Sirens were beautiful creatures from Greek mythology who lured sailors to their death. The power of their song was so irresistible that it would cause captains to steer their boats into the rocks.
We are seduced daily by proposals, promises, and perspectives that may leave us shipwrecked too, unless we learn and relearn the power of saying no. Investor Mark Suster has warned of the peril of shiny new objects. He says, “Everything you say ‘yes’ to is incrementally one more thing you must support with time, energy, and personal resources. The result is death by a thousand cuts. I strongly believe that your successes will be more defined by what you choose not to do than by what you choose to do.”
Why is saying “no” so hard for us? One well-known psychologist suggests three reasons:
1. Accommodation: We say “yes” when we want to say no. This usually comes when we value the relationship above the importance of our own interests.
2. Apprehension: We say no poorly and then feel guilty. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking by saying no when we do not mean it.
3. Avoidance: We say nothing at all because we are afraid of offending the other party. We hope the problem will disappear, but it does not. We end up obligating ourselves through silence.
But, saying no is far easier when you have the confidence and foresight that comes from the clear goal a vison brings. Steve Jobs once said, “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as much as things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”
Someone has said, “Saying no is powerful because it’s so rare.” Instagram founder Kevin Systrom turned down a personal offer from Mark Zuckerberg to be one of Facebook’s earliest employees. This move could have cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. But Systrom believed in his own vision and that staying in school was the right move for his future. As things turned out, years later Facebook bought his company for more than enough money to put any regrets to rest.
People like to be liked. We do not want to offend or make trouble. Rather than saying no, we would rather string people along and hope that they change their minds or forget their request. But nothing is more clear and respectful of others or ourselves than stating our conviction clearly and quickly. And that is exactly what we see Nehemiah doing in chapter 6. When Sanballat and Geshem seek to derail the completion of the building project, they offer to meet with Nehemiah to discuss things. Nehemiah says, “No!” It is one of the most widely quoted verses in the entire book of Nehemiah. It is used by many people, including a lot of preachers, as a “life verse”. But Nehemiah 6:3 is the center of Sunday’s text, Nehemiah 5:14 to 6:9. It is far more than a repository of life verses or morality meanderings. It is a perfect portrait of four frequent temptations that seek to seduce us into abandoning the vision God has set before us. We will be delving into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “The Power of No”.
In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:
1. Read Luke 9:51-62 and note Jesus’ emphasis on completing the task God sets before us.
2. Do you know the second line of the ditty: “Once a job you have begun, never leave it till it’s done…”?
3. Against the backdrop of “Threats from Within” (last week’s message) what do verses 14-19 tell us about Nehemiah?
4. What is the connection between the governor’s food allowance and the people’s ability to pay?
5. Does verse 19 strike you as a bit egocentric?
6. Why do the unholy trinity wish to meet with Nehemiah and where?
7. How does verse 3, Nehemiah’s response, capture the essence of the work?
8. What does verse 3(b) tell us about Nehemiah’s involvement in the project?
9. Why do the enemies persist with false charges in verses 4-7?
10. How are Nehemiah’s words in verse 8 a perfect “life verse” for ourselves?
See you Sunday!