91. Keeping your word

            When someone says, “I’ll be there” or “I’ll do that” do you believe them?  It really depends on the person, doesn’t it?  I once had a Sunday School superintendent, a nice guy by the way, who seldom followed through with his promises. He meant well, but . . .On the other hand, there are some folks in my church now whose word is as good as gold. If they commit, consider it done.  Where do you fall on this spectrum?  Is your word your bond? 

            In James 5:12, James, echoing his brother Jesus’ earlier teaching says: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.”  In other words, there’s no need for special oaths or promises.  Just say what you mean and do what you say.  This, of course, must allow for unforeseen circumstances, which we can’t help. You may have to skip your scheduled meeting if you end up unexpectedly in the hospital.

Why is it important that our word be trustworthy?

1.     It’s important that our word be trustworthy because people depend on us


When we break our commitment, it often puts stress on others. They were depending on us and now they have to go without, or come up with “Plan B”. that’s unfair, and creates frustration toward us. 


2.    It’s important that our word be trustworthy because it builds trust

People don’t expect us to be perfect, but they do find out if we’re a person of our word.  With some people, you know that what they commit to will almost certainly get done.  With others, it’s a toss-up.  You feel like you have to keep double-checking on them.  Which person do you trust the most? Trust is a crucial foundation to solid relationships.  

3.    It’s important that our word be trustworthy because it enhances our witness

When we’re people of integrity, doing what we say we’ll do, it makes others more likely to also hear and to believe our testimony about the saving power of Christ. If we keep our word, then maybe God does as well. And it shows that we take our faith seriously, since we practice what we preach.

How can I get better at letting my “yes” be yes and my “no” no?

1.     I get better at “yes” and “no” by more carefully considering my commitments before I make them

Let me give a footnote here:  you did not hear me say, “Don’t make commitments!”  Some people are what we call “commitment-averse”.  You can’t get them to give a clear “yes” to much of anything. They often do this to keep their options open.  They don’t want to tied down by prior commitments if something better comes along.

All I’m suggesting is, take a moment to think about what you’re committing to and what it requires.  Are you willing and able to do these things? It may well be worth the sacrifice, but count the cost ahead of time and be realistic.  Good intentions may get torpedoed by actual conditions.

2.    I get better at “yes” and “no” by being specific

Let people know what you are committing to and what you’re not committing to.  In other words, set boundaries – “I will do this job for the coming year. After that, I may step down.” “I will help you get started on fixing your brakes, but you’ll need to do most of the job yourself.”

3.    I get better at “yes” and “no” by expressing an accurate level of certainty about my commitment


James only gives us two choices – “Yes” and “No”, but there are more than two choices.  Sometimes, the best we can do is say “I’ll try to be there,” or “Maybe”.  I’m not talking here about the commitment-averse people I people just mentioned.  I’m talking about being realistic with the other person.  Sometimes you’d like to say a firm “Yes”, but you can’t. There are too many uncertainties involved.


4.    I get better at “yes” and “no” by learning how to say “no”


Some of us hate to say “No”.  This can spring from multiple motives. We may dislike disappointing others, or want others to like us, or feel compassion for the one who has needs, or just enjoy saying “Yes!” It is often satisfying to serve!  But our reluctance to say an appropriate “No” creates problems.  Others suffer for it.  I heard one wife say, “My husband has time to fix everyone else’s home but ours”.  If you can’t say “No”, it’s hard to say “Yes” with joy, since you feel you don’t have much choice.  “No” is a useful, necessary response at times; both for us and for others.  

Clues for how to say “No” well:

a)    be as clear as possible

Don’t beat around the bush, hoping they’ll read the reluctance in your voice and get the hint.  If you have to say “No”, say it. Statements like: “Well, I’m not sure I can. . .” or “I’ll have to see”,  or a silent grimace can be misread as a possible “Yes”.


b)    be as prompt as possible

It’s tempting, when you  hate to say “No”, to put it off till the last minute, hoping that the other person will either forget or ask someone else. Maybe you’re not sure at first yourself, but when you know that you’re going to turn them down, tell them promptly.  This gives them time to make other plans or to cancel what they’d intended to do.

c)    be kind as possible

      There’s no reason to be snotty.  If possible, soften “no” with a bit of diplomatic phrasing – “Thanks for asking, but I’m not going to be involved at this time.”  Your tone of voice can be gentle and show concern for them.  A few folks, of course, won’t get these subtleties, and will just get pushy or ignore your attempts to be diplomatic. With them, you may have to be firmer without being mean. “No. I told you I’m not going to do that anymore.”

d)    accept their disappointment graciously

      It often hurts to be told “No”, especially by a friend. This is normal.  The person turned down may feel angry or worried about what to do now.  They may respond to you unfairly or harshly.  Try to be patient and let them have their feelings without responding in kind.  We’ve all felt the same way toward others who’ve turned us down. Maybe they feel stuck, but you can’t fix everyone’s problems.

5.    I get better at “yes” and “no” when I grow in spiritual love and maturity

Jesus said “Yes” to the greatest suffering any human being has ever endured because He loved us so much. He gave up the comforts of Heaven for the agony of the cross.  Let me be frank.  A lot of “No’s” come from selfishness and sin.  Unlike Jesus, we’re unwilling to make significant, costly sacrifices for the sake of others.  We want a comfortable life as free from inconvenience and problems as possible.  That’s not the way of Christ.  Let His sacrificial love be your guide.