How to Say No to Hurry and Yes to Better Things

Published July 3, 2019

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning the lion wakes up and knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve. So, whether you’re a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Our culture tells us we better wake up running….

We are connected 24/7, with emails to answer, tweets to post to Twitter, Instagrams to image, Facebook pictures to update, phone calls to make and return and meetings stacked up. When we wake up in the morning, often our first response is, “I have to keep running.”

Studies shows the average American is working longer hours, taking shorter vacations, spending less time with family, less time pursuing recreation and less time investing in spiritual practices than ever before.

There’s a relevant story in the Gospel of Luke that shows how “running” can keep us from doing the “better thing.”

Jesus was the honored guest at a party at the home of Martha.

Busyness does not equal effectiveness.

Martha’s sister Mary was hanging out with Jesus, soaking in every word he said. Martha was in the kitchen, all worked up because no one was helping her. The text says she was distracted by all the preparations. She ends up berating Jesus and her sibling, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”

Jesus’ response was, “You are worried and upset by many things (i.e. running) but only this one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.”

I am too often running every day and I miss the “better thing.”

The key to leadership and life is this: how do I choose the “better thing?”

Martha’s activity was not bad. It was just not the better thing she could have been doing.

Busyness does not equal effectiveness.

This is not rocket science. If we continue to run, living margin-less lives, something has to give.

Our credit cards are maxed out, relationships stressed out, schedules blown out and souls worn out.

Leaders (and those they are leading) are paying a huge price for this insanity.

A former chairman of a Fortune 500 company had a million employees. Heads of government called this guy just to consult with him.

Yet, when he got sick and near the end of his life, he realized his pursuit did not go after the “better thing.” He said, “With millions of employees and lots of people I knew, no one except my wife visited me in the hospital. I received no phone calls. Not one person sent me a card.”


How can leaders stop running and do the “better thing?”

1. “Better-Thing” Leaders Are Willing to Say “No”

Experts tell us that one of the reasons people are less committed to anything today is because there are too many choices.

When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, there were breaks between sport seasons. We did not have six different soccer clubs running year-round.

We had one television with lousy reception of 3 local networks and even lousier reception of UHF, if you wanted a Spanish station.

Life was simpler, the choices were quite minimal.

Jump ahead to today, and the multiple opportunities are very exciting. But before you know it, we are over committed, anxious, tired and frustrated.

Smart leaders lead the way in saying no, so they can say yes to the better things.


2. “Better-Thing” Leaders Ruthlessly Prioritize

Not everything is of equal importance.

Smart leaders prioritize.

Effective leaders prioritize constantly.

Great leaders make it clear what the priorities are to those they are leading.

What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls. Someone has said no! It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. Curators constantly look for things to remove, simplify and streamline. Stick to what is truly essential.

Aesop said in one of his fables, “In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”

Life is short. Energy is finite. We only have the time and energy to do the “better thing.”


3. Better-Thing Leaders Find the Rhythm Between Body and Soul

An archaeologist once hired Inca tribesmen to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time, the tribesmen stopped and insisted they would go no farther. The archaeologist grew impatient and then angry. But no matter how much he cajoled, the tribesmen would not go any farther. Then all of a sudden, the tribesmen changed their attitude. They picked up the gear and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist asked why they had stopped and refused to move for so long, the tribesmen answered, “We had been moving too fast. We had to wait for our souls to catch up.”

Jesus said, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul?”

Paraphrase: “What does is profit leaders to increase their profits? What does is profit pastors to grow bigger churches and lose their souls?”

When our culture tells you to wake up running, you’d better know what to say. You’d better have already ruthlessly prioritized what really matters. You’d better have learned the rhythm between body and soul.

When there are no priorities then everything is a priority, which means nothing is a priority.

Life is short. Energy is finite. We only have the time and energy to do the “better thing.”

About the Author
Ken Burkey

Ken Burkey

Executive Director


Ken Burkey is the executive director of Live58 fosters collaborative partnerships with local churches to develop focused strategies to better position themselves to serve the poor effectively. Prior to his role at Live58, Ken was the senior pastor at Green Valley Community Church in Placerville, California, for 23 years. He is the author of the book, The Power of an Orange Chair: Anecdotes, Stories and Celebrations of an Isaiah 58 Church.

We welcome and encourage comments on this site. There may be some instances where comments will need to be edited or removed, such as:

  • Comments deemed to be spam or solely promotional in nature
  • Comments not relevant to the topic
  • Comments containing profane, offensive, or abusive language
  • Anonymous comments

If you have any questions on the commenting policy, please let us know at

Join us LIVE Thursday-Friday, August 4-5, 2022Get your tickets for The Global Leadership Summit


Get your tickets before the early bird deadline of June 15, 2022, for $50 off the regular rate!

*Pricing to attend The Global Leadership Summit two-day event on August 4-5, 2022, at our early bird rate is $179 per person (not eligible for on-site main auditorium seats in South Barrington, IL.) All ticket sales are per-person in USD for registration to attend within the U.S. Guests from other countries please contact your GLN or GLS office.

You are located in: US

“We welcome and encourage comments on this site. There may be some instances where comments will need to be edited or removed, such as:

If you have any questions on the commenting policy, please let us know at”

Select your location

Select your location