Graciously Giving and Receiving a “No”

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] vividly remember God’s profound words to my heart, “You may eat from any tree in the garden, I’m only asking you not eat from that one,”.  The sentence meant for Adam and Eve, was now uttered for me after receiving a significant “no” in my life.

It didn’t matter how much I kicked or screamed or tried to justify my case in His presence, the answer was still “no”.  Being on this side of history, I knew the ramifications of “eating the forbidden fruit” – I knew that I would be kicked out of the Garden he placed me in, and I knew God’s best would not be available to me should I chose otherwise.  I knew my path would be thorny, cursed and fellowship with Him would suffer.  So until my mind and heart could fully accept my fate, I would eat and eat from every tree I could get my hands on – well, except that one.

I splurged; I gorged; I binged.  Any other “fruit” my heart desired, I consumed.  It was true, there were no other limits.  As time passed, it was interesting – I actually began recognizing how much stress, time and effort the “no” freed me from and how many people could do my forbidden task much better than I.  At the same time, God showed me how unique my skills were and that few could execute the kinds of tasks I had experience doing.  God’s “no” was for a greater “yes”.   

Over time the pain has lessened, and I don’t think of it as a loss anymore.  In fact, I take pride in knowing I fulfill part of the Body of Christ which is unique, purposeful, and when missing, could slightly impair the full function of The Body.  The Body’s growth would be stunted in some ways and it would hobble along until God tapped another person to fulfill the job I obstinately shunned.  And that would be my version of leaving the Garden of Eden.

A “no” is someone else’s “yes”.

One of the most profound, rewarding and yet atypical friendships I have in life is with Tami.  The maturity, graciousness and level of faith in Tami’s life is quite understated until you get to know her story.  And part of that story includes her interview for the same job I received 5 years ago.  Most people would feel slighted, overlooked, and under-appreciated after serving so faithfully at their home church for many years and not rewarded with a staff position.  Many would “take their ball and go home”.  But rather than pulling up roots to use her God-given gifts elsewhere (which she had every right to do), Tami faced her “no” with humility and respect.   Watching God build this relationship has been beautiful as we’ve both reached toward one another, and now she is my right-hand leader.  I look to her for wisdom, prophetic guidance and spiritual discernment.  She possesses many things I lack, and we’ve learned that we need each other.  But the ability to step aside after a “no” and let another lead takes immense maturity.  And let’s face it, not many other people would/could do it. 

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. ~ Tony Blair


So now I am in a position of saying “no”.  I sit with a panel of other leaders while auditioning vocalists for our worship team.  If it sounds ominous just reading the sentence, that’s how it feels writing it.  The audition is a very open-handed process as we prayerfully seek to discern God’s direction just as much as the singer is seeking.  God has always led our team to a unanimous decision, which on some levels gives me more confidence the Spirit has spoken, but yet I’m the one left giving the “yes”, “no” or “not yet”. 

I’ve never been good at giving a “no” – unless it comes sugar coated with the full aftertaste sinking in minutes after the conversation ends and I’m not around.  There is hope with a “yes” or “not yet”; but with a “no”?  These days, I’m learning that rejection is redirection.  The least I can do to honor someone who is vulnerably putting themselves out there is to call out their strengths and look for every opportunity to use them in capacities they would succeed.  At the heart of a “no” is love and respect.  A love which wants people to succeed in ministry.  A love which respects a person too highly to save myself from the discomfort of a hard conversation.  A love in which honesty is the kindest thing you can do for them.  But above all, I pray that bitterness will not take root.  I pray they find the tree of ministry they can gorge on and find deep satisfaction.  I pray they trust Jesus as sovereign and if I’ve missed the mark, God will find a way to make sure no man will thwart His plans.  I pray they take the “no” as a sign that this is not God’s best for them.  I pray they grow deeper roots with Christ, learning to gain happiness when God doesn’t do things our way.  I pray for greater depths of surrender, faith and trust.   

Before one of these difficult conversations, Jesus was so sweet to remind me that even He received a “no” to a request made of His Father: 

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ~Matthew 26:39 (NIV)

It sure helps to know Jesus is not above a “no”.  Any “no” I would ever receive pales in comparison to His.  Yet glory!  Jesus’ “no” was our “yes”.  Imagine if the cup passed from Him – we would be without redemptive hope, captive to our own sin, forever struggling with our menial forms of righteousness. 

In life, I’ve learned there are worse things than a “no”. 

But my people didn’t listen, Israel paid no attention; So I let go of the reins and told them, “Run!
Do it your own way!” ~ Psalm 81:12 (MSG)

That’s why when my husband and I discovered we couldn’t have children, we didn’t go through extensive procedures to get pregnant.  We’ve talked about adopting, but have acknowledged the timing has never been right.  In short, we feel like not heeding a “no” and pushing through with our own desires and agenda would be God saying, “Fine, have it your way!”

Life is full of “no’s”.  Somehow as a child or teen I received plenty of “no’s” and never doubted my parents had my best interest in mind.  But why is it as an adult I feel I’ve outgrown a “no”?  The truth is we need “no’s” as much as we need “yeses”, both keep us on track and walking in His perfect will.

Lord Jesus, I plead, don’t let go of the reins of my life due to any episodes of childish stubbornness.  Let me catch myself when I throw a temper tantrum at your feet knowing how short sighted my view is compared to your eternal glimpse of Glory while holding all things together.  I joyfully surrender to your prosperous plans for my future and hope.  Amen.

Kendra currently serves on staff at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana, which embraces the artistic community and exclusively relies on its pool of volunteer artists to reach a congregation of 7,000. Passions of Kendra’s include creatively arranging worship music and shepherding the hearts of her volunteers.

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