One of the hardest things about life and ministry is telling people no. Anyone who loves people wants to see their needs met and their dreams come true. Unfortunately, sometimes when people discover we have a heart for them, they can develop unrealistic expectations of us and will often make unreasonable demands on our time, resources, and energy. Sometimes unhealthy, co-dependent relationships form out of a motive to love and serve God by loving and serving people.
God wants us all to love and serve people. He wants us to have a YES in our heart toward them, however, we must be sensitive to both the scriptures and the Holy Spirit so we can realize what is in their best interests. Sometimes saying yes to the wrong things, is unintentionally saying no to the right things that keeps us from truly blessing the person and helping them see the kingdom in their lives.
An interesting example of this is in John 11. Jesus’s good friend Lazarus became sick and his sisters, Martha and Mary, sent messengers to Jesus to tell him about the situation hoping he would come and pray for Lazarus. Look at Jesus’s response:
6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.
Think about this. Jesus hears his friend is sick and he doesn’t come pray for him right away. In fact, he stayed exactly where he was for two more days. Imagine the messengers’ shock when Jesus didn’t come right away. Imagine them having to go back to tell Mary and Martha, “Jesus isn’t coming right now.” This created a huge opportunity to get offended at Jesus. I can hear the conversation as they journey back:
Messenger 1: “Lazarus was his friend. He cared about Jesus. Why won’t he come?”
Messenger 2: “You know Jesus. He’s teaching and he’s got a crowd right now. He’s not leaving that for Lazarus.”
Messenger 1: “He never cared about Lazarus. He just used him like he’s using Mary and Martha.”
Messenger 2: “Yeah, and they give money to Jesus and serve people at his meetings. He doesn’t care about them.”
Messenger 1: “Yeah, he’s just a self-promoter.”
It would almost be funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. Jesus essentially told the messengers no by staying where he was. And he didn’t explain himself. Why did Jesus do this? The Bible doesn’t say exactly; most likely it was because Lazarus was already dead by the time the messengers got to Jesus so whether Jesus came immediately or waited a couple of days, he was going to have to raise him from the dead anyway. But focusing on the reason behind Jesus’s delay is to miss the point of this article. Jesus was perfectly led by the Father and if the Father said to stay two more days, that’s what Jesus was going to do.
Jesus was so strong in his identity as the beloved son of the Father, he didn’t worry about how other people perceived him. He didn’t have a co-dependent relationship with people, which is why God was able to use him to reach so many people. And remember, Jesus was the savior of the world. His ministry was all about people, yet in this instance he didn’t immediately accommodate people because the Father needed him to be somewhere else. In order to be used to our fullest capacity by God, we must learn to draw our identity and worth totally from him. When our identity and worth only comes from the Father, then he can trust us with His greatest treasure, which is people.
Jesus’s short term no or delay in coming led to one of the greatest miracles in the Bible. After he stayed two days and finished his ministry assignment, he came to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. This not only blessed Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and others aware of the situation, it also caused many more to believe in Jesus! According to John 12:11 on account of him (Lazarus) many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. The resurrection of Lazarus increased Jesus’s following and directly led to his triumphant entry into Jerusalem that began the Passover week!
Like Jesus, we all have to learn to be led by the Father. We must maintain a yes in our hearts toward people, but learn to say no when their needs or requests don’t align with the Father’s plan for us. This sometimes means telling people no when they need money, telling people we can’t talk right now when they need a shoulder to cry on because we need to spend time with our spouse, or letting people know how great their ministry is, but we can’t be a part, because it doesn’t align with our assignment from God.
Whenever we say no to the wrong thing, we are positioning ourselves to say yes to the right things in life. None of us have the spiritual gift of being in multiple places at the same time. This principal benefits us, but it also benefits the people who make requests of us. God is their provision and if we aren’t the channel He wants to use to meet their need, the best thing we can do is say no, so they find the channel, He is providing from. That channel is overflowing with blessing for them and the blessing of the Lord makes rich and adds no sorrow with it!