Every yes requires a no

By Gerry Lewis | Published Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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I spent the weekend with my grandkids. Their parents were there, too, but they are not as fun to spoil.

The ages of our three grand blessings are 3 years, 17 months and 2 months. The 3-year-old is, understandably, the most talkative. She’s still working her way around precision in her speech. “Grandpa” started out as bm-puh, then went to pa-pa and now sounds like cow-pa.

There is one word, however, that has had laser precision from almost the beginning of speech. That word is “no.” And the more tired she gets, the more she uses it. We’re trying to figure out how to ask questions so that becomes the right answer.

“Would you like to skip lunch?”


“OK, let’s eat.”

“Would you like to be grumpy now?”


“Good. We were getting tired of it.”

The hope and prayers of her parents and grandparents is that she will learn how to use “no” appropriately as she grows up.

As I continue my series on life lessons learned over 40 years of “church” work, I’m reminded of how long it took me to learn how to use “no” appropriately.

Actually, that last sentence should be revised to how long it is taking me. Full disclosure requires that I admit that I haven’t mastered it yet.

When I began my “ministry” journey, I was taught that ministry was about meeting needs. At least that’s how I interpreted it.

Here’s how the logic goes: Ministry is meeting needs through service. Therefore, ministers serve and meet needs. If a need is expressed in my presence, my job is to find a way to meet it through serving the person who expressed the need. Since needs don’t take a break, ministers are on-call 24/7. A good minister would never say “no” to someone in need.

I don’t have the space in the context of this series of short posts to completely unpack all the problems with that line of thinking, so I’ll just focus on one life-giving truth that I wish I had learned 40 years earlier.

Every “yes” requires a “no.”

Every week of my life (and yours) contains 10,080 minutes. There is absolutely nothing we can do to add any more. Therefore, whatever time is required for me to fulfill a “yes” means I have to say “no” to anything else for that length of time.

So here’s the $64,000 question: What will I have to say “no” to if I say “yes” to this?

This requires two steps. First, I have to know myself, my abilities and my values well. Second, I have to pause long enough before answering that I can give the best answer for this moment in time.

Ecclesiastes 5:5 says, “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”

Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.'” (Matthew 5:37)

Both of those answers have their place at different moments in time. Using them well is one way we celebrate and demonstrate that our lives matter to God.

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association in Decatur.

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