Last week we began our series on the antidotes for an out of control life by acknowledging that sometimes our lives are lived at an unsustainable pace. We are always in a hurry and yet many of us just try to cram more activities and more responsibilities into an already overbooked schedule. According to Kirk Byron Jones and his book, Addicted to Hurry, the consequences of living this way are that we don’t see clearly, we don’t listen carefully, we don’t think deeply and we don’t savor life fully. Now pastor Adam Hamilton from the Church of the Resurrection adds a fourth consequence to our out of control lives. He says that when we live this way we don’t serve God effectively. When we are in a constant state of movement and find ourselves saying yes to more and more things, we either don’t have the time to do the things God wants us to do, or we don’t have the energy and resources to them effectively.
One of the problems we face is that many of us have a hard time just saying no. Sometimes we don’t say no because we feel like we really should be these things, and some sometimes we don’t say no because we really think that we are the only ones who will do it the right way. I don’t know about you, but I know a few people who struggle with control and people like that will often say yes to things, or just do those things because they want them done the right way, which means of course my way.
I’ll be honest; I am like this at times. Throughout my time as a pastor, there have been a few things that I have done because either I didn’t want to ask someone else to do it, or I just thought that I was the only one who would do it the right way, which simply meant my way. For example, when I was a pastor Altoona we decided to start having a coffee hour between our services, so I set it up and instead of asking others to help with it, I set it up every Sunday until I left. Now it’s not that I am some coffee hour expert and there were no special seminary class that taught me how to set up a table or make coffee, it was just easier for me to do than to ask for help and I knew if I did, it would get done and get done “right”.
Does anyone else struggle with feeling this way, or am I the only one. We just do it ourselves because we don’t want to ask for help, or we feel like it’s our place to do it, or we just think we can do it better than anyone else. Of course, the problem is that we have a limited number of hours in a day so as long as we do those things we don’t make ourselves available for other things that God might want us to do. Or we just add more and more and more to our plate until everything begins to fall apart.
There is an antidote to this way of thinking and living. If we are saying yes to everything because we think we have to do it, need to do it, or are the only ones who can do it right, then we need to learn Rule #6. Benjamin Zander is the director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the author of the book The Art of Possibility and in that book he tells the story of two Prime Ministers in Europe who are in the middle of a meeting when one of the assistants to the host PM enters the room visibly upset. What are we going to do, he asks, this is just terrible, terrible. We have to get on this right away. And in the middle of his rant the PM looks at him and says, Karl, Karl calm down. Remember Rule #6. Instantly Karl is calm and he says, oh yes. Thank you PM, and he leaves quietly.
The other PM is impressed and begins to wonder what Rule #6 is when another assistant enters the room, again visibly upset. She is just as concerned as Karl and is anxiously pacing about asking what can we do, we must do something, we must act quickly. The PM again cuts her off and says, Maria, Maria, remember Rule #6 and immediately Maria calms down and says, Oh yes, thank you PM, and she leaves quietly. Well now the other PM is really curious about this rule and he is about to ask about it when a third staff member enters the room all worked up and for the third time the PM says, Peter, Peter, remember Rule #6 and Peter stops, shakes his head, smiles and says, Oh yes, Rule #6. Thank you, and leaves.
Well the PM can’t take it anymore so before another person has time to enter he asks his friend, what is the Rule #6? It must be very powerful to have such a calming effect on everyone who has come in here, so please tell me what it is. The other PM says, it’s simple, Rule #6 says, Don’t take yourself so darn seriously. The PM thinks of this for a moment and says, that’s a good rule. Now what are the other 5 rules that lead up to it, they must be equally good, and his friend smiles and says, there are no other rules.
There are no other rules; we just have to stop taking ourselves so darn seriously. I have to tell you that I first told this story as part of a sermon at the Union County Fair. They open the fair with a worship service and so they asked our church to come and do some music and give a short message, so we worked hard on everything thinking we would be at the main stage where we had been the year before and when we got there the weather was bad so they decided to hold the service in the goat barn because it had a roof. Now this was fine, except through the entire worship service there was an adorable little goat who stuck his head through the fence and bleated every time I opened my mouth. I am not kidding. When people sang, he was quiet, when I talked or prayed, he bleated. It was like God was right there saying, Andy – don’t take yourself so darn seriously. I learned a valuable lesson that day, from a goat.
Moses had to learn this same lesson and he did, not from a goat but from his Father in law, Jethro. Moses had led the people out of slavery and they were now making their way on a long journey into the promised land. Moses was clearly the leader and so when any problem came up, Moses had to deal with it. What this meant was that Moses spent all of time just resolve conflicts. Look at Exodus 18:13-16.
Can’t you just hear Moses saying to his father in law, I do all because no one else can do it. God appointed me as the leader and so it’s my responsibility and besides, no one else would do it like I do. And then can’t you just hear Jethro, like any good father-in-law say to his son-in-law, boy, you are a fool, you need to just get over yourself. Ok, he didn’t say that exactly, this is what he said, Exodus 18:17-19a
And then Jethro gave Moses the plan of asking capable men to sit as judges among the people so that Moses could continue to be the one to hear from God and lead the people. In other words, Moses had to say no to one thing in order to say yes to something more important. It was more important for Moses to listen to God and lead the people then it was to settle every dispute and tend to every detail, so Moses had to stop taking himself so seriously, stop thinking he was the only one who could resolves problems among the people and start delegating responsibility in order to be more effective for God.
What Rule #6 helps us do is realize that we can say no to some things which gives us the freedom, strength and energy to say yes to the things God wants for us. Rule #6 is not only good for us because it gives us time and space to do the things of God, but it’s also good for others because it helps develop the gifts of people around us. When Moses chose others to be leaders among the people he had to train them and teach them and then send them out as leaders and while there was some risk in doing this, those leaders did an amazing job and they were blessed as they served God and the people. As long as we are doing everything – we deny others the opportunity to serve God and develop their gifts and graces.
So we need to learn to say no. It’s hard for many of us, but we need to learn to say it, so let’s just practice for a moment. Can you say it with me, 1,2,3… NO. Good. Maybe it was too good, because here is what we need to remember we don’t say no to everything and we don’t say no and then sit around and do nothing, we say no in order to say yes to the things that God wants us to do. We say no to some things in order to say yes to the things that God wants us to do. Jesus told a story about this, it’s the story of the Good Samaritan.
It’s a familiar story about a man who goes on a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. This was about 15 miles and would have taken most a day. Along the way the man was ambushed, robbed, beaten up, stripped naked and left for dead. A little while later a priest passed by and you would expect a priest, a man of God called to serve God the people to stop and help, but he was too busy. He had said yes to so many things that he didn’t have time to stop and help someone in need, so he kept on going. A little while later a Levite came by and the Levites were the people who helped support the priests. They were faithful leaders among the people and again we would think they would stop and help but the Levite had said yes to so many things he kept on going.
But then a Samaritan came by and Samaritans were actually despised by the Jewish people and so we would not expect him to help, but while this Samaritan was obviously on his way somewhere, in other words like the priest and levite he had said yes to something, he was also willing at this point to say no to his plans in order to say to God. It was the Samaritan who said no to whatever plans he had made so he could stop and help the man who was in need. He said no in order to say yes to what God wanted for him. This is why we say no to some things so that when we hear God call us to serve or see some need in our community or world, we can get involved. We say no in order to have the time and energy and wisdom to say yes. Saying yes to God is also hard, so let’s practice that too. ON the count of three can you simply say, yes. 1,2,3… YES.
So we need to continue to think about the things in our lives that we might need to say no to in order to have the time and energy to say yes to the things of God because it is saying yes to God that fills us with passion and purpose and life. Serving God isn’t a burden, it’s a joy – so while saying yes to God can be scary if it can call for sacrifice it will also bring a power and purpose and energy that will fill our lives like nothing else can. That’s why we need to say no to some things, so that we can say Yes to God and experience the abundant life that God wants for us.
Pastor Kent Mallard was the pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis, IN and he tells the story of when he was a student in Seminary back in the 1960’s at Boston University. In class one day they heard from a BU alumni about an opportunity to serve God and make a difference in this nation. That alumni was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the need was for people to march with him on Selma, Alabama. Dr. King was protesting for the rights of African Americans to register to vote and for a while he had the support of many religious leaders throughout the country. But one day one of those leaders was ambushed by the KKK and they beat him up and 2 days later he died. After that happened, many of the other religious leaders returned home and Dr. King was left needing people to help sustain the protest, so he contacted his friends at BU and asked if any students were interested in coming down to help in his mission.
Now this was not an easy request for these students because the clergy person who was killed, Rev. James Reeb, was from Boston so everyone knew that to say yes to this could cost them their lives. These young people had every reason in the world to say no, they were in classes, they had made commitments and it would have been easy to say no, but 22 of them said yes and one of them was Pastor Mallard.
Every day they marched to the Selma courthouse where crowds would be waiting for them and the people in those crowds shouted at them and threw all kinds of things at them, and every day they would stop on the sidewalks and pray for the people who lived there and this was their prayer, God we pray for these people who live here that their hearts of stone might be turned to hearts of flesh and that they might learn to love their neighbor as themselves. In Jesus name AMEN. In time the laws of Selma changed and the seminary students returned to school and Pastor Mallard said that his was life was changed because he had said no to some things and yes to God.
Many years later, Pastor Mallard returned to Alabama to lead a conference of UMC clergy and he shared this story and during the meeting one of the pastors came up to him and said, I was a young man in the crowd that hurled insults at you and I heard you ask God to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and when I heard your prayer, Jesus came into my life and I have never been the same. Countless lives were changed because a few people were willing to say no to something in order to say yes to the greater things of God.
These are the kind of things that can happen in our lives and in our world and these are the kinds of things God wants to do in us when we say yes to him. If we are going to be effective in living for God and serving God and making a difference in our world then we need to figure out what to say no to in order to say yes. So I want to invite you this week to keep thinking about what to say no to. Remember Rule #6, we are not that darn important and so many of the things we think only we can do can be run just fine without us, or can be run more effectively and passionately by others. What can we say no to, not so that we have more time to watch TV or take in one of the Oscar nominated movies, but so we can say yes to the greater things of God. What can we say no to in order to love God more fully and love our neighbor as ourselves.
O God, I offer myself to you.
I say “YES” to your call.
Give me the boldness and courage I need to live for you. Help me be clear about my priorities
and give me the strength to say “NO”
so that when you need me I might be free to say,
“Here I am, Lord. Send Me.”
In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
1. What things are you currently doing because you think no one else can do them, or do them as well as you can?
2. According to Adam Hamilton, another consequence of always saying yes (or living an out of control life) is that we don’t serve God effectively. In what ways would you like to serve God but don’t feel like you have the time, energy or resources to do it?
3. What personal mission statement, core values or scriptures guide you life? How do these help you say “no” to some things and “yes” to other things?
4. What things do you need to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to God’s great purpose for your life?
O God, I offer myself to you. I say “YES” to your call. Give me the boldness and courage I need to live for you. Help me be clear about my priorities and give me the strength to say “NO” so that when you need me I might be free to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send Me.”
In Jesus’ name, AMEN.