It’s Okay to Just Say “No”

Teachers have big hearts.

We love to serve others.

We love to jump in and help.

That’s why we are teachers. But what happens when that desire to serve almost crushes us under the weight of many obligations that we have voluntarily put ourselves under? Extra activities and responsibilities at school, church ministry opportunities, and family obligations can threaten to topple us over.

It might be time to learn how to say “no.”

This is a skill that I am currently working on learning 🙂 It’s such a small word but soooo hard to say! When a request comes your way,  learn to not answer right away. It’s okay to say, “can I get back to you on that?” . That will give you time to think through it, pray about it, and seek counsel. As you look at the opportunity, here are a few principles to keep in mind.

Check your motives 

When I am approached with a request, what is my motivation in accepting (or rejecting) it? Many times my motivation lies in  my pride. I am naturally a people pleaser. I love for everyone around me to be happy, and especially for them to be happy with me. Saying “yes” to something makes people smile at me – they thank me. They think that I am wonderful. And I feel wonderful…until I realize what I just got myself into.

True confession – I have recently been looking at the many different things that I am involved in and was feeling overwhelmed. There just wasn’t enough time to do everything and to do it well.  I began working on how to let the leader of our public school Bible club  know that I would need to step down for next year. That very day, as I was thinking about how best to talk to her and explain my reasons…a few of us (including the leader) were discussing the idea of having some of our high schoolers create some wordless books for the kids, and before I could fully grasp what was happening, I was volunteering to take on that new project including getting permission from administration and parents. I climbed into my car, shell-shocked at how I had planned on giving something up – only to take on an additional responsibility! Yet, I had no one to blame but myself – I wanted everyone to be happy so I said “yes”.

If the only reason you are not saying “no”  is because you don’t want to displease someone, that should at least make you stop and take some time to think through your decision!

Another thing to check is your view of God. Sometimes I say “yes” to new ministries because I have a wrong view of God. I should be serving Him out of gratitude for what He has done for me – yet sometimes I find myself slipping into the thoughts of trying to impress God or earn His love and approval. But just as I was saved by grace and not by good works (Eph. 2:8-9), I also live by grace. God loves me the same no matter what I do!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Check your priorities

So maybe you have checked your motives and they are honestly good – you really just want to serve God or others in this way. Does that mean you should say “yes”? Well, not necessarily!

There are many genuine needs that I feel burdened to help out with…but I can’t do them all. How do I decide what to say “yes” to and what to politely decline? It can help to sit down and decide your priorities.

  1. Your relationship with the Lord – this must be first. It can be easy to get so busy serving God that we neglect to build our relationship with Him through quiet time in prayer and His Word. If I say “yes”, will this new responsibility hinder my time and energy to spend with Lord? Martha learned this – she was working so hard for the Lord, yet her service became a distraction. 

    And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:39-40A).  

  2. Your Family – I grew up as a missionary kid, and I am so thankful that I got to see the way my parents lived this out. Your family is your first ministry – not your students. If you say “yes”, how will that affect your family?

After those two priorities, you will have to finish the list on your own 😉 ! Involvement in your local church should be high on the list (Hebrew 10:25), taking care of yourself by having the time to eat right and exercise (I Cor. 6:19), and your students should also be somewhere on that list. Ask yourself – if you say “yes” to this new opportunity, what will you have to say “no” to in order to make it work? At this point of my life, my students are my main ministry. For me, I ultimately had to make the decision to say “no” to the Bible club ministry because I saw that it was draining time and energy away from my own students. Also,  in doing everything, I was not doing anything really well – just keeping my head above water.

Also a quick note here on priorities – you need to have some time to take care of yourself and recharge.  Just because there are 24 hours in the day and 7 days in a week, you don’t have you use up every single one! Now, we have to be careful here – there is a balance between hoarding our time for pleasure and realizing that we honestly do need to take time to recharge. God did not design us to run continuously – even Jesus had several times on earth where He went away from the crowds to rest and recharge. If the Son of God needed to rest during His time here on earth, so do we!

Keep a Servant’s Heart

It is okay to say “no”. But it is not okay to do it without a willing heart. Here’s what I mean – a servant’s heart is not quick to say “no” – it hears the person out and gives thoughtful consideration to what they are asking. A servant’s heart does not keep score of its service and smugly review it while looking down on others’ lack of service. A servant’s heart does not complain about all that it already has to do. A servant’s heart is not defensive. It is a heart that is willing to serve however God calls, but it humbly realizes that it can’t do everything.

If you have prayed through the decision and feel that it is not something that you can undertake right now, be honest with the person who asked you. Kindly explain to them, “You know what, I really appreciate your asking me to volunteer, but right now I am really focusing on my ministry to my students. I feel that if I helped out here, I wouldn’t have the time/energy/etc. that I really need to give to them. Thanks so much for thinking of me!”

If you really feel burdened to help – get creative! Perhaps there is another less time-consuming way that  that you could help (i.e. instead of teaching AWANAS every week, you can make cookies once a month or once every other month for it.) For me, with the Bible club ministry, I offered to substitute occasionally.

Finally, remember this: if you have prayed through this decision, you do not need to feel guilty. Live for an audience of One – if your decision is what you believe will best glorify God, then you don’t need to worry about the approval of others!

Alright, everyone, let’s practice saying it together -“Noooo….”




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The Comparison Game

I wish I had her class.

I wish I taught at that school.

I wish I was as creative a she is…

The comparison game – played by many of us, and won by none of us. How quick I am to look at your personality, your classroom, your life, and immediately place my own personality, classroom, and life side by side with yours. I want to know how I measure up. I want to know my value in relationship to yours.

See, the comparison game is quite a dangerous game. It never ends well! When I play it, I typically fall in one of two ways…and they both involve me losing!

Comparison is the thief of joy. (Theodore Roosevelt)

1. Envy & Self-pity

I look at your life, the students you have, the teaching abilities you have, and I want them instead of what I have.  I begin to think in if only’s…

  • If only I had your high achieving, well-behaved class…
  • If only I had the supportive parents you have….
  • If only I had your personality as a teacher…
  • If only I had your sense of humor…
  • If only I had your ability to lead…

But the if only’s offer a dangerous lie – that if only I had what you had, I could be happy. Any time that I look for my joy outside of Christ, I am treading on dangerous ground.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

God gave you your class, your abilities, and your life. He gave me mine – and I can be content with what I have because He promises His presence. Maybe He has given me a load that appears more difficult than yours, but He promises His grace to help me bear what He has given me (II Cor. 12:9).

Contentment comes when I find my value in Christ and not in how I measure up to you. If I am His child, I am loved and accepted the way I am – warts and all! Christ knew my sinfulness and weakness, but He still chose to save me. If I cannot find contentment and security in Him, I will never find it!

This is not to say that I shouldn’t learn from you and your strengths – but instead of envying your abilities, I should be thankful for them. I should let you know that. I should ask for suggestions in improving. But I should not envy you. I can be thankful that God blessed me with areas I need to grow in…if I was perfect, I wouldn’t need to depend on Him. (If you struggle with perfectionism, please check out what I wrote here).  I can be thankful that as a body of Christ, God has given us different abilities and jobs. One of us is is not more important than another member – we are all working together to bring glory to God (I Cor. 12:12-26).

2. Pride & Self-sufficiency

This is my response when I compare myself with you and find that I am “better”. I become proud that I would never talk to a student that way. I am proud that can get my students to behave in the hallway or lunchroom. I am proud that even though I may not be the best teacher, at least I am better than you. 

But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (II Corinthians 10:12b)

My pride shows my foolishness. If I have abilities or good circumstances, why would I think that am responsible for them? Yes, I have probably had to work hard to develop a good classroom management system or develop creative lessons…but if it weren’t for God, would I be able to do any of it? Isn’t God the One who gave me my gifts and talents? I may have honed them, but I can’t develop what I don’t have to begin with!

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (I Corinthians. 4:7)

And just as the if only’s, my pride also puts me on dangerous ground. I am finding my value and joy in accomplishments instead of Christ…and what’s worse, I am taking His credit for it!

So, how do you stop playing the comparison game? Start a new game – a  game of gratitude! When you are tempted to start comparing yourself to someone else, stop. Begin praying and thanking the Lord for what He has given you – be specific! Gratitude solves both problems – I can’t be envious and full of self-pity when I see all that God has blessed me with. I also can’t be proud because I realize that God has blessed me with all that I have. Find your joy in Christ alone – nothing else will satisfy!

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Truth for Tired Teachers

It’s the final long stretch for many of us…the mad dash to the end of the year (or maybe you are like me, and you’re just trying to crawl on hands and knees to get to spring break!). It’s the last quarter of the game, and we’re exhausted. Our kids are exhausted. Yet, somehow we have to finish the game strong. Standardized tests loom ahead, the amount of curriculum to be covered by then is overwhelming, and discipline issues are setting in as spring fever rises. It’s at times like this that it is especially important to focus on truth. Our thoughts can quickly spiral out of control as we begin to dwell on all of the negatives. But Christ tells us what our thoughts should be centered on –

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

So let me share some truths that God is reminding me of in this season of the school year!

When you are doing your work for Christ, it matters!

Sometimes we can get discouraged when we see all of the time and energy that we are putting into our ministry…and not getting to see many immediate results for it. Christ promises that when we are serving Him, even the most mundane tasks are investments in His Kingdom.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (I Cor. 15:58)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt 10:42)

You don’t have to do this in your own strength!

It has been said that”God never gives you more than you can handle.” While that phrase is well-meaning, I don’t believe that it is biblical. Over and over again in Scripture, God gives people way more than they handle (David & Goliath, Queen Esther, Joseph being sold into slavery away from his family – just to name a few).  I believe that He gives us more than we can handle…because then we have to rely on Him and not ourselves. Those heroes of the faith are not heroes because they were so amazing…they had a God who was amazing! And we serve the same God today!

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (I Thess. 5:24)

This is my go-to verse for everything – God is the One who called me to be a teacher, and He is going to be faithful to accomplish His purpose.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (II Cor. 12:9)

God is using the difficulties you are facing for your good. 

That tough student, that discipline situation that is weighing heavily on you, that set of parents that you are struggling with, the requirements of your district that you can’t keep up with — all of these are circumstances that God has allowed in your life. They are there for a reason, and Romans 8:29 tells us what that reason is – to conform us to the image of Christ that so He might be glorified.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:28-29)

Another favorite passage to go to when I am feeling tired or overwhelmed with circumstances is Hebrews 12 – it comes right after the “Hall of Faith”, a chapter of people remembered for their faith in God. Chapter 12 tells us the secret to enduring the way that they did – keeping our eyes focused on Christ and realizing that He has a purpose in the discipline (training) He is taking us through.

You are loved no matter what.

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin (see here), you are a beloved child of God. No matter how terrible your lesson went that day, no matter how you feel that you may have failed a student, parent, or administration, God loves you. He doesn’t love you any more on your good days than your bad days – His love for you is based on His character, not your performance. He just loves you because that is who He is!

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. (Ps. 139:16-18)

God knew that you were going to come up against this tough day even before you were born. He knows every day that He has planned for you, and this is one of them. Psalms 139 is just an amazing psalm – if you are feeling down or lonely, just spend some time meditating on this precious chapter of the Bible!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [that includes our own selves!] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:28-29)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-31)

God loved us so much that He gave up His Son to die for us when we were His enemies (Col. 1:21). If He loved you enough to do that  while you were His enemy, will He not love and take care of you as His own child?

So as we push through these final months, keep your mind centered on truth – you are not facing these tough times alone. God sees and knows all that you are facing, but He wants to use these times to draw you closer to Himself. When you are tired, turn to Him and His Word!

How about you? What are your favorite verses and truths to meditate on when you are feeling tired, overwhelmed, or discouraged?

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Speaking Grace to our Students

I couldn’t help but laugh at this image I found floating around on the internet…because as a teacher, I feel like this sometimes!

You start out the day with great intentions, but it doesn’t take long before you start getting short with your students. Maybe you didn’t get much sleep last night, maybe you are dealing with some outside circumstances or stresses, maybe the day’s schedule got changed and the kids are just going crazy .  But whatever is going on, it’s not a good day. By the time that last bell rings, you have been impatient with many of your students and even called some of them out unkindly.

What is up with that? I mean, you love them, right (you may not feel like you love them right now, but you know that you ultimately do!)? So why do these words fly out of your mouth? Some teachers are notorious for yelling at their kids, but sometimes our unkind speech can be more subtle – a little one-liner here, speaking harshly in a moment of discipline, an impatient response, calling them out in front of the whole class, and other similar words of unkindness.

Words that put them down in front of their friends.

Words that embarrass them.

Words that hurt them.

Words that don’t look anything like Christ.

As Christians, the way that we speak to our students should look very different from the unsaved teacher down the hallway.

When we find ourselves struggling in our speech towards our students, we first need to see where these words are coming from…and I’ll give you a hint – it really doesn’t have anything to do with our students!

The Bible clearly tells us that our words come from our heart – every word we say is indicative of what is in our hearts. Our tongue can often be the “check engine light” – yes, those words coming out aren’t good, but they are signaling a much deeper problem. Our students merely help us to see what is in our hearts.

“…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

But there is hope! See, if the problems with our speech stem from what others (namely, our students) are doing to us, we don’t have much hope of fixing it. We are giving up and admitting that others have the ability to make us sin. If our students are having a good day, we’ll have a good day! If they are having a bad day, we are forced to also have a bad day. However, if the problem is with my own heart, Christ has the answer for that!

He died so that I would not have be enslaved to my selfish and impatient heart.  He has set me free from its control! Now, He lives inside of me and is working to produce His character in my life.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Words that look like Christ come from a heart that seeks Christ- a heart that desires to please Him and point others towards Him more than it wants its own desires. I can’t just put on loving, patient, and gentle speech…I first have to deal with the heart that is producing the unkind and impatient words.

I need to search my heart and see what it is that I want more than obeying God’s command to love others with my words.  I need to confess it to Him and ask for His help. If I lose my temper or say something unkind to a student, I need to have the humility to call them aside later and apologize (and no excuses – “Well, I should not have said that, but if you wouldn’t have…”). We can be tempted to think that this will make our students lose their respect for us – but have you ever had an authority in your life apologize to you? Chances are that increased your respect for them, not lowered it!

Once I have dealt with my heart, I can begin to replace that old speech with words that look like Christ, and of course, Christ has the answer yet again!

 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29)

Instead of using words that can tear down our students, let’s look for ways to speak grace to them, to build them up and encourage them. I have been challenged to be more proactive in doing this by really focusing in on 1-2 students a day and going out of my way to deliberately and specifically build them up with my words – look for the little things  to praise them for, encourage them when I see them struggling with something, point their eyes towards Christ. Of course, I want to have this spirit with my whole class, but I think that zoning in on a few students at a time will help me focus on specific encouragement instead of just general praise.

Also, be warned that if you are determined to please Christ in this area, your flesh is really going to fight you. I sat down on Tuesday to begin drafting this post after hearing a wonderful sermon on it. I was excited about using my speech to really minister grace to my students…and then my flesh began to kick and scream. It decided that it was not going to go down so easily. The very next day (and the rest of this week!) I struggled so much with being patient with my students. I wanted to blame it on the fact that they were just not listening to me…but that wasn’t the reason. The reason was because I have an impatient heart – I want what I want when I want it. My students were getting in the way of what I wanted (quickly getting through our research paper writing unit!) and so my impatient heart just bubbled right up and out my mouth. I failed multiple times and had to ask their forgiveness the next day. And Satan would love to keep us down and defeated at this point…but the Lord reminded me of Prov. 24:16A

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again…

It is not that a righteous person never falls. They fall, but by the grace of God, they get back up and try again. And again. And again…and they seek God’s help every time, knowing that they will continue to fall when they are depending on their own strength.

May God help us all to speak grace to our students!


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