should absolutely have nothing to do with anything that’s not related to one’s calling. There will be times when one will have to say “Yes.” Having said that, I still think that in the majority of instances “No” is the proper response. Gurnall made an obvious point when he said, “To be occupied with anything which is not your duty means you are neglecting that which is your task.” The lesson is clear: Be faithful to your own calling and learn to say “No!”

We Are Called

Text: Romans 1: 1-17

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

INTRODUCTION:

Just like Paul we are a called people. Rom. 1: 6, 7: “And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people…” Rom. 9:23, 24: “What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for his glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

In Paul’s case, this was a calling that went all the way back to the time of his birth. He was “set apart for the gospel of God” ( Rom. 1:1) before he was born! Gal. 1:15: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace…”
Compare Jer. 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

In fact, the root of calling goes all the way back to eternity past.

[Who] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
(2 Timothy 1:9 ESV)

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Romans 8:30 ESV)

[Even] as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
(Ephesians 1:4 ESV)

Our holy calling stems from God’s election of us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Because we are called we have a purpose and identity: We know who we are and what we should be doing.

1. WE ARE CALLED TO SERVE THE LORD.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
(Romans 1:1 ESV)

A servant is a bond slave. We are slaves of Jesus Christ and we ought to serve him because he bought us with a price, with his precious blood.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV)

[Knowing] that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
(1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV)

We are no longer to live for ourselves but for him.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21 ESV)

2. WE ARE CALLED TO STRENGTHEN THE BRETHREN.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—
(Romans 1:11 ESV)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

We have been given roles and gifts to build up one another.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
(Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
(1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV)

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
(Romans 12:4-8 ESV)

Are we fulfilling our roles and using our gifts for the common good?

3. WE ARE CALLED TO SHARE THE GOSPEL.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
(Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

We should not be ashamed to share the gospel. It is divinely powerful; therefore, we should confidently proclaim it.

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:11 ESV)

Everyone needs the gospel: it is the only way people can be righteous before God. Therefore, we should share it with all.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:13-14 ESV)

What God Does Not Call Us To

But if in anything we take more upon us than we have time well to perform it in, without robbing God of that which is due to him and our own souls, this God calls not unto, this he blesses us not in. It is more tolerable that our duties of holiness and regard to God should entrench upon the duties of our calling and employments in this world than on the contrary; and yet neither does God require this at our hands, in an ordinary manner or course.

– John Owen, The Power and Efficacy of Indwelling Sin

Today’s Professional

The man of today is no longer able to understand his neighbor because his profession is his whole life, and the technical specialization of this life has forced him to live in a closed universe. He no longer understands the vocabulary of others. Nor does he comprehend the underlying motivations of others

– Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, p. 132

Solitude as Vocation

It is clear to me that solitude is my vocation, not as a flight from the world but as my place in the world, because for me to find solitude is only to separate myself from all the forces that destroy me and destroy history, in order to be united with the Life and Peace that build the City of God in history and rescue the children of God from hell.

– Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, pp. 257-58

How to Know Your Vocation

It is only from one’s unique history of suffering that one can define accurately one’s own calling. Only from a particular history of special anguish and personal travail can one come to know how God is calling one to be present to the suffering world even as God the Son has become present to it.

— Thomas C. Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, p. 94

Christian Work

Found this quote from Dorothy Sayers at Justin Taylor’s blog:

The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

. . . Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade—not outside of it. The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meant they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word. But the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meant for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.

The official Church wastes time and energy, and moreover, commits sacrilege, in demanding that secular workers should neglect their proper vocation in order to do Christian work—by which she means ecclesiastical work. The only Christian work is good work well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is Church embroidery or sewage-farming.

The Reproach of Christ

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

— Hebrews 11:24-26

Choosing to serve the people of God may mean sacrificing some dream of personal greatness, some personal ambition to climb the heights of success or to excel in one’s profession. But Moses turned his back on what many of us hold dear in order to serve the people of God. Serving the people of God, even if it meant being mistreated with them, was more important to him than a life of comfort, wealth, privilege, fame and success. The choice before us, then, in the words of Betsy Childs, is this:

We can exhaust ourselves by seeking significance in what we do and how we are known, hoping that we will be remembered after we are gone. Or, we can lay our lives on God’s altar, squandering them in the world’s eyes, but entrusting our legacy to our maker.

Servants

When we take up the role of servants, we do precisely what the powerful prefer not to do: put ourselves in a position where our power is of little use. Rather than asserting the privilege the powerful have to control their environment and avoid humbling experiences, we seek Christ in the places where we will not be noticed, will not seem useful and will not receive praise. Servants are anonymous and often all but invisible, and the more powerful we become, the more we should seek out opportunities for anonymity and invisibility.

— Andy Crouch, Culture Making, p. 228

Renouncing a Vocation

Somehow, I have to give up this thing that I love above everything else on earth because the love of God is greater… to renounce the purest of all vocations simply because it is not the one God has chosen for me – to accept something in which it seems likely that my highest personal ideals will be altogether frustrated, purely because of His love, His will. He who loves me prefers it this way, and to accept His love is to send up to Him the incense of the purest prayer, the sweetest praise, without pleasure for myself – and yet in the end it is a supreme joy!

— Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas