If you are lucky, you have been told “no” at some point in your life. But if you are human, it’s likely that your first response to that was not to be overwhelmingly grateful but, rather, to grouse about the unfairness of your lot.
As we are heading into the long days of January, when we are making new resolutions or rhythms or habits to change our lives, it can be easy to say “Yes!” to so many good things. But here is something I’ve come to appreciate: sometimes “No” is beautiful. Sometimes “No” is the best thing we didn’t know we needed to hear.
For me, hearing and responding to the word “no” has helped to cultivate self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit that can help grow all the other fruits (Gal. 5:22-23). But up until now, to me it only served to prevent – self-control was just to keep us away from sin, keep us on the narrow path. But when examined, it’s truly something to heighten our joy. Self-control allows us to enjoy what God gives us more fully, because we can trust the limits He places. Self-control helps to keep us in the “pleasant places” within God’s boundaries.
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” (Ps. 16:6-7)
Self-control joyfully responds to God’s good authority and rejects our own tyranny.
It is a human thing to resist authority and want to forge our own path. It is a godly thing to love the fences God builds around us – something we can only do when our heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh, tender to the Holy Spirit’s nudges.
Here is the beautiful thing about God’s ‘enough’: He’ll never say it to keep us away from what we need (Phil. 4:19). He may say it to redirect our desires. In love, he may re-align our desires with his desires. But the same God who says ‘Do not eat of that tree’ – the first boundary rejected in the Garden of Eden – also said “Take, eat, this is my body” to His church. He invites us to, in self-control, say no to food that won’t satisfy, so we may feast on what truly fulfills.
This mighty, powerful God, in perfect wisdom and full power, has designed the earth to run on work and on rest. In just the same way God orders his creation – fixing limits for the sea (Job 38:11), ordering the sun and moon to give light to day and night (Gen. 1:14-15) guiding his people as a shepherd (Ps. 23:3) – he also in grace and power calls his people to do the same. To grow in self-control allows us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. All his creation testifies to the beauty of living according to his design, of following his commands.
And when we are tempted to resist, thinking we know better than he, we ought to remember that his ‘No’ now only leads to a greater ‘Yes’ later. Because of the grace he gives us, we can work hard to grow in self-control, not because we must, but because it’s good, beautiful, and right to live in his will.