Saying “No”…..

A few weeks ago I was asked to do something as a counselor that would have challenged and stretched me greatly.  It was a counseling challenge on several points.  I was not afraid of the challenge itself, although the circumstances were quite a bit out of my general experience, and even represented some circumstances that many people would absolutely have avoided at all costs. There was a sense that, if I took it on, I would be able to accomplish helping the individual with necessary goals.  Her past was riddled with some issues that had definitely required  the Lord’s forgiveness and transformation, which had already been underway for a while.  She had accepted responsibility and survived the consequences of her actions. There was reason to believe that a significant amount of spiritual work had already been done.  And that what was now needed was further work toward restoration in some more human ways with vocational, financial, life skills, and transitional living support.

I spent several hours looking at the request from a number of perspectives.  “Everyone deserves a second chance, right?”   “God has forgiven and the social debt is paid, right?”   “This is a case for which skill in biblical counseling is especially suited, right?”  “What will be the impact on others whom I serve?”  “How will this help or hinder other students?”  “If this applicant’s situation challenges me in some areas, how will it challenge our volunteers and supporters?”  Questioning myself, “Is this one that  the Lord is bringing to me?”  Questioning God, “Is this your will for this applicant and for me?”

After several hours of deliberation, prayer, and a confidential conversation with one of my closest advisors, I said, “No” to the request and offered some other suggestions to the person inquiring on behalf of the prospective applicant. The reason I said no had nothing to do with my sense of competence, ability, or willingness as a counselor.  The “No” was not because I felt that I couldn’t adequately address the issues involved or even because I was unwilling to address any questions that might arise as a result.  In fact, it was probably more a case of the opposite being true.   Something in me longed to take on the challenge.

But as I prayed and considered a decision, I realized that this might very well not be from the Lord at all, but a test from satan, testing my pridefulness. my self reliance, my self confidence, my sense that I could, indeed, accomplish “all things” through Christ…..even things that fell outside the normal range of our ministry’s defined mission and typical roles.  Did I think I was the only Christian counselor who might be capable and willing to address such daunting circumstances?  Was this a test of my courage……or of my foolhardiness?   Was this a challenge that I, as a counselor, would take on to demonstrate my openness, my fairness, my empathy and compassion?

In the end, saying “No” was the right thing.  I felt that I had honored God’s call and had chosen to remain within the boundaries that he has set for our ministry. I felt God’s pleasure and peace.  There were no more questions or second guessing.  The task of making the call to give an answer came easily and sincerely.  That’s the thing about boundaries.  When we listen to God’s voice, God directs us to the right choice and the peace that follows confirms for us that we have done the right thing.

Sometimes the things to which we say “No” are more important than the things to which we say “Yes.”   God will allow tests, temptations, to see if we are capable of remaining firm in what we know he has called us to do and avoid getting off track with things that may invite us to “prove” something, but which are set before us not by God, but by our own prideful will or by satan himself.

I teach from time to time about the 3 fundamental temptations that satan uses- “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life.”  (1 John 2:16. Refer elsewhere in this weblog to Eve’s and Jesus’ temptations in Genesis 3 and Matthew 4   “All that is in the World”…). That last one, pride of life, is about wanting to “be something” or “be someone” , i.e. special, recognized, treasured, excelling, capable, exalted, etc.   It’s a slippery temptation. It is a temptation that requires one to examine motives regularly and make decisions based on prayerful submission to God’s will.  In this case, the process was a bit disconcerting, as I realized that there have been other times that I have not submitted the decision to the rigid scrutiny that this one demanded.  How many times have I failed the test and gone forward “where angels fear to tread” because of overconfidence or simply failing to ask for God’s direction?