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We are all limited in what we can accomplish. Every commitment we make is a promise to spend a measure of time. If we fail to count the cost of our commitments, we are certain to find ourselves over committed and stretched beyond measure.  Most of our over commitment problems could be solved if we just learned how to say “No.”  To get there, we need to understand our responsibility to fulfill our commitments and why it is that we may be saying “yes” too often.

James 5:12
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. ESV

Following through on commitments is a matter of integrity. James warns against binding ourselves with an oath to course of action because failure to follow through exposes us to judgement.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-6
4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.
5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? KJV

Solomon’s advice is as solid as James’s. Better to not commit than to commit and not do, especially if we have vowed fulfillment to God by including Him in it through an oath. Breaking a vow places us in sin. This is the condemnation James warns us about. Instead of declaring oaths and having to answer to God’s angelic accountants, it is better if we say what we mean and act accordingly.

When our “yes” is truly yes and our “no” a clear communication of declining another time investment opportunity, we will live freer and more reasonable lives. James states that walking in honest commitment integrity helps to keep us from falling “under condemnation.” The Greek word in the text is krisis, which means “judgment.” Krisis is where we get the English word crisis.

When our “yes” becomes a practical “no” because we have run out of time and resources due to over commitment, we have fallen into crisis. Evaluating our motivation for saying yes to time investments is as important—if not more important—as knowing how much of our time saying yes will cost us. Marshall Cook has provided a helpful list of some not-so-nice reasons why our yeses may be pushing us into crisis mode:[1]

  • Looking for love in all the right causes – This is saying yes because we earn the gratitude and approval of our peers when we shoulder their loads. Our approval quota should come from God.
  • The guilt syndrome – This is when we say yes because saying no would make us feel guilty, even when we know saying yes puts us over the limit. Acknowledging our limitations is both humble and honest. Humbleness and honesty are qualities we should never feel guilty about.
  • The myth of indispensability – This is when we say yes because we believe nobody else can do it as well as we can. While we tell ourselves we are being helpful, we are actually acting out of arrogance.
  • The fear of expendability – This is the belief that if we allow others to accomplish the task, our value will diminish and we will be exposed as unnecessary. Any commitment made in fear is bound to lead to trouble.

It is more loving to say no and mean it than to say yes and regret it. We can say no to the project without saying no to the person. We do this by affirming the individual without agreeing to the time investment.[2] Following are some simple keys to saying no.[3]

  • Beware of the automatic Yes – We need to think before we speak and not answer right away if we don’t know the correct answer.
  • Buy time – It is perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think about it. “Can I get back to you tomorrow on that?”
  • If the answer is no, say no – Say it gracefully, but say it.
  • Reasons aren’t required – We can expose ourselves to an inadvertent yes when we justify our no. Offering reasons for our no grants the asking party opportunity to argue against our rationale and press us into a wrongful yes. Prudence often calls for silence.

Since we all shall give an account for the things we have done in this body (2 Cor. 5:10), we need to seek the Lord for wisdom and not lean to our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6) for the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9).  We need to submit ourselves to the Master of Time and allow Him to judge all the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Heb. 4:12) that in the end of all our activity we may hear the words we all long to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matt. 25:21)

[1] Marshall J. Cook, Time Management: Proven Techniques for Making the Most of Your Valuable Time, Adams Media Corporation, Holbrook, 1998, p. 88.
[2] Dru Scott Decker, Finding More Time in Your Life, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, 2001, p. 233.
[3] Cook, p. 95.