Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Is It Okay to Just Say "No"?

I've been pondering a question lately of when it's okay to turn down ministry opportunities. On the one hand, we surely can't do everything that's presented to us. On the other hand, shouldn't we try to participate in as many opportunities that come our way as we can? What if I say "no" to something that the Lord really wanted me to do because it seems too difficult or scary? Then I'm not fully trusting the Lord or being a good steward of the time and abilities God has entrusted to me. What a terrifying thought to get to heaven and find that I wasn't faithful in all that the Lord gave me!

In the past, I have heard people turn down opportunities by saying that they didn't "feel led" to do them. But what biblical basis do we have for saying that? As Martin Luther wrote:
Feelings come, and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving,
My warrant is the Word of God,
Naught else is worth believing!

As I've pondered this question and searched for a biblical answer, I came across an entire section today of a chapter on stewardship in the book "Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God" by Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock that deals specifically with this issue. I'd like to share some of their insights with you. I think it gives women some very biblical and practical ways of making decisions regarding how we utilize our time.

Women and Work
Developing a biblical perspective on women and work is a difficult and often emotional question to answer due to current worldviews and intense personal opinions. There are, however, several biblical principles that help define the parameters for women and work. Principles which, when properly applied, alow women to maintain the priority of their home and experience a great deal of freedom to pursue ministry opportunities, serve their community, and/or supplement the family income.


Any activity that removes the woman from the home should be evaluated in light of biblical principles that help her maintain her primary focus: her family and home. Principles related to women and work should be applied to any activity that removes the woman from her home, whether that activity is paid employment, volunteer work in her local community, or a ministry in her local church. How does a woman determine if she should take on obligations outside the home? There are five principles that can be applied to help answer this question.


PRINCIPLE ONE: WORK SHOULD NEVER COMPROMISE GOD'S DESIGN FOR THE FAMILY AND THEREFORE SHOULD NEVER COMPROMISE THE WOMAN'S ABILITY TO MEET THE NEEDS OF HER FAMILY AND HOME.

There are three roles which a woman is required to fulfill.

  1. First, she is a helper to her husband (Genesis 2:18-24). Wives should seek to apply their gifts and abilities to assist their husbands in all areas.

  2. Second, a wife is to be a "worker at home" (Titus 2:3-5). The home is her primary responsibility and focus. Domestic duties are a part of thsi responsibility, but it is much more than just keeping a clean home. It also means creating a place of refuge and rest for her husband, children, and friends. It means managing the household to assure peace and organization within the home.

  3. Third, a woman's highest calling is to raise godly children who will lead future generations (Proverbs 22:6). This means making her home a training ground for the hearts of her children.

A woman must be able to help her husband, keep her home, and train her children before taking on additional responsibilities outside the home, whether it is ministry or employment.


PRINCIPLE TWO: WOMEN WHO WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME NEED TO SECURE THE SUPPORT AND BLESSING OF THEIR HUSBANDS.

God gives specific instructions for each member of the family unit (Ephesians 5:18-6:4). The father is to lead, love, provide, train, not provoke, and disciple his family. The mother is to submit, love, train, and disciple. The children are to obey their parents. If a woman does not secure the blessing of her husband to leave her home for employment or ministry, she has already violated a biblical principle, which is to submit to and love her husband.


PRINCIPLE THREE: THE DECISION TO WORK IS NOT BASED ON THE WOMAN'S ABILITY TO PERFORM THE JOB.

A woman may be very qualified to perform a job outside the home but may choose not to take the position for numerous reasons. Women will need to prayerfully evaluate their ability to manage family and home obligations as each unique circumstance arises. Several practical questions will help women evaluate whether or not an opportunity is feasible:

  • "What are my motives for taking on an outside employment or ministry opportunity? Do they violate biblical principles (e.g., materialism being more important than spirituality)?"

  • "Am I willing to make lifestyle adjustments rather than work otuside the home in order to have the option of staying at home?"

  • "Can I meet the needs of my husband in addition to this opportunity?"

  • "Can I thoroughly and with excellence care for my home in addition to this opportunity?"

  • "Can I train and teach my children in addition to this opportunity?"

  • "Do I have the support and blessing of my husband to pursue this opportunity?"

  • "Can my home and family responsibilities (e.g., sick children) take priority over work obligations?"

PRINCIPLE FOUR: THERE ARE REASONS AND SEASONS FOR A WOMAN TO WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME.

Once women fulfill their biblical role and responsibilities, there is a great deal of freedom to pursue outside interests. The Proverbs 31 woman gives us an example of this model. A woman may leave her home for ministry or employment and not violate the biblcial principles due to a variety of circumstances:

  • The need to support herself (e.g., if she is single, widowed, or has a husband with a partial or full disability).

  • The desire to fill her extra time while her children are at school or after her grown children leave home.

  • The need to supplement the family income.

  • The desire to exercise her spiritual giftedness.

  • The desire to be a steward of her education.

  • The opportunity to participate in community service as a light to her community.

Working outside the home may be required during various stages of life. John MacArthur, in a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:9-15, states:

A woman's responsibility is in the home. Her duty and opportunity to imapct the world lie right there. She does this by raising a Godly generation. What if she can go and help a couple of hours a day to help at school or to serve the kingdom? The answer is ... if it does not impact or take away from your home responsibilities and you and your husband take it to the Lord and examine your motives, it is OK. If it enhances and enriches the life in the home then it is between you and your husband and the Lord. If you understand God's plan and you work out with your husband how the specifics will work in your home it is not sinning. [emphasis added]

PRINCIPLE FIVE: WOMEN WHO DESIRE TO STAY AT HOME MUST PLAN AHEAD.

Many women desire to stay at home as a full-time wife and mom but do not take the practical steps needed to ensure they have the freedom to live on their husband's income. These are a few practical suggestions for couples planning to have the wife stay at home:

  • Eliminate debt immediately.

  • Live a modest lifestyle and begin to save consistently (do not spend all that you earn).

  • Establish a budget and stick to it.

  • Build a cash reserve for emergiencies (e.g., the loss of the husband's job).

  • Live off one income from the start.

  • Identify community resources that will help lower expenses (e.g., libraries, economical grocery shopping alternatives, and free community programs).

  • Develop a support network of family and friends (e.g., swap babysitting with a friend instead of paying for a sitter).

A FINAL THOUGHT....

Our primary motivation for practicing biblical stewardship should be so that we are found to be faithful and obedient managers of the resources God has given to us (Matthew 25:14-29).


I think the bolded part of John MacArthur's quote really is a great bottom line test to ensure that the opportunity being considered doesn't violate our other God-given responsibilities. Maybe when others have said they don't "feel led" to accept a particular obligation, what they mean is that they think it would take too much time from other, more important obligations? At any rate, I think this is a balanced, biblically responsible way to look at how we manage our time and think through those obligations that may be pulling us away from what's most important.

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