It is hard to be obedient.
I’d been sensing the nudge of the Holy Spirit for awhile. When September came around, it was an indistinct sense that something was up, something was coming. As the fall progressed, the sense grew stronger. One morning I read Matthew 16-18 and there were several verses that seemed to pulse off the page and command my attention:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16: 23-24).
And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17: 20-21).“
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Matthew 18: 8-9).
It became suddenly clear to me that God was calling me to a time of intense focus on Him. I didn’t know yet what form it would take, but I knew it would be a departure from the ordinary.
Life went on. September blurred into October, and I kept doing the things I do: feeding the boys, helping them get ready for school, emptying the dishwasher, reading the Bible, meeting with people, taking pictures, reading blogs, journaling, doing laundry, reading magazines, tidying the house, getting groceries, perusing my calendar. But underneath each of these normal, everyday things was a current of expectation. And as October waned, I flipped forward to look at the next month’s calendar and suddenly knew what I needed to do. I needed to practice saying NO. I needed to observe NO-vember.
Although I was certain this was the direction I was to take, I was a little unsure how exactly to go about it. Was I supposed to say NO to everything? To certain types of things? To certain people? Being a girl who likes to understand expectations and follow directions, I was uncomfortable with the vagueness of this challenge. So I kept grappling.
He reminded me that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Even though I’ve read this verse a gazillion times, this got me thinking: what vestiges of OLD are holding me back from the NEW? I thought about habits I’ve had for years, those that have lingered not because they’re unobjectionable but because I’ve never fully or continually surrendered them. I thought about patterns of thinking that consistently undermine me (I’m talkin’ about you, Insecurity and Comparison). I thought about my inconsistent levels of discipline, and my tendency to choose fun over work.
And He pulled my attention again to those verses from Matthew, reminding me that He is the great revealer, and that there is no substitute for time with Him.
SO I SHOULD BLOCK OUT TIME FOR HIM.
which means saying no to:
so that I can say yes to:
Solitude; focused time with Him; honing in on His purposes for me
He was calling me to be mindful of His things, not the world’s things; to deny myself and follow Him.
SO I SHOULD SAY NO TO THE THINGS THAT DISTRACT ME FROM HIM, DISTRACT ME FROM HIS PURPOSE FOR ME.
which means saying no to:
Agreeing to a task/invitation in order to garner favor or avoid conflict
Frittering away hours on social media
so that I can say yes to:
Financial responsibility; giving
Relying solely on Him for my value and definition
Devoting time to Him: reading the Bible, praying, and writing
He was alerting me that some of His purposes are accomplished only through prayer and fasting.
SO I MUST MAKE TIME AND ROOM IN MY LIFE FOR THESE THINGS.
He was exhorting me to cut off anything causing me to sin and cast it from me.
SO I SHOULD AVOID SITUATIONS WHERE I MIGHT LOOK TO OTHER PEOPLE OR TO THINGS FOR MY DEFINITION.
This could be as varied as eliminating social get-togethers, cutting out sugar, or not going into stores.
As I reviewed my calendar with these things in mind and prayed some more about it, I arrived at these guidelines for the month:
- More time daily in prayer, Bible-reading, and reflection
- More time daily doing what I sense He’s been asking me to do, but I’ve let slide: write, and develop a writing ministry
- More time daily doing what fills, stimulates, and energizes me: reading, writing, creating
- Renewed surrender of my food addiction
- Say NO to plans with people, with the following exceptions:
- Pre-existing commitments (like the annual visit from my friend Jess and the quarterly Art Playdate with Mary and Rachel).
- Standing weekly or monthly commitments (like Growth Group, weekly lunch with my family, phone call with Mary Margaret, or mentoring commitments)
- Those that directly further one of the above goals.
- Say NO to time-frittering behaviors (watching shows on DVD, reading blogs, checking Instagram) totaling more than one hour daily except on our weekly Date Nights, when we can watch a movie.
- Say NO to going shopping other than the annual trip to Anthology when Jess is in town and an antiquing trip with my mom for my birthday.
- Say NO to eating whenever and whatever I want.
One thing I want to be clear about: These were the things God was challenging ME to do for this particular time. He was asking me to do some things that don’t come naturally to me, which is exactly why I need to practice them. This month is intended to be a reset. An interlude. A Selah. A stop-in-order-to-continue. I do not believe He is calling me to live indefinitely with minimal social commitments, though there’s always the possibility that He will. I want to be open to whatever He is teaching me. That’s what makes this so exciting!
So I have delved expectantly into this month of NO. And I will be excited to emerge from it, with new perspective and a fresh understanding of YES.