8 Ways To Say “No!”

How many times have you said “Yes” to some request when every fiber in your being was screaming “NO, say NO!”

Yet, despite the volume of our inner voice, somehow “Yes” squeaks out.

Lots of times, eh? Yes, me too. There’s a verse about that, you know: “ But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ (Matt. 5:37).

So how do we get better at ensuring our “Yes” actually means “Yes,” and how do we develop the skill and strength to just say “No” when that’s what we want to say and should say?

One of the main points in The Essentialist, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, is learning the vital leadership skill of saying “No.” In our hyper-connected age, we have so many opportunities to do so many things, and so many invites, questions, and requests coming at us from so many sources, that we can spend our lives saying yes to everything and yet getting nothing really worthwhile done. McKweon says:

The point is to say no to the nonessentials so we can say yes to the things that really matter. It is to say no— frequently and  gracefully— to everything but what is truly vital.

But how to do that? Assuming we’ve got clarity on what is truly vital, how do we say no to the nonessentials?

Author Greg Mckeown says that like all abilities, saying “No” is difficult at first but we can grow more skillful at it with practice. He helpfully lists a “Repertoire of No’s” we can pick from and eventually master so that “we can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity.”

1. The awkward pause: When a request comes to you, pause, count to three, and let the awkward silence do its own work.

2. The soft “no” (or the “no but”). “I can’t just now because of this project, but if you contact me again in a few weeks/months…”

3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Instead of rushing into a “yes” this gives you time to pause, reflect, and reply in a self-controlled manner.

4. Use e-mail bouncebacks. Use email autoresponses to gain extra time to think and decide in an objective way.

5. Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?” When saying yes is going to compromise your ability to make the highest level of contribution.

6. Say it with humor. For example, “I’ll do it, but only if you can supply the caffeine pills and Monster Energy cans.”

7. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” While conceding that you will do something smaller, you are also clearly communicating what you will not do.

8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” Not just a stonewall, but offers another door to knock on.

To further motivate more “No’s in your life, think on these three quotes:

People are effective because they say “No.” – Peter Drucker

Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough. – Josh Billings.

“No” is a complete sentence – Anne Lamott.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown.

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An Essential Book on Essentialism

I’ve been blown away by one of the books on my summer reading listEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKweon. It’s one of those “Where have you been all my life?” kind of books and it’s come at such an opportune time in my own life as I’ve just hired a virtual assistant, and I’m also deciding what to cut from my life in order to do less better.

That matches the basic value proposition of Essentialism: “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. Especially in our interconnected world, there are far more activities and opportunities than we have time and resources to invest in. Many of these are good, even very good, but few are vital.

Two Ways Of Living

So what’s the essential difference between an essentialist and a non-essentialist? It can be summed up in this diagram.

In both images the same amount of effort is exerted. In the image on the left, the energy is divided into many different activities. The result is that we have the unfulfilling experience of making a millimeter of progress in a million directions. In the image on the right, the energy is given to fewer activities. The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most.

The latter requires hard choices, discipline, and trade-offs. But, as McKeown says, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” Or as Jim Collins found out in How The Mighty Fall, “the undisciplined pursuit of more” was a key reason for most corporate failures.

McKeown hardly needs to make the argument that the modern world has turned many of us into non-essentialists, but he traces this damaging trend to three factors:

1. Too many choices causing us to lose sight of the most important ones.

2. Technology and hyperconnectivity have increased the strength and number of outside social influences on our decisions.

3. The idea that we can do it all.

He underlines the necessity of fighting this trend with the story of hospice nurse Bronnie Ware who recorded her dying patients’ most common regret. At the top of the list: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

To avoid such a sad end, “requires not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials, and not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but cutting out some really good opportunities as well.”

And that’s where Essentialism excels as it presents a clear four-step process that begins with developing an essentialist mindset and takes you all the way through to execution.

There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.” To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”

Essentialists systematically explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. Because they will commit and “go big” on one or two ideas or activities, they deliberately explore more options at first to ensure that they pick the right one later.

The key to making our highest contribution may be to say “No.” The real question is not how can we do it all, it is who will get to choose what we do and don’t do.

Essentialists invest the time they have saved into creating a system for removing obstacles and making execution as easy as possible.

I do have some reservations about applying this rigidly to the Christian life and particularly to Christian ministry, partly because of the danger of developing a self-centered spirit, and partly because God can easily turn what seem to us to be trivial time-wasters into massive ministry opportunities and gains.

However, despite these cautions, I believe the vast majority of us would not only benefit spiritually from this book but also become more effective and fruitful in our various callings and ministries.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

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Daddy, Does God Want To Save Me?

Did you hesitate? Even for a second? Then you have a warped Calvinism. And there’s lots of it around.

When our son or daughter asks that question we must be able to look them in the eye and say with all the certainty we can muster and all the passion we can summon, “Yes, my son (daughter), God wants to save you.”

Verse to prove it?

1 Timothy 2v4 which speaks of God our Savior “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Sadly this “simple” statement of profound truth has been both perverted and explained away over the years.

Perversions and Evasions
Some have used it to support universalism, the idea that God will save everyone. However, that view ignores the rest of 1 Timothy which clearly speaks of some being lost (1:13; 3:6; 4:1; 5:24; 6:9-10); it also rejects many other parts of the Bible.

Others have used the verse to deny election. They say, “If God wants to save everyone in general then He did not choose anyone in particular.” But then we have to cut out multiple verses and chapters which do teach particular and individual election (e.g. 1 Cor. 1; Rom. 9).

Then there are those who say that as the previous verses are about civil government, “saved” here means physical preservation. However, Paul goes on immediately to speak of Christ as mediator and redeemer, and in the pastorals “salvation” most commonly means deliverance from sin (1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Tim. 1:9; 3:15; Tit. 2:11).

Well-meant Desire
Some Calvinists, out of a well-meant desire to honor the sovereignty of God, change the meaning of “all” to “all the elect.” They say, “If God wills the salvation of all, then all will be saved as God’s will is never thwarted. But not all are saved, so all here must mean all the elect.

This is very logical; but is it biblical? Is it the meaning that Timothy and the church at Ephesus would have understood when the letter was being read? Would they have made all the steps of logic required to get “all” to mean “all the elect?” Would they not have taken the words in their plain and simple meaning? God desires ALL to be saved

God’s Two Books
But not all are saved, so how do we understand this text without dishonoring God and making Him look defeated in His desire and will? The answer is found in the two books of God we find in Deuteronomy 29:29:

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever that we may do all the words of this law.

God’s Private Book contains the things that He has decreed will happen or not happen from beginning to end of time. They include all the events of tomorrow, when and how we will die, the end of the world, the names of the saved, and so on. As its name suggests, this is a private book for God’s eyes only. He has not revealed the contents, will not reveal them, and we must not enquire into them either. God keeps that book behind the counter and forbids us from trying to look into it.

God’s Public Book is what He has revealed in the Bible, which, as Moses said, is all we need to know, believe, and do. It’s on the counter, open, and available for study.

In God’s Public Book, God often expresses a desire for certain things to happen that do not actually happen because He has not written them in His Private Book. For example, God desires all people keep His moral law which does not actually happen.

God also forbids things in His Public Book which He has decreed to happen in His Private Book. For example, in the Bible God forbids betrayal and murder and expresses His desire that no one be a victim of this. Yet, in His Private Book He ordained that His Son be betrayed and murdered (Acts 2:23).

Biblical but Illogical?
This is sometimes called an antinomy, a logical contradiction that cannot be resolved. Although we cannot square them in our minds, we must hold both because both books exist and are true.

Maybe if we personalize this, it’ll become clearer. Ask yourself, “Does God want me to live a holy life or an unholy life?” His Public Book tells me that He wants me to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:16). But it doesn’t happen. Does that defeat God or take Him by surprise? No, His Private Book contains all my sins and all my successes. His Public will is “thwarted,” but His Private will never is.

Now take the question, “Does God want me to believe the Gospel?” According to God’s Public Book, “Yes” (Isa. 45:22; 55:1; Ezek. 18:23; 32; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9). But I never did it at all for 22 years and I still don’t do it perfectly or steadily. Again, no surprise to God, as His Private Book contains all my ups and downs, my faith and unbelief. 

The Kiddie Question Test
Finally, back to our first question. When our child asks, “Daddy, does God want to save me?” the last thing you do is go to God’s Private Book, and say, “Well, I don’t know honey, because I don’t know if you are one of the elect.” Put that book down. That’s God’s Private Book. You have no right to it and there’s no benefit in it for you.

Instead, pick up God’s Public Book and on the basis of 1 Timothy 2v4, say, “God wants to save you with all His heart! He doesn’t want you to perish.” So, repent and believe the Gospel with the assurance that if you call on the name of the Lord, you will be saved (Rom. 10:13).

If you can’t say that, your Calvinism fatally fails the Kiddie Question Test.

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