This morning, I had to say no. Now, I’m a parent, so saying no is not that big a deal in the ebb and flow of life… but today I had to say no to an adult.
I work at a church that gets its share of foot traffic from people needing help. Financial help, spiritual help, emotional counseling, sometimes a combination of all types of help. Many times, I am blessed to step in those situations and provide, because I feel called to be a helper. Yet, whenever someone comes in habitually for help, we have to set boundaries… the boundaries we set up are for the good of whole church (so we can help as many people as possible), AND it is for the good of the person so they get the ultimate help they need in Jesus Christ.
But today one of those people who I (and many other people on our staff and in our congregation) have helped had to be told no… no more… and I had to enforce the “no”. It wasn’t because we didn’t want to help, but there had been repeated violations of trust, too many times when boundaries had been crossed, too many lies told… The relationship we, as church, had tried to build through grace and generosity was trampled on.
The reception of the “no” was anything but warm… in fact, it got a little ugly. If I’m being honest, the incident left me a little shaken.
In the wake of raised voices, I sat and prayed about it when it dawned on me: I do the exact same thing with God. He has sat down boundaries for me, for all of us, not because he is trying to pull some power trip, but because he has designed the world to work in a certain way. To maximize our design, we are called to live in those boundaries, yet, I violate those boundaries. We all do. The Bible calls that sin.
God, because he loves us and wants us to maximize our design, seeks to correct us by the witness of the Scriptures and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I read the Bible and pray, and sometimes I don’t get the warm-fuzzys because I hear God saying, “No. Don’t do that. Trust me.” In my weakness, I act out, and get belligerent at God’s “no” to my sin. I want things my way.
There are some people who don’t believe God says, “No.” But that comes down to not wanting to feel guilty or correction or criticism. We interpret the “God is love” verse from 1 John as being a catch-all stamp of approval for all of our activities, and we forget that the word “no” is not un-loving. When I, as a parent, say no to my children, I’m doing so to help them live better. When I had to say no to the man today, I did so to help him see how he had hurt us and the relationship. When God says no to our sin, he wants us to live out our design in the best way possible… and in doing so he promises the Holy Spirit to help us.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever… 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:15-16, 26
Grace can be messy. And in God’s grace there is the wonderful news of salvation from the penalty of our sin though the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but also the freedom from the power of our sin through the Holy Spirit.
Lord God, thank you for the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Thank you for that unmerited favor demonstrated in his death on the cross. But help me as I seek to live for you in gratitude to accept your “no” with humility. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.