Learning to Say Yes When You Want to Say No
- Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I like to have authority over others. I don't like others having authority over me.
I would be reluctant to admit this if I thought I were unique. However, I've never met anyone who didn't have that same feeling in some way. I have a friend who is in a leadership role he doesn't like, but he tells me he does it because he doesn't want to be under any of the people he leads. He's honest, that's for sure, and I understand his feelings. Authority, as defined from a follower's perspective, is the responsibility to submit to the control of someone else and is often resisted because we want to have control over our lives and not release ourselves to others.
I have often struggled with the demand God has put on me to say yes to human authority when I want to say no, especially when I don't feel the person over me worthy of controlling me. I may not respect him or want to go where he is taking me or think that what he requires of me is wise. When that happens we resist the authority over us, either passively or actively through critical words aimed to undermine the leader's authority.
Yet learning to say yes when I want to say no has been one of the most formative experiences of my life. This experience has humbled me by teaching me that God uses the authority He places over me to change me and show me that I am not as wise as I think. He has also transformed me through this experience by bringing me to the cross to find the power and the patience I need to follow when I want to lead. And He has prepared me for future leadership by making me much more aware of my limitations and need for others than I ever would have been without subjection to uncomfortable and unwanted authority. God has done a deep work within me designed to make me more effective for Him by making me say yes when I want to say no. After all, the authority God places over us—or allows to be over us—is part of His plan and purpose to conform us to Christ's image.
Even while I struggled with authority at times, I have always believed that all leaders should subject themselves to human leadership, not just to God. Often when we claim we are subjecting ourselves to God, we use that claim to cover up the fact that we are actually subjecting ourselves to ourselves and doing whatever we want. Having to subject ourselves to human authority brings out deep struggles within us and forces us to face ourselves in ways we would never do otherwise. For me, willingness to subject myself to my leaders has always been a test of my commitment to Christ. Through this I have learned that one of the greatest struggles a leader has to learn is to become a follower, and that can only can be accomplished by coming under the authority of someone else. I must submit to the authority of another in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And submission is just that, sub-mission: putting ourselves, our freedom, our desires, our will, our "mission" in life under the authority, direction, and control of someone else, especially when we don't want to.
Consider how many great men in the Bible had to do this: Joseph subjected himself to unjust Egyptian legal authority with no hope of freedom; David subjected himself to Nathan after his adultery with Bathsheba; Daniel subjected himself to his captors in order to obey God; Paul subjected himself to Rome when he was arrested and held unjustly for two years and then executed some years later. We can say with certainty that submission to human authority, even unjust human authority, is the primary mark of all of God's great men.
Consider Peter following his ministry to Cornelius. Upon his return to Jerusalem, the apostles and other church leaders confronted him because they were offended that he had entered and eaten in a Gentile's house, and they demanded an explanation of his behavior. If ever a man had a right to say, "God told me to do it," Peter did. After three efforts not to obey God (Acts 10:9-23), he acted and saw an amazing response in Cornelius and his household. Yet the Jerusalem leaders were offended at his actions and demanded that he answer their questions in order to maintain his authority in their lives. Peter had to submit to his followers so he could continue to lead them (Acts 11:1-3). So what did Peter do? He explained to them in orderly sequence exactly what happened (Acts 11:4-16), and they accepted his explanation. If Peter, in order to continue to lead, had to submit himself to the authority of his followers and give them an explanation of his actions, how much more must the rest of us learn to subject ourselves to human authority, even if we can claim God's direction for what we're doing. And we must remember that our followers have as much authority over us as we do over them. After all, they have the two most powerful words of all: we quit!
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