The Power of No

by Oct 28, 2014

Steve Jobs once famously said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

That’s a powerful insight, but it didn’t originate with Apple.

Two thousand years ago, Paul had a singular focus. He said his primary ambition was to “preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom 15:20). And he was so laser-focused on this God-given ambition that he learned to say no to many good things, because he knew they wouldn’t advance his mission.

Look at what he said to the Romans:

I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,“Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain. (Rom 15:20-24)

Amazing! He longed for many years to go visit the Christians who lived in the symbolic and strategic city of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. But he knew that if he traveled all the way to Rome to visit some believers, it would prevent him from fulfilling his ambition of reaching unbelievers in areas where the gospel had never been preached.

There are a thousand good things you could do right now, but there’s only one main ambition God has for you to fulfill during this season. In all likelihood, you don’t need to cross an ocean to fulfill it. You probably don’t even need to switch your job.

Know where Paul was when he wrote this letter? Most scholars say Corinth. While he was there, Paul couldn’t depend on the immature and stingy Corinthian church to support him in ministry, so he had to work. Long hours in the marketplace every day; making and selling tents. But as he would work, he would make friends. Friends like Priscilla and Aquila, who probably had the stall right next to his in the marketplace.

As they stood there under the hot sun, day after day after day, Paul would talk about life, and work, and the miserable heat, and Jesus. Eventually, Priscilla and Aquila put their faith in Christ. Within a few months, they were leading other people to Christ. A few months after that, they were teaching other preachers how to talk about Christ! And all that happened because Paul pursued his ambition wherever God placed him.

God’s ambition for you is probably to stay right where you are, and take the initiative to look for people who God might use you to reach. Like one mom in our church whose ambition was to reach young moms. She started doing songs and games in the park every Friday morning, and now 100 people join her each week.

Another woman’s ambition was to reach victims of the sex-trafficking industry. She started handing out business cards to people in law enforcement who come into contact with these victims, and she gathered people in the church to offer serious practical help to anyone who needs it.

A musician in our church had an ambition to bridge the gospel and the arts so he could reach professional musicians.. He began gigging with as many musicians as he could, all with the purpose of developing friendships that would open doors for the proclamation of the gospel.

In order to fulfill those ambitions, all three people need to say no to a hundred other things. But by the grace of God, they can say along with Paul, “In Christ Jesus, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Rom 15:17-18).