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Blog / How to Say No and Not Feel Guilty: An Interview with Kevin G. Harney

How to Say No and Not Feel Guilty: An Interview with Kevin G. Harney

Kevin G. HarneyAre you overwhelmed with your to-do list? Do you feel guilty when you say “no” to anything? Were you taught that “no” is a dirty word? Do you think saying “no” is a sign of weakness? What does the Bible say about saying “no”?

Bible Gateway interviewed Kevin G. Harney (@KevinGHarney) about his book, No Is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and (Occasionally) Exhausted (Zondervan, 2019).

Why do people say yes to requests made of them when they really want to say no?

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Kevin G. Harney: I think Christians feel pressured to say yes because we think it honors Jesus. We picture our Savior serving, sacrificing, loving, and caring and we want to be like him. To an extent, this is good and healthy. We should seek to be like Jesus and care as he does. But, none of us is able to meet every need, care for every person, and say yes to every opportunity. Not even Jesus said yes all the time. There were many times Jesus said no because of his wisdom and love. There are also people who say yes reflexively because they’re fearful of the consequences of saying no. They want to be loved and respected. They desire to seem capable and compassionate. They’re worried that others will feel hurt, offended, or put off. So, they take what seems like the easy path and just say yes.

Why is it dangerous to say yes when you should say no?

Kevin G. Harney: Every one of us has limited time, energy, and resources. If we say yes to everything, we’ll end up exhausted, empty, over-extended, and bitter. I’ve seen this over and over in people who’ve become “Yes Machines.” I’ve had many people tell me, “I just can’t say no!” They feel powerless and cornered. These people have said yes so many times that their schedules are loaded and their minds and bodies are weary.

Another danger is that people who can’t seem to say no are magnets for unhealthy people who are masters at manipulating and using others. The consequences of saying yes over and over when we should say no is a life of bondage to the whims and expectations of others. This can damage our physical health, weaken our relationships, cause emotional turmoil and bitterness, and lead to spiritual brokenness.

What do you mean when you write that “every yes is a no”?

Kevin G. Harney: Picture a person walking down a long buffet. At some point, their plate is full. They can’t fit on one more scoop of food or balance one more roll on the pile they’ve loaded on their plate. If they slide on one more food item, something will fall off the other side of the plate. That’s exactly what it’s like when a person has said yes to so many things that their life is jam-packed. They have no more time or energy to give; their plate is full. But, if they have a hard time saying no, they still try to load on one more thing. When they say yes to anything new—when they creatively seek to slide it onto the plate of their life—something falls off the other side of the plate. In most cases, they barely notice. When our life is full, another yes is actually a no. Sadly, the thing that falls off the plate is often far more important than the new thing they tried to add. What often falls off is family, health, or time with Jesus. When your schedule and life are full, every yes is a no.

What do you mean when you write that “every no is a yes”?

Kevin G. Harney: Well, when your plate is full, and you want to do something new or fresh, you must start by saying no to something. You actually look at your life and remove something, tell it no, get rid of it. When you do, you have space on the plate of your life to say yes to something new. Every time you say no to something, you open your schedule and reclaim some of your energy. This frees you to say yes to what matters most.

When my three sons were young, I wanted to coach their soccer teams. Over a decade I was the coach of more than 20 teams and it was an absolute blast. But, to do this, I had to say no thousands of times. I’d get calls from friends to play golf on a Saturday, to go to a movie, or to do any number of things. I said no over and over and over for ten years. Saturday was soccer time. I said no to my own desires, hobbies, and free time so I could say yes to serving my boys, creating memories, and investing in their lives. Every no was a chance to say yes to what mattered most.

Why is “no” a beautiful word?

Kevin G. Harney: Saying no in a prayerful and careful way leads to freedom, joy, and health. It also allows us to say yes to what God says matters most. Jesus said that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). When we carry the weight of our own expectations and desires, or, when we succumb to the pressures of others and say yes to all they expect from us, we have no margin to seek first the kingdom God is establishing (Matthew 6:33). When we learn to say no to all the demands that come our way (except the ones God has for us) we breathe deep, we slow down, and we find rest and joy because we don’t feel constantly overwhelmed and manipulated.

How did Jesus model the concept of saying no?

Kevin G. Harney: In Mark chapter one, we see a day in the life of Jesus. After a long day of ministry, Jesus finally falls asleep and then gets up early in the morning to slip away and get time with the Father. Not long after Jesus gets away, the disciples track him down. They let him know that all the people back in the town are looking for him and want him to come back. Certainly, they wanted to see more miracles, hear more teaching, and have Jesus to themselves. Jesus said no! He told his disciples that it was time to move to the next town so he could preach and teach there. He finished by saying, “That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). Jesus set boundaries and let the mission of the Father drive his life forward, not the whims and desires of the crowds. We have a lot to learn from our Savior.

How should a person guard against becoming a “no monster”?

Kevin G. Harney: We must to learn to say no, but we need to remember that we don’t say no for the sake of saying no. We do it so we can declare bold and Jesus-honoring yeses. The best thing we can do when people make requests of us, or when we receive invitations, is to say, “Let me take some time to pray about that.” Then, we really pray. If we pray, seek wisdom, and weight each request against God’s Word, we’ll have wisdom for every yes and every no.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Kevin G. Harney: One of my favorite books of the Bible is 1 Peter because it was the first large portion of Scripture I committed to memory. I did this in college when I was dealing with a variety of temptations. Every time I felt the enemy near, I’d begin reciting this powerful book of Scripture. This unleashed truth, wisdom, and a deep sense of God’s presence.

One of my favorite passages is Matthew 9:35-38. It’s Jesus’ call for us to pray and ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest field. The need for every believer to reach out to lost and broken people has never been more profound. I believe in this so much that my wife and I have started and lead an organization called Organic Outreach International ( We help churches, movements, and denominations grow their commitment to the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20).

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?

Kevin G. Harney: I use the Bible Gateway App almost daily. I listen to large portions of Scripture as I work out, drive, and work around the house. I love it.

Also, I develop a daily reading guide for the congregation I serve every week of the year. This guide gets them ready for the coming week of worship and the sermon that’ll be preached. In this reading guide on our church website and church app we’ve linked our church members to Bible Gateway. It’s a powerful and practical tool that blesses so many of our church members.

No Is a Beautiful Word is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: Rev. Dr. Kevin G. Harney (B.A., Azusa Pacific University; M.Div., Fuller Theological Seminary; Doctorate of Ministry, Western Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, CA. Kevin is also the co-founder and the visionary leader of Organic Outreach International.

He is the author of many books including: No Is a Beautiful Word, the Organic Outreach trilogy of books, Reckless Faith, Empowered by His Presence, and many other books and curriculum. He and his wife Sherry have written over 100 small group study guides (in partnership with Max Lucado, Mark Batterson, Ann Voskamp, John Ortberg, Christine Caine, Dallas Willard, Randy Frazee, Gary Thomas, and others).

Kevin does speaking and training (both nationally and internationally) in the areas of Organic Outreach and Church Leadership.

For more about the ministry of Kevin G. Harney please go to

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Filed under Books, Discipleship, Interviews