Living With A Bigger "YES"


The secret to saying "No" is living with a Bigger Yes. This morning, as I stood in front of my bookcase and the giants of history stared back at me, I had an "AH HA!" moment.

Every leader on those shelves had a singular vision and a driving passion to see it fulfilled. No, they didn't do it perfectly, and not all lived for God. But they lived with a "Bigger Yes" and I learn lessons from their lives.

The leaders and what they taught me . . .

1. Bill Gates taught me the power of a crystal clear vision.

Bill Gates' mantra was "A computer on every desk and in every home." One biographer said, "no one would war the phrase or wear it out like Bill Gates."1

Whether it is Moses, Gates, or Gandhi, people who live with a Bigger Yes do not wander aimlessly. They know where they are going. They know what they want to do. And they are crystal clear about their vision.

What is your vision?

2. William Wilberforce taught me there is a price to pay.

Putting first things first and living with a bigger yes can be life-consuming. Such is the case of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce became convinced--heart and soul--that he should give his life to abolishing the slave trade. In October of 1787, he wrote this in his journal:

God Almighty has sent before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.2

Commenting on the price he would pay, biographer William Hague said,

He could not have known that in committing himself to fight for the abolition of the slave trade he was taking on a task which would consume most of the remaining active years of his life, and become one of the most protracted and demanding political and parliamentary struggles in the whole of British history.3

Peter Drucker said, "Leadership is a foul-weather job." If you are going to lead folks from "here to there" it won't be easy. There is a price to pay.

3. FDR taught me the importance of "Action and action now."

When Franklin Roosevelt took office our country was in a tailspin: national income had fallen by 50%, and 25% of the workforce was unemployed. The theme of his inaugural address was "action and action now."4 That spirit was not lost on FDR's cabinet. Harry Hopkins was the federal relief administrator. At one point a critic told Hopkins that things would work out for the unemployed "in the long run," he replied, "People don't eat in the long run--they eat every day."5

We may argue with the effectiveness of the FDR agenda, but his bigger Yes drove procrastination out the door. In Proverbs, God tells us:

Go to the ant Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV

People with a Bigger Yes eliminate "tomorrow" from their vocabulary. It's action, and action now.

4. Billy Graham showed me the importance of working with a team.

Living with a Bigger Yes does not meaning "going solo." Teamwork and collaboration are essential. Billy Graham leaned heavily on his team that included Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, Bev Shea, and others.

They were the Heaven-sent ones who propped me up when I was sagging and often protected me from buffetings that would have scared me or scarred me otherwise. . . . I'm convinced that without them, burnout would have left me nothing but a charred cinder within five years of the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade.6

This is the message of the Bible: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV

Who are you partnering with to achieve the work God has given you to do? Don't go it alone!

5. Mother Teresa reminds me that my work is all about people.

Mother Teresa gave her life to the poorest of the poor in the slums of India. She said,

What the poor need . . . even more than food and clothing and shelter (though they need these, too, desperately, is to be wanted. . . . The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love.7

If my Big Yes doesn't serve people I've made a Big Mistake. What does God say? If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.8

Leadership is about people. Am I loving people?

6. Winston Churchill teaches me the importance of optimism.

In 1922, Churchill was out of the British Parliament for for the first time in twenty-two years. Not only did he lose his seat, but his political party was losing the hold they had enjoyed for some time. To make matters worse, Churchill was recovering from an operation to remove his appendix. It was a dark time for a leader whose best days were still in front of him.  He later wrote, "In the twinkling of an eye, I found myself without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix."9

Churchill was a buoy in a tempest-tossed world. He was able to keep his head above water. Steven Hayward writes,

The key to Churchill's courage was his unbounded optimism. Only an optimist can be courageous, because courage depends on hopefulness that dangers and hazards can be overcome by bold and risky acts. "I am one of those," he remarked in 1910, "who believe that the world is going to get better and better." He deprecated negative thinking. In a speech to his officers in the trenches in France in 1916, Church exhorted:  "Laugh a little, and teach your men to laugh. . . . If you can't smile, grin. If you can't grin, keep out of the way till you can."10

If anyone should have the capacity for unbounded optimism, it is the Christian leader. We know our work has eternal value. So we labor with the spirit of the Apostle Paul who said,

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV

Are you leading with an optimistic certainty?

7. George Washington teaches me that God is in control.

It is a delight to read the writings of the founding fathers of America. Many display an unwavering confidence in the providence of God. Leaders who live with a Bigger Yes must ultimately rest in the providential care of a good God. George Washington's letter to Brigadier General Thomas Nelson on August 20, 1778, reveals where his confidence lies:

The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough for me to turn preacher, when my present appointment ceases; and therefore, I shall add no more of the Doctrine of Providence.11

We hear the same admonition from our Lord to his disciples as they embarked on their work for him:

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Matthew 10:26-31 NIV

Christian leaders don't lose heart because we know that God is ultimately in control. He is weaving together for good all the events of our lives.

It's time to evaluate your life

This list could go on and on, but now it is your turn. Review the list above or think through the lives of other great leaders, men and women who have lived with a Bigger Yes. What resonates? Where are you strong? Where are you weak?  What needs to change? 

What do you need to remember or do to live with your Bigger Yes?


1 Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1994. Page 251. 2 William Hague. William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc. 2007. Page 141. 3 Hague, Wilberforce. Page 142. 4 Adam Cohen. Nothing To Fear: FDR's Inner Circle And The Hundred Days That Created Modern America. New York: The Penguin Press. 2009. Page 40. 5 Cohen. Nothing To Fear. Page 265-8. 6 Billy Graham. Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. HarperSanFrancisco/Zondervan. 1997. Page 662-3. 7 Malcolm Muggeridge. Something Beautiful For God. New York: Harper & Row Publishers. 1971. Pages 22, 73. 8 1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV 9 Martin Gilbert. Churchill: A Life, page 454. 10 Steven F. Hayward. Churchill On Leadership. 1997. Page 115. 11 Michael and Jana Novak. Washington's God. New York: Basic Books. Page 63.