Inside “Yes” is “No”

We like to be able to say “yes,” whether it’s to a person, an organization, an activity, an object, or whatever. But, human experience works out such that inside any “yes” is also a “no.”

AltWall, black, graffiti and sign by Jon Tyson

A bias toward “yes” isn’t inherently bad. It keeps us moving forward. Where we start running into trouble is when we neglect the fact that “yes” also costs us something.

This cost is sometimes described as an “opportunity cost.” Often, the concept is illustrated with economic examples. For instance, any dollar spent on a purchase is, by definition, not saved, given away, or spent on some other purchase.

Because dollars are interchangeable, this “opportunity cost” might not mean too much. But, the reality gains teeth when we also come up against the fact that the number of dollars anyone has access to is limited. Eventually, resources run out, even despite occasional efforts simply to go on pursuing more (see, e.g., Collins, How the Mighty Fall, 45–64).

The same principle applies with time and commitments. We can only fit a finite number of things into our attention at any moment. We can only pursue a finite number of actions in a given space of time.

And whatever we decide to put our attention on or to put into action then, by definition, squeezes out of that time and attention whatever else would otherwise have been there. So, for instance, time and attention spent studying can’t then also be spent in other ways.

But, investing time and attention in activities like study definitely can let us engage better with life as a result. To cite an often and variously quoted illustration:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!” (Covey, Effective People, 299)

Like anything, time spent “sharpening the saw” in study has its own opportunity cost that we need to be mindful of. But, it also pays dividends in making us sharper and better prepared as we continue moving forward serving and living life in biblical studies.

What encourages you to devote yourself to “sharpening the saw”?

Ministry and graduate school

Jake Mailhot discusses “how to juggle ministry while attending seminary.” The post takes its cues from Danny Zacharias and Ben Forrest’s Surviving and Thriving in Seminary (Lexham, 2017).

Mailhot aggregates several lines of advice, but one particularly key piece is the anecdote that

A mentor of Ben’s recalled writing in his Bible as a young seminary student, “I’d rather burn out for the Lord than rust out!” Reflecting on that memory nearly fifty years later, he regretted such a perspective and encouraged all who were in the room to do neither! Burning out and rusting out are both ways to ruin one’s legacy. Neither one is the calling that God has placed on the leaders of his church. Rather, as a seminarian you are called to live in the tension between studying and ministering.

Whether specifically in seminary, another form of higher education, or another place of heavy demands, trying to learn to live well with this tension requires healthy boundaries for those various demands. And as a help in maintaining those boundaries, it can often be useful to recognize the “opportunity cost” of saying “yes” to a commitment when there are—as there always are—finite resources with which to fulfill that commitment. A “yes” to Netflix or a given “one more” ministry opportunity will, by definition, be a “no” to something else like time in study or with one’s family. That tension probably never disappears, but it does need to be navigated as wide-eyed as possible to avoid the blindness of “Lord, did we not …?” (Matt 7:22–23).

For the balance of Mailhot’s reflections, see his original post. For Zacharias and Forrest’s volume, see Lexham Press or Logos Bible Software. For some reflections about developing healthy boundaries, see Henry Cloud’s Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Zondervan, 1992).