Habits of Truthfulness

Will Penner

“Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” I was lying through my teeth when I said it—several times, as a matter of fact. The reason I said it was simply for emphasis, to convince people that I was telling the truth, even when I wasn’t. I am quite sure that a couple thousand years ago, a whole lot of folks did the same thing. They might tell little white lies from time to time; but if the lie was something super important, they would swear on their mother’s graves (or a cultural equivalent). Jesus instructed his followers to let their words be “yes” and “no,” that anything else came “from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NIV).

Jesus was not trying to get us to use emphasis to convince others of our truthfulness. He was concerned that we develop a habit of being truthful all the time so that people don’t need to hear us swear we’re telling the truth. They know we are.

Teacher & students2 TSP 78375932As a high school teacher, I trust some of my students more than others. When I see them plagiarize papers (promising another’s work is their own), hacking past protection software on music files (promising they paid for a file when they didn’t), and purposely misleading their parents (promising they completed assignments for which a zero shows up in the grade book), I cannot help but lose trust in them. No matter how emphatically they promise, believing them is hard because of their track record. The exact opposite is true for students who have been honest even when it was difficult: “I have no excuse for not turning in my homework,” or “I know I shouldn’t have, but I got so frustrated on this project that I just quit.”

devozine Talk about It4 TS 57277897The same holds true for my co-workers, friends, and family members; and I guarantee it’s the same for your parents, teachers, and friends. When we make a habit of breaking promises, people begin to expect it of us and they treat us differently. One broken promise makes it easier to break another and another; before long, it is part of our DNA. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the power of the Holy Spirit within us is greater than our weak, human efforts to follow Jesus’ example. The more aware we become not only of God’s gracious forgiveness but also of the tremendous cost Jesus paid to secure God’s grace for us, the more willing we become to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of God.

For most of us, it will not happen overnight, nor will we be able to maintain it perfectly; but as we develop a habit of living up to God’s standard of honesty, we find that keeping our promises becomes a whole lot easier.



Cross my Heart FTR TSP 73230926Take a few moments to consider promises you’ve made recently that you had trouble keeping. What would happen if you asked permission to retract your promise? Or what would it take for you to keep the promise? Take one solid step toward becoming more honest by cleaning up something for which you feel guilty. If you ask yourself the questions above on a daily or weekly basis and take action to relieve your poor decisions, you will become more honest, the kind of person who keeps promises, whose yes and no can be taken to the bank.

Will Penner is a husband, father, teacher, youth worker, author, and speaker in Fairview, Tennessee. He’s getting better and better at keeping his promises.

—from devozine (May/June 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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