SAYING “NO”

Do you ever feel really guilty because you told someone you couldn’t do some great work they wanted you to do? It seems that people always get involved in some great work or project that is really going to be helpful to some group of people and they are absolutely certain that it is something you too should be a part of. I just went through one of those meetings today where a person working with the homeless population that was using our building as a place to provide a warm spot for people to get out of the cold. When he approached us to be able to use our building it was with certain agreements about how many people and who would be there to take care of things but it has quickly turned into something that wasn’t part of the agreement at all. But when trying to force the issue to go back to what our agreement was, the response was, “What am I to do with all the people who are homeless and cold? I’m not going to just leave them out in the cold.” I walked away feeling guilty that we would push the point of following the plan agreed to, but where are the limits. It started with an agreement to take care of 20 men and has turned into 50 men and women. Where is the limit? Do we just open things up and allow the homeless to all come and sit in our building every day?

The question quickly turns into one of “What would Jesus do in this situation?” I can’t be certain since there isn’t a place I can turn to in the Bible where this situation is dealt with. But I am certain that Jesus wouldn’t allow people to get him off his mission. He came to seek and save the lost. He healed the sick, cleansed the leper, caused the blind to see and lame to walk. He did powerful miracles to still a storm or feed a multitude. But when folks wanted to turn his mission into one of feeding the people, his answer was no I’m the bread of life. He said he was the bread that came down from heaven and he called on the people to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood to have life. His point was that you’re trying to turn my mission into one of having a food program and I’m here to call people to a new life. Unless you are going to become totally committed to Jesus you won’t make it.

I got to thinking about the early church on this point as well. They started with the plan of feeding those who were hungry among them and people were giving what they were able to give so that they could have no poor among them. They held everything in common and people like Barnabas having land sold it to give the money to the apostles to share with the needy. In Acts 6 when this feeding of people became a source of division among the church the apostles called the people together and declared to the whole crowd that taking care of the widows among them was a good work but not what the apostles were called to do. They refused to give up their mission of preaching the gospel of Christ to have a great food ministry. They said to the church to seek out seven men among them that were of good reputation and were full of faith and the Holy Spirit so they could appoint them over this business. The church chose the seven men from among their group and the apostles went on with the work God called them to do. Even with all of these points it is worthy of noticing that this was all about feeding those people who were members of the church in Jerusalem not feeding Jerusalem. Even when Paul gathered a contribution from the gentile churches to help the church in Jerusalem he made it clear that it was to provide for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

But didn’t Paul say to “Do good to all men?” Oh yes he did and the rest of the verse is “Especially to the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) It doesn’t matter who we are and how benevolent we feel toward any cause, if we are to be of real service we will have to say “No” to some other good work to be able to focus on the one we are passionate about or else we will end up saying “No” to the primary work God has called us to do. I’ve seen families become so involved in some great work of benevolence that they ignored their own children to do that work. Certainly we want to help people, but be clear as a parent your first responsibility isn’t to the stranger but to your own children.

As the church our calling is certainly to be benevolent. We are to have the pure and undefiled religion of caring for the widows and orphans as we keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27). But the church isn’t an orphan and widows ministry. Our primary work is to carry the gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world so people can be saved. What people need more than anything is Christ in their life. If feeding and clothing can be a means to reach out to hurting people, praise the Lord, but don’t try to turn the church into a feeding and clothing ministry to ignore the real work God calls us to do.

In reality if we don’t learn to say “No” to many things in life we will remain guilty in our minds all the time. Don’t allow someone else’s cause to become what runs your life. Now if a person becomes one who says “No” to everything then it certainly isn’t right. But we can only say “Yes” to so many things before we become scattered and useless for any of them. Whether it is a church or an individual, we need to know what God is calling us to do and focus on that mission or we won’t accomplish any mission. Jesus healed the sick, but not all the sick. He raised the dead but not every dead person. He caused the blind to see, but he didn’t eliminate blindness in the world. He released the captives but not every person that was captive. He cast the demons out of people, but he didn’t eliminate the problem of demon possession. He calls the church and every member of it to be the body of Christ and to take on the image of our Lord and Savior. When we do that we will be clear what our mission is first and if we can help with other good works in the process of preaching the gospel to people to bring them to Christ, that is wonderful. If we can help others as we strive to build up and encourage our own members to serve then praise the Lord. But always remember that Jesus didn’t build a hospital for every sick person. He didn’t walk by that pool in Bethesda and see all the sick people there trying to get into the water for healing and shout to the crowd you are all healed. When he raised Lazarus from the dead he didn’t empty the cemetery. He chose one man who had been there a long time and went to him to ask him if he wanted to get well. When he started to explain his problem that he just couldn’t get into the water quick enough,that someone always beat him in, Jesus said for him to take up his pallet and walk. But there is no evidence he went on then to heal all the others there.

Remember Paul’s statement to the Philippians, “This one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out to the things ahead, I press toward the mark of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” What is your one thing? If you try listing 12 things you are involved in, you need to pull the aim in. Years ago I used to love to go bird hunting. Early on when the quail would fly up, I would raise the shotgun and begin firing in the direction they were flying. I never hit a thing other than air. The man I was hunting with said, “Leon, which bird were you aiming at?” I said I was aiming at all of them. He told me that as long as I aim at all of them I wouldn’t hit any of them. Choose a bird he said and focus on that one bird to hit it. Now as you get better at it you may be able to hit the one and turn quickly to shoot another, but you will never be able to shoot the whole covey of birds. The point is to aim at one you must say “No” to every other one. Does it make you feel guilty? That is probably good and probably means you have a good heart. But don’t allow the guilt feelings to keep you from aiming at one to do well instead of the whole covey so you hit nothing.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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