I am writing a lot about words in recent weeks. Part of that stems from the thinking that was provoked by books I read by Jonathan Merritt (Learning to Speak God From Scratch) and Debbie Kitterman (The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement). But it’s also true that as an author/writer/blogger I pay attention to words and their impact.
Think about the impact of two little words we hear or use often. Those words are “no” and “yes.” At first glance we might be tempted to look at “yes” as always positive and “no” as decidedly negative, but think a bit more deeply. It depends on the moment, the circumstance, who is saying it, how it is being said, and why it is being said.
From the time we are children we often hate the word “no” because it suggests limits and a denial of something we prefer or want. Even as adults we can experience “no” like that whether it is a raise, a new job, or something we desire from someone who really matters to us.
But let’s consider when “no” can be a friend. It can be a friend when we have been given prescriptions for tests for some physical malady that looms large and haunts us with fear and doubts, and the results come back with the words, “No, you don’t have….(Fill in the blank).” It can also be a friend when a door to a new job opportunity closes that we hoped for and then we learn the company goes bankrupt a few months later.
We love to hear “yes” about something we hope for or dream of doing, having, or being. Conversely, we recoil when the phone rings and the health professional on the other end of the call says, “Yes, the tests are positive and it is cancer.”
When each of us chooses to use one of those words, it is also incumbent on us to be aware of the impact those words will have on the hearer. Sometimes our choice of the word cannot be otherwise, but even then, how sensitively we express it can make all the difference.
I wonder how we handle our use of those words when the Lord leads us in a direction or asks something of us or tells us something He plans to do. Even if we do not say “no,” our delay in saying “yes” communicates a great deal about our trust in the One to whom we say it.
Consider the Old Testament story of Sarai (later Sarah), Abraham’s wife who heard she was going to bear a child after years of barrenness. It was God’s “yes” to her after years of likely being considered defective and “less than” in a culture where bearing children (especially sons) was highly valued.
She can’t believe it and gives her husband her servant to conceive a child (commonplace back then it seems). That stirs up all sorts of trouble and we live with that consequence of her unbelief today. Then when the Lord tells Abraham again when he is 100 and Sarah 90 that she is indeed to have a baby boy and she laughs.
I love the note in my Bible about that part of the story:
“God’s purposes of grace are not held captive by human sin or adverse circumstances. He is the God who works out his purposes through weak and ordinary human beings such as Abraham and Sarah.”
There are also times we are prone to believe our answer to a request is always to be “yes” when it comes to a ministry opportunity, a need, or a request from someone. It may well be, but believers when asked how they are often say “tired” or “busy.” Each of us needs to step back and consider what the Lord has asked of us versus what others have asked…especially when it is a good thing that is being asked.
“Sometimes no’s are God’s wondrous gifts that push us toward the greater yes awaiting us.” Jonathan Merritt
What we do for Him should never be above how we are with Him. The truth is that the richness of our life with Him can be eroded by so much service that we drift away from that first love that caused us to want to sit in His presence.
“Our lives should be so open to God that our first impulse is sacred yes, but we are also meant to be so grounded in wisdom that we know when to speak a “necessary no.” (Jonathan Merritt quoting Richard Rohr)
“Winsome words spoken at just the right time are as appealing as apples gilded in gold and surrounded with silver.” Proverbs 25:11 (TPT)