The invitation has been sitting in my e-mail inbox for a few weeks now. Every time I see it there, it reminds me I haven’t given an answer. Ironically, I haven’t even responded with a “maybe,” although it’s an option the designers of the website include with every invitation.
Reading Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about saying “yes” and “no” has gotten me thinking about our commitment-phobic, over-scheduled culture. He says:
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37, NIV)
Jesus’ teaching in this passage is not to deter us from saying the Pledge of Allegiance or taking an oath in court. His point is if you are a person of integrity, then your word is your bond. As a follower of Jesus, any oath or vow you make should be considered redundant because you’ll keep your word anyway.
It seems people struggle to give clear answers to simple questions in today’s culture. Finding individuals who give a definitive “yes” or “no” is refreshing, but unusual. I think it’s because we have too many demands on our time and we procrastinate in making decisions (my lack of response to the invitation mentioned earlier is a case in point).
People in my life who keep their word are rare gems. When I started writing my blog three years ago, I asked a godly woman to be part of my prayer team. After the first year, she told me she needed to step away from my team to focus on a leadership position in another ministry. I was impressed with her integrity and touched by how seriously she had taken her commitment to pray for me. Later, when her other responsibility ended, she re-joined my team and has continued to cover me in prayer faithfully ever since. That is someone who understands the value of letting a “yes” be “yes” and a “no” be “no.”
Her example is a good reminder to think carefully before we say “yes” or “no.” It’s important to be sure we can follow through or to acknowledge that we are unable to do what is being asked of us. But whatever we do, we shouldn’t leave someone hanging with no response at all.
Many of us habitually avoid or put off giving answers to requests or invitations. When we do this, we unintentionally communicate that the other person doesn’t matter enough to merit a response. This often leads to feelings of hurt or frustration from the one who is awaiting your answer. When it happens over and over again, it creates bitter feelings and strained relationships. Ultimately, it’s just plain unloving and not exemplifying the life of integrity that should characterize a follower of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount emphasizes that all people matter to God, one way to show this is by giving a clear “yes” or “no” answer.
Another related issue is the problem of over-committing. Some Christians assume every request made of them must be answered with a “yes” and feel compelled to meet every need they see. However, saying “yes” when you can’t follow through on a commitment does a lot more harm than being honest and saying “no.” There is nothing worse than working alongside someone who doesn’t have time to be serving or who is over-committed, stressed out or not really excited about what they’re doing.
Scripture tells us “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV) This means we need to seek His wisdom and prayerfully determine which specific things He’s calling us to do or not do. A good practice before saying “yes” to something new is to think about how the other commitments you already have will be affected. If you have the time and desire to say “yes,” you also need to consider how it will impact the rest of your life. Our families often bear the brunt of too many “yes” answers to others.
Sometimes we’re tempted to say “yes” to several events happening at the same time and hope to make an appearance at each one for a little while. This can be incredibly unloving when the people who have invited you realize they’ve been squeezed in among many obligations. Doing this makes them feel like they’re part of a checklist rather than people you truly value and want to spend time with.
If you’re in the habit of being unresponsive or giving unclear answers to others, can I encourage you to consider things from their perspective? Do you think they’re feeling respected and appreciated by you? Are they sensing the love of Jesus flowing from you? Our actions usually speak more loudly than our words. This includes our failure to act.
If you’re frequently saying “yes” and then bailing out, maybe it’s time to try a new tactic. Next time an opportunity or invitation comes your way, be sure to pray first and evaluate whether you have the time and inclination to give it your all. Then, be confident in delivering a clear “yes” or “no” answer.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to circle back to that invitation waiting in my inbox. My response is long overdue.