The fine art of saying NO!

This is a type of art that all people need to master. We all need to become experts at saying “no”.   Like a painter who spends years determining how to put colors together to create a masterpiece or the author who has spent a lifetime learning how to string words together, or a musician who puts notes together in order to move you, there is an art to using the word “no” well.

Many people regularly make the mistake of saying yes to things that are of lesser importance and not being able to say yes when the most important opportunities are presented to them. It’s the inability to say no that has cost many people the opportunity to pursue the best choices when presented. When you have mastered this particular life skill, you will know how to say yes to the best things in life. 

Did you know there’s an entire chapter in the Bible dedicated to a guy who had to learn how to say “no”?  In Nehemiah chapter 6, this great leader is presented with many opportunities to say yes to things that are of lesser importance. If he would have given in to these opportunities, it would certainly have cost him his best. Nehemiah demonstrates the fine art of saying no in Nehemiah 6:3.

I’m going to first give you a couple of examples of when to say no to good opportunities so that you can say yes when great opportunities become available.  With the rest of this article, I want to give you a few simple principles to help you experience the best of life by becoming an artist with the word no.

Too Busy

America is a frantic, fast-paced society. We live in a land that has unprecedented opportunities and choices all around us. Every day, we are confronted with opportunities and options that most people have never had in human history. The choices most Americans face are not life or death decisions.  Rather, we are presented with choices between good, better and best. 

This multitude of options can be a great blessing for people who are content… or it can be a terrible distraction to those who aren’t.

There is an inherent desire in most human beings for more from life than we can properly enjoy. We often agree to more things than we should. We often participate in more things than our attention can really handle. And we often schedule more things than our time really can accommodate.

This lack of contentment leads millions of people to agree to more tasks than they can perform well or more pleasures than they can truly enjoy.

Maybe this is the reason Americans have an insatiable obsession with technology. We often look to the next gadget to give us more time so that we can do more tomorrow than we were able to do today.

Know Better

One of the biggest enemies to our happiness is settling for second-best. This is often the result of being too busy to give our best effort to the best opportunities. The challenge for most people is learning how to make the distinction between better and best.

Learning how to say no when good opportunities arise so that you are able to say yes to the best opportunities takes genuine wisdom. This is skill is called discernment. Nehemiah had the skill of discernment. In Nehemiah 6:4, he demonstrates this skill by saying no to multiple requests.

It’s hard for most of us to recognize in this short verse the pressures and the problems that these opportunities created for Nehemiah’s leadership. In other words, it took great personal courage in order for Nehemiah to say no to these persistent requests. Nehemiah is demonstrating that he is an artist with the word no.

How do you respond to good opportunities when they come your way? Are you the kind of person that is quick to agree if an opportunity looks good?

If so, these early opportunities may tie you up so that you’re not able to agree to even better opportunities when they come later. Let’s face it, it’s not always easy to say no to good opportunities, because we don’t know when or if a better opportunity will come later.

This is what makes knowing how and when to say no is an art. It’s a skill that we can learn from an artist like Nehemiah. To read more about giving your best and making decisions, see my article about choosing between better and best called “Warning- Leadership Demands Hard Decisions”.

Give Your Best

The best opportunities in life deserve your best effort. Becoming too busy with good stuff prevents you from being able to give your best effort to great stuff!  Think about it like this: Busy is a thief that will rob you of your best!

Discernment is a leadership skill that I am still trying to learn. I am trying to become an artist at giving my best energy to the best opportunities. I don’t always get this right. That’s why I need to learn from a guy like Nehemiah also. 

Nehemiah is presented with opportunities to stop the work that he’s doing in order to pursue something else. However, Nehemiah is a man with a laser-clear focus. He knows what God has called him to do and will not become sidetracked. This is why Nehemiah is a leader all of us can learn from. This is what makes Nehemiah an artist with the word no.

If you need a little bit of help giving your best energy to the best opportunities, check out our study of Nehemiah 6:1-9 this week on our livestream via our Facebook page or YouTube channel (airing Sunday at 11:00am EST).

I hope you will also become an artist with the word no this week and by doing so, you will be able experience the best of life because you’ve learned to say no to second best… and learned to know the difference between the two.

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