“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33–37, ESV)
“I swear on my mother’s grave,” or “Honest to God, I swear it’s the truth,” or “pinky swear.” “Oh, by the way, I had my fingers crossed.” There are so many phrases that are thrown around today to signify the promises we make to one another whether we intend to meet them or not, or whether it is to convince of the unconvincing or to attest to the simple. And on the opposite side of this spectrum, there are even those things we say when we don’t want to make a commitment or because we don’t want to say ‘no’—things like “maybe” or “I’ll let you know.” This, of course, does not mean that all uses ‘maybe’ are avoidances, but this can surely be said of some.
Jesus said that basing our assurances on anything outside of our control is wrong. He even said that this comes from evil—it is sin. We are not God nor are we gods who control these things. God and God alone sits on His throne. The earth is His creation and it is under His sovereign hand. As he made clear to Job, none of us were there when He created it, nor do any of us have any sway over its eventual destruction. Heaven and earth belong to God to do with as He pleases when He pleases. He is the Sovereign One, and there is none else. These are the firm and repeated truths of Scripture.
Beyond that and more personal, while we may be able to trim our hair or color it, while we may be able to gain or lose weight, while we may be able to do a number of things to our bodies, not one of us built our bodies and not one of us determined the real color of our own hair. As someone whose hair started turning white way too early from my estimation, I know how little control I have over its color. Even these belong to God.
And as for our days, we don’t even control them. While we may study for careers and pursue life paths, and even engage in productive or destructive activities, we really don’t have the control over our lives that we might like to think we have. As someone who stepped out a while ago trusting God for our next place of ministry and who stands today with that same trust waiting, I know how little control I have over my days. Yet, I have a God who has not only numbered my days, but who has ordained them and has every aspect of them under His control from my hair color to my intended area and place of service.
As such, I am to live simply in regard to my promises. If I am asked to do something, and I believe it is right and within my ability and reasonable control of time, then I am free to say ‘Yes.’ And if I don’t, then I also am free to say, ‘No.’ I am even free to dream, but in my dreaming as even with my days, I am to live with the constant awareness that all of these plans are subject to God’s changes.
His Word is a constant reminder of His faithfulness, and for me there are certain passages to which I run, and in which I find great comfort in times of questioning or uncertainty. Leading the list among these verses are Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 139. These passages remind me that it is in God who I am to trust. It is God who I am to acknowledge or look to in all things, and it is God who will order my life and direct my steps (see Proverbs 3:5-6).
In Psalm 139 I am reminded that it is God who is intimately acquainted with all of my ways, who knows every word on my tongue long before I form it or even form the thought behind it. It is God who is with me at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and in the darkest of days and the brightest ones as well. There is nowhere that I can go to flee His presence. In fact, He encloses me before and behind and has His hand on my shoulder. As the psalmist said, this knowledge truly is too wonderful for me. My God, who wove me together in my mother’s womb, knew every day of my life and purposed them before there was ever one of them.
I really have been granted limited control and with that control I am to make my promises very simple, doing or not doing with the full understanding that it is God who ultimately permits. The amazing thing is that He calls me to worship Him and serve Him with my whole heart which is His pleasure, but He also permits me to sin and even suffer the consequences of that sin. He does give a lot of latitude to us in our actions, but His command for us is not to take advantage of that latitude and instead seek after and trust Him in all things. Ultimately I know that God has everything firmly in His hands including me and my plans.
Monday I received a phone call about a Tuesday appointment. The person I had the appointment with got sick and needed to reschedule. Was this person irresponsible? No. Did this person have control over her body such that she would not get sick? No. Did she do the right thing by calling and making arrangements to adjust the meeting to a more agreeable and hopefully healthier time? Absolutely, yes.
So, when I set up a conference call today and I said that I will be available, or when I said that I was not able to attend an event because of a schedule conflict later, even these I did knowing that God is free to change that plan. This does not mean that I am to be lax in my answers, but that in giving them I am to do so with the integrity to follow through having trusted God to make His path mine. In this I am not to swear and give grandiose promises for which I have no ability to control all of the details, but rather I am to let my ‘Yes’ be yes, and my ‘No’ be no.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:13–17, ESV)