Updated: Feb 25, 2022
I love the word "yes". Yes means affirmation. Yes means action. Yes means permission. As a kid, it's one of the best things to hear from a parent when you ask for something. Can I have a friend over? Yes! Can we have pizza for dinner? Yes! But every good parent knows that not every yes is helpful or right for their child and family. Sometimes children ask for what is not good for them, or for something we're unable to do or give to them. As parents, sometimes the right answer is no.
When we pray, God is always listening and will always answer in his time, but it isn't always with the answer we want. He's the good parent who knows what's best for us even when we don't see it. Yet even in the answer we don't want, God shows his faithfulness and his presence with us through it. The key is learning to listen for his voice and his presence. Prayer is for listening to God and learning to realign with his plans and purposes for us no matter what our circumstances look like.
This applies to when we're seeking God's will in ministry, too. Listen to what happened to the apostles in Acts 16:6-10: Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
It may seem strange that the Holy Spirit would prevent God's workers from ministering and preaching the gospel in certain places. Shouldn't they do it in all places? God told them no. I imagine Paul and his companions would have been a little confused by God telling them no to good opportunities for gospel ministry. But God had his reasons. The Spirit was leading them in other directions. They needed to wait, listen, hear from God, then act accordingly. God said no to certain ministry opportunities so his followers would learn to say yes to the right ones.
I've had some great conversations lately with people eager to serve in ministry wrestling with what to say yes to. They sense that need for balance. They realize that sometimes they need to trust God enough to say no to some things so they can follow the Spirit into the right things. This is so healthy! It helps us stay focused and intent on the Spirit's voice, even when our earthly-focused minds want to run with whatever good ideas we are introduced to.
As church leaders, we pray for wisdom in discerning what God is saying yes to. Sometimes it looks different from what we're used to. Sometimes it involves risk. Sometimes it means saying no to something else that sounds great. We can't do everything. We are limited in resources, people, time and energy. Those limits protect us from thinking we are like God who can do all things. But they also help us learn to trust God to give us the strength when he says yes and we feel unprepared. Limits help us embrace God's priorities. Compassion project this summer was one example of something God helped us say yes to when we weren't sure how he would provide. Through it, we saw God move powerfully in the life of the church raising up people to serve and use their gifts in new ways. In the body of Christ, we invite you to continue praying with us together, listening to how God calls us to go and preach the gospel. Let's keep listening together.