Does God Expect You to Always Say ‘Yes’? {Book Club}

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting.” Meister Eckhart

Thus begins the chapter on “The Practice of Saying No” in  An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.

So many thoughts as I read this chapter! (No surprise, right? Even when Moses was given the 10 commandments the most print was given to the Sabbath and saying no. So I/we are in a long line of folks who have been thinking about noes and yeses.)

This fall I read The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst. You can tell by the title Lysa advocates for good yeses. I wrote two of the quotations from this book I wrote down are:

“My attitude of love may trump my activity every time.” Lysa TerKeurst and

“If you’ve found yourself saying no to everything in an effort to establish boundaries, remember Ecclesiastes 7:18: ‘Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.’ We can’t only say no to things. There is a time and place to say yes … and maybe this small-no principle can help bring balance back to the way you answer requests.” Lysa TerKeurst

How do you see last chapter and the practice of living with purpose and this chapter’s the practice of saying no, compliment each other? How do you maintain, even embrace,  the tension these two practices? How do you factor stage of life into these practices since each stage will come with its own unique benefits and challenges?

As a community we’ve talked about Sabbath and practiced a Sabbath week. This is a growing community and some may have missed that week, if you did or something in this chapter piqued your interest here are the posts from that week:

We saw that the Creator has woven Sabbath into the very rhythms of nature.  Remember the tusk of the narwhal?

We talked about how to cultivate rest and play.

We shared about our deep need for rest.

We gave ideas for how leaders can rest.

We talked about our addiction to doing, and had an enriching talk at The Grove about what Sabbath actually looks like in our lives.

And one more resource when it comes to Sabbath, my friend Shelly Miller (who has written for Velvet Ashes about waiting to move to England) created a Sabbath Society two years ago. You can read more about it here and if you want, sign up for weekly encouraging emails regarding the joys and struggles of this practice.

One final thought in regards to this week’s theme of expecting and expectations. What do you understand God to expect from you when it comes to practicing no and yes? How much have you needed to realign your understanding to what God has said versus what you thought he said or were taught he said?

Over to you :). How do you practice saying no? What thoughts stirred in you as you read, underlined, and starred? Any points you disagree with? You know my mantra, disagreements welcome too! This book is a place to start the discussion, not to end it.


P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the Practice of Carrying Water

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Photo Credit : Unsplash


  1. Christine December 1, 2014

    Your posts this week have been a confirmation to what I am hearing from God.  The message last Sunday was basically about the same subject as “Violated Expectations”.  Both were really good reminders of the reality of the Christmas story.  Today’s post about saying no is exactly what I felt I needed to do for the rest of this month.  Looking at my schedule book I realized I was bordering on no “wiggle room” and have resolved to say no to everything except more time with my Creator!  Thank you for the encouragement and confirmation.  Blessings to all.

    1. Amy Young December 3, 2014

      Christine, I love it when messages are confirmed and we get the extra nudges from the Holy Spirit to pay attention. What are some of the things you’re saying “no” to this month?

      1. Christine December 3, 2014

        Anything anyone asks me to do!  Help with this, help with that–all good and necessary things of course.  But I have already said YES once this week and so my resolve increases to be able to say no!

  2. Elizabeth December 2, 2014

    It was interesting to me, Amy, that I read this chapter this week, and then picked up in John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping where I had left off several weeks earlier, and both chapters were about rest. It was like this big wake up call to me. I thought to myself, I think God is trying to tell me something here!

    “Being busy is how our culture measures worth.” So true. Ouch. And that seeps into my soul as well. And I sometimes think, if I can’t perform as well as another person, then perhaps God does not love me as much as that person, not because the performance earns his love, but that he gives better and more useful gifts to those he loves more. I know, heresy. But these are the thoughts that come when we measure worth by performance. And I have been WRESTLING with God over these thoughts lately.

    And that ties in to the part where she says our work is a way of dominating others, in subtle and not so subtle ways, and that rest releases us from that somewhat. We do order ourselves and rank ourselves, even if we don’t want to admit it. And that causes us to measure worth incorrectly. “Test the premise that you are more than you produce” she says later. “Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working.” So hard for me, as a human, to accept this truth in the deep parts of my being.

    “Limiting my activity does not make me feel holy. Doing more feels holy, which is why I stay so intrigued by the fourth commandment.” The way she made this insight cracked me up. Sometimes the way Barbara says things is so piercing, and cuts through all the little lies we tell ourselves.

    I loved her description of Sabbath sickness! Again, here she is being honest about what it’s like (sort of reminds me of Ann Lamott in this regard . . . ). And I know this is true for me sometimes. Sometimes I don’t want to just sit with my feelings, or just do nothing. I would rather play a game of Freecell and zone out as a way of avoiding it all. But she mentions being willing to deal with the demons that show up when you turn everything off in your life. But, as she also says, “If you flee from the pain and failure, then you run into them everywhere you go.”

    I love how she ends, b/c I feel myself preoccupied with my self lately: When you live in God, your day begins when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise.”

    1. Amy Young December 3, 2014

      Elizabeth, I’ve wanted to read that book! Glad for the recommendation :).

      Ah, these lessons on our value not being tied to what we do are hard — as one who has almost always had a non-traditional job, I know it’s hard for people to grasp what I do. And especially as i ask for their support (via prayer, finances, and friendship) to do what I do. I understand why there does need to be measurable things I can point to. But what if they don’t think talking to someone (mentoring) on the field once a week is valuable? I find, that since I’ve been called to more behind the scenes, supporting roles, people wonder if it’s valuable or should their money go towards “real M’s”?

      Thankfully i have assurance this is what I am to do 🙂 … this work I’m called to. And for advent (which is called little lent), I’m giving up worrying about finances :).

  3. Monica December 3, 2014

    How incredibly timely is this conversation!  Our family is currently on Sabbatical- our first sabbatical experience after 14 years on ‘the field’.  This forced ‘rest’ really bothered me at first.  As someone who has basically lived without margin for years, and said ‘yes’ to everything because of my own drive to serve, please God, and meet needs that I was pretty sure no one else could meet….I have quickly come to realize how empty and underwhelmed my soul was.  Only a few months into Sabbatical, and I have had to face ‘myself” for the first time in years.  It’s been an incredible experience thus far, and I’m grateful for this gift of Sabbatical in which I can be restored and renewed.  Thank you for this post- I am so encouraged!


    1. Amy Young December 3, 2014

      Monica, I have a feeling your story is more common than most realize 🙁 … I think that is one thing VA wants to do, help promote more balanced living. I know it’s hard when so many of our organizations value (and understandably) working hard and have rather unhealthy organizational cultures of work/work/work and rest (unless you have work you need to do, and hey, there’s always work to do). Anyway, so glad this was encouraging!!

      1. Monica December 3, 2014

        Thanks Amy, I wish I had come across VA sooner!  I finished reading The Best Yes, by Lysa TerKeurst last month, and am now on Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton.  Embracing Sabbatical has forced me to face ‘myself’ and come to terms the parts of me that have become addicted to ‘service’, pleasing others, and being a successful M.  The Father is doing a lot of stripping away- and I didn’t know that being so raw would feel so liberating.  My hope and prayer is that Sabbath will be incorporated into my life- that I will develop sacred rhythms no matter where I am living or serving.  These are tough things to learn after being on the field for so many years and operating in certain organizational settings and patterns.  Glad I can meet with people on VA for encouragement and support.

        1. Jenny December 3, 2014

          Thanks for sharing some of your story, Monica.  I also have been addicted to people pleasing and service and rejoice in hearing your victories!  Sacred Rhythms has been an excellent game changer for me, and i’m planning to re-read it in the hopes of meeting God in consistent spiritual rhythms in this new phase of our life (I’ve served overseas most of my adult life and we have recently returned to the USA for the foreseeable future).

  4. Jenny December 3, 2014

    Elizabeth, I had the same quotes underlined!  🙂

    When we lived in India, Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God was instrumental in wooing me to the practice of Sabbath as an act of faith that I trust God, that the world is not so dependent upon me that it will collapse if I spend a day in rest.  Setting aside a day to spend with God felt so extravagant, and it changed me.  I experienced all of the things in the paragraph of her ‘warning’ about what might happen..unbidden tears, memories, gratitude, etc.  When I had that space to face myself, God stirred things up in my heart that I had gone my whole life without knowing.  I also enjoyed the earthy practice of the Day of Preparation, spending the day before Sabbath being sure we had easy food for the next day, baking bread and pulling out leftovers, and being sure we had enough clean clothes that I wouldn’t be tied to the washing machine.  It was the same feeling before one goes on a holiday.

    Now that we are back in the USA I have not developed a consistent Sabbath rhythm, actually my whole spiritual rhythm of life feels off kilter with so much change.  I think part of it is that in India I worked hard every day besides Sabbath so Sabbath ‘felt’ more necessary and restorative.  Life is logistically so much simpler for me in America (buying washed and cut produce, modern conveniences, reliable electricity and water) that I start buying into the lie that I don’t need Sabbath.  (Really, so much of my life in America feels like I am in a movie, it’s so deliciously easy…is this normal?  We’ve been in the USA most of this year so it’s an awful long honeymoon, if that is what it is.)

    I am thankful to not be so maxed out all of the time, to not be stretched so thin, but this chapter was a real wake up call to me again that Sabbath is a command, both for hard and easy seasons of life.  It is meant for honoring God and opening my heart to whatever is in there.

    1. Amy Young December 3, 2014

      🙂 … Jenny, I relate! Whenever people talk about their problems (i.e. going to the doctor or dealing with a bill) — and I know they are genuine problems to them — I say, “but you’re dealing with it in your native language! Do you know how doable navigating problems in a language and system you get ARE?!” OK, I try to keep my voice all calm and mellow and not intense!

      1. Jenny December 3, 2014

        EXACTLY!  we still have some of the same life issues with money, health, getting stuff done, but it’s our mother freakin’ tongue and my gender doesn’t have all these prohibitions attached to it, and the corruption level is so much lower here that I don’t have to figure out how much ‘bribe’ is involved with anything I need to get done and so on and so forth.  🙂

  5. Stacey December 28, 2014

    Ironically, I had to take a break from book club reading in order to restore some margins back in for the holidays. Not that reading this isn’t restful as a stand-alone activity; but it was another thing on my to-do list, which was starting to close in on my days. I was needing to be able to breath in and relish the differentness of late November and December, to enjoy the work that comes with celebration. And so I’ve just finished this chapter tonight, our first Sabbath after Christmas. 🙂

    I found this chapter encouraging, and a bit puzzling (in a good way). I don’t actually know what my Sabbath rhythms should look like here – or in the States, for that matter. What she describes as an ideal Sabbath day sounds lovely and restorative. But we go to church on Sundays. Church starts at 11 and we often don’t get home till 3 or 4 after all the testimonies and fellowshipping are done. It’s something I value. But it’s not restful, not the way that her Sabbath day sounds. It’s beautiful and rich; but it’s also usually hot, in a second language, and full of physical dangers for the little people I chase around trying to keep safe (like open water pits in the ground, cars coming and going, cooking fires, broken glass on the ground, and large open windows in high places). So then I think about Saturdays. But the kids are usually involved in some sort of community organized sport on Saturdays, and it usually involves about half the day. We have this gift of community and physical activity/training that can be difficult to otherwise arrange in a city without community centers when we are homeschoolers. I value this too. The rest of the week, we are homeschooling and hubby is working. I’m stumped. It’s not so much that I don’t see the value or that I’m driven to not want the rest; it’s just that I don’t really get how we work that in every week. I totally get what she’s saying, that the people who would choose to do this would be revolutionaries of a sort; a lonely crowd swimming against the current. This is definitely something to consider in prayer. What exactly would God want our family to do to make our Sabbath set apart and holy? Furthermore, the challenge to turn things off is something also to seriously consider and pray about. We often allow movies or audio books for the family; we often catch up on books and blogs (ahem) ourselves; and Facebook and email are a regular part of Sat/Sun as well. Seems restful, but maybe it’s not. Hmm.

    I also appreciate the links to the other Sabbath articles here on VA and in that Sabbath Society. I’m sure I’ll learn more there.  Thanks for all your posts here, everyone.

    1. Amy Young December 29, 2014

      Stacey, I love how you’ve lived, modeled, and share with us your journey of taking a break!

      And like you, I think many of us find Sabbath rhythms confusing on the field (or even back home when it’s not really a day of rest, more a day of corporate Christian activity and worship). One thing I have heard of people doing is taking a “Sabbath day” or half day NOT on Sunday. And for married folks, one spouse taking the morning watching the kids so the other spouse can have private sabbath and then the switch for the afternoon. There’s also lots of other options and variations. Might be fun to play around and see what works for you :).

      Agreed! this was a great discussion :)!!

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