If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that you’re doing, you are probably doing more than God has asked. Henry Blackaby

The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. Brian Eno

Take these hands – teach them what to carry. U2

When you read the stories about Jesus sometimes you really see who he was as a person. In these glimpses, sometimes his personality shines through. He was intriguing to be around. He could openly be emotional. He carried with him dramatic and insightful stories. He was gently honest when he spoke to you. He was very deliberate about relationships. He was extremely bright. He had terrific compassion. He was very serious about his calling. He had great perspective about life.

And he was very conscious of his time and his limits. You’ve probably heard this one before, but one thing is certain, Jesus did not have a messiah complex. We read that at many different times you find him going to some remote place to be alone, to pray, to think, most likely to recharge his batteries (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Like any of us, Jesus also needed time to unwind, re-focus his energies and be by himself. When reading these stories, it seems like this was a common occurrence for him, not just some isolated event in his life. But an important point is that when he would remove himself from the throngs of people who would follow him, he inevitably was also disregarding their immediate needs to some degree. Essentially, he was saying I will not care for you right now and it seems like he was completely okay with that. I can picture him just as he was pulling on his cloak to make his way to be by himself, there would be some person there pleading for something more of him, Jesus, just one more question? Often, because of his celebrity, he would often in these instances have to firmly, but kindly tell them that it would have to wait for another time. You cannot be as popular as he was and not have the withal to let someone know that you weren’t going to be able to help them in some way at that very moment.

If you think about it in these terms, it is remarkable to think of how many people Jesus didn’t care for, heal or offer his wisdom and insight. Jesus was purposeful in how he served others. This is what we need to do as well. When we serve others, perhaps the most important question we should ask ourselves is—should I be doing this? Now granted, when someone asks for help in some way, in many of these cases, we should move into their lives and help them. But sometimes we maybe shouldn’t. Perhaps we need to be more purposeful in how we help others.

God taught me this lesson shortly after I became a Christian. With this story, I also learned he has a great sense of humor. I was about twenty-one at the time and had taken the train into the city to meet a friend. Chicago was a bustle at that time because it was just a couple of weeks away from Christmas. Disappointingly, my friend had called and had to cancel our plans. Dejected, I began to walk the six blocks back to train in the December cold. About half way there, I heard someone yell out “Buddy, buddy!” I looked around and couldn’t see anyone. After a second, I realized it was a man in a wheelchair who was hidden behind a car, and obviously homeless. As I approached him, he shouted with no regard for politeness, “Buddy, I need twenty bucks. Give me twenty bucks so I can go sleep and shower up at the Y. I need the money, man.”

To say the least, I wasn’t in the mood to be asked for money at that point—my friend had left me high and dry, it was cold, and because of that, I was frustrated and just not in the mood.  My immediate response to him was that I didn’t have twenty bucks. However, truthfully, I had one twenty dollar bill in my left jean pocket.

He again belted out, “Come on, man, I need a place to go!”

Again, without hesitation, I lied and said I had a friend who worked up at the McDonald’s two blocks away and that I would get the money for him. Of course, I didn’t have any friend who worked at McDonald’s. I was frustrated, cold and trying to ditch this guy. I just wanted to go back home. Of course, he insisted I take him with him, and again, for whatever reason, I obliged. As I was pushing him up State Street in his wheel chair, he did something that to this day I still remember vividly. Loudly, with a multitude of people shuffling past us with their Christmas gifts in tow, he shouted, “Buddy, buddy! Pull over! Pull over!”

Confused, I pulled over to the side of the sidewalk near the curb, but before I reached it, I realized he had unzipped himself and was peeing on the sidewalk! Flush with embarrassment, the people passing by eyed us and obviously were wondering what we were doing. My first thought was, Awesome, I am going to get arrested today. After he zipped himself up, we continued on our way—I was pushing his wheel chair as quickly as I could so I could get this episode of my life over. As we reached the McDonald’s, I rushed in the doors as he waited outside. I stood there, feeling entirely stupid and wondering what I was going to do. With him looking through the window, I acted like I was talking to one of the guys at the cash register. Finally, flustered and annoyed, I went outside to where he was, pulled out of my pocket the twenty dollar bill and shoved it into his hand. Then as quickly as I could, I made my way back to the subway station where I could head back home. As I got to the cashier window, I reached into my left jean pocket and as I rustled around to find my twenty dollar bill, and then realized I had given my new friend all of my money! I had absolutely no money to get home, and therefore, had to walk about three miles to a friend’s apartment to get some money for my train ride home (remember, this is before the day of cell phones).

About three months after this incident, I was on the train heading back home from a class earlier in the day. As I was resting my eyes, I heard a loud voice exclaim, “Buddy, buddy! I need twenty buck so I can get a room at the Y.” As I opened my eyes and adjusted them to the light, sitting right across from me was my friend who I had met that December day. Slurring his words badly and reeking of alcohol, at that moment, I realized my mistake three months earlier. That day, most likely, as I was walking those three miles in the Chicago cold to a friend’s place to replace my twenty bucks, my “buddy” was not washing up at the Y and resting in a warm bed. Instead, he was huddle under Wacker Street with a whole bunch of vodka. This story has always reminded me that sometimes it can be okay to not help someone who is need.


And so therefore, this is the other lesson I learned—we can stop feeling like we have to do everything and help everyone at each instance. We should know how to say no when we need to say no. We should lose the power of the “should.” I should do this. I should call her back. I should go to church and help out. I really should go to that Bible study. I should be there for him. I probably should give them the money they asked for even though they have mismanaged their money for years. This is what happened in my own life. There was a time when I had to do it all, I was going to save everyone who came in my midst. I would immediately answer each call. If you needed to see me immediately, I could accommodate. I was always immediately available. But it came at a cost. I was getting terribly worn down. I was not myself around our home. I was losing my relationship with my sons. And with this, I was slowly developing a messiah complex—it felt good to help someone and it was like a drug. I liked it so much that it was becoming my identity. It was becoming my idol. As always, God came to my rescue and said, Dude, just stop!

But to do this you have to humble yourself. Those who know how to say no are actually not callous or lazy, they simply know they cannot be there for the person at that point in time. They might even know that they don’t even have the skills or gifts to help the person in the first place. Actually, in truth, there can be a humility in learning to say no to someone. I can’t do it, also can mean I shouldn’t do it. Perhaps you need to do it yourself. Perhaps you need to speak to someone else. Perhaps you need to find help from someone else. Perhaps someone else needs to move into sacrifice and this will be their opportunity if I don’t help you. If I do this thing you are asking of me, and I shouldn’t, I am actually robbing you or someone else of the gift of helping you.

Coupled with this, those who have found this freedom from the “should” are good at not having to be in the spotlight. Sometimes we can serve just because we want the applause or recognition and this is no reason to be serving God or anyone else. Often those who have to keep going in some way are doing it because they are serving because of the attention and for the limelight. Pride is the motivation, not a broken heart to help someone in need. Humility is not the incentive, but being seen is what excites some to keep on the go and serving in some capacity. They are motivated by the slap on the back or because of the prestige they receive.

The one who learns these things enjoys to serve when no one sees what they are doing. As Jesus challenged, their left hand does not know what their right hand is doing (Matthew 7:3). They are serving because someone is in need and they don’t hope to get anything out of it—even a thank you is not needed. This person pays attention to Jesus’ words that when they are doing something for someone else they are doing it for him (Matthew 10:42). This is so freeing when it comes to serving—I know that I don’t’ have to get anything out of the sacrifice, because in the end, in reality, I did it for the One who rescued me. That is reward enough.

When you learn how to not get caught in the “should,” you also learn how to rest. This is what Jesus models for us in all of those different passages when he seeks to be by himself. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)  It amazes me sometimes how bad I am at this. A lot of us always have to be on the go and for us to learn how to sit and listen to God is a challenge. This is an area Jesus is continuing to implore me to learn. Is this you as well?  Those who know how to say no to others in some way are also good at finding solitary places, because when they are rested, they are able to handle the challenges that will eventually attempt to trip them up.


  • Do you have a hard time saying no to people in your life? Your friends, your family, those at work, etc.? What can you learn from Jesus that you don’t have to yes to everything? For those who struggle in this area, a great book to read on the topic is Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
  • Do you do a good job at getting away by yourself, and I mean totally by yourself? Or are you the type of person (like me) who always has to have noise playing or you have to be doing something (e.g., the television, a book in hand, working on a project, the computer on your lap, talking to someone on the phone, etc.). Do you have a difficult time just sitting, praying, and listening for God’s voice for your life? How often do you purposely put silence in your life to just try to listen to what God has to say to you?

In: Friend to Jesus
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