Why we cannot say “No.”

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25

Why is it so hard sometimes to say “No”? I am referring to saying “No” to people’s requests, work’s demands, and the inner voice saying “you ought to.” There is nothing inherently noble in always saying “Yes.” As dwellers in the midst of 10,000 lakes we might want to write it off as Minnesota nice. But this problem is not unique to Minnesotans and dates back even to the time of Christ.

Jesus warned all human kind about making promises we can’t or don’t want to keep. “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) Everyone knows the regret that comes after saying “Yes” to something when you really wanted to say “No”. You end up kicking yourself for making such a commitment and find that trying to get out of it is much more painful and anxiety ridden than if you had just said “No” in the first place.

There was a time in my life when forming the word and stuttering “N-o-o-o-o” was nigh unto impossible for me. Fortunately the Lord provided people in my life who began to take me to task for the unwanted and often injurious commitments that I was making through my chiming “Yes” to every request that came my way. They challenged me to learn to say “No” both for my sake and also for the sake of my family. Painfully, I realized saying “Yes” all the time was taking its toll not only on my own mental and emotional health but also on those closest to me.

What helped me the most was acknowledging that my inability to say “No” was rooted in fear. The verse in the Bible that opened my eyes to this was the “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” This is a great verse because it offers both the diagnosis and the cure. It reveals that the fear of man is the source of our dis-ease in saying “Yes” when you really want to say “No.” And it states that trust in the Lord is the prescription for saying “No” in the first place. That trust establishes a place of peace and freedom in our hearts from regret.

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The danger of insisting on your own way

“Woe to them . . . they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error.” (Jude 11 NIV)

Every time I read the story of Balaam it reminds me of the grave danger in insisting on my own way with God. He might give in to me but it may not be His perfect will. There are different measures of “God’s will.” There is the “good, pleasing and perfect will of God,” which of course all Christ followers are encouraged to pursue. (Romans 12:2) But there is also the permissive will of God with its variations which would be best to avoid.

I have learned this the hard way, and so in some measure can understand Balaam’s plight. On several occasions in my life I have committed to doing something I thought was God’s will only to find in the end it was really religious self-deception and fueled by a stubborn pursuit of my own desires. Even though I “prayed” about it and asked for God’s “perfect” will, my heart was so set on what I wanted that God gave me His “permissive” will instead and off I went to do my own thing.

Those decisions led to some very painful experiences. Through them I have learned more about God’s ways. Most importantly I have realized the necessity of checking the motivations of my heart as I seek His will. The clarity with which a person can discover God’s will for their life is directly proportional to their commitment to doing what He reveals. Nobody says this more clearly than Jesus. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God.” (John 7:17 ESV)

The study of the false prophet Balaam illustrates this important lesson for everyone who genuinely wants to hear God’s voice and do His will. It pulls back the covers on hypocritical prayers desiring God’s will, and reveals a religious veneer covering up a stubborn heart that really wants its own will.

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