February 14, 2012

Do the Next Thing

Famed missionary and author Elizabeth Elliot was asked how she managed her schedule. She said, “I do the next thing” and explained that we always know what to do next.
I’m not sure if this is an intuitive thing that others have, but God often guides His people by this inner sense of knowing what He wants us to do next. Of course all of our lives and attitudes are directed by the Word of God, but when I begin my day with a to-do list and the uncertainty of interruptions, there may not be a Bible chapter and verse for what needs to be accomplished or in what order.

Yet God gives direction. When the Israelites left Egypt, God guided them on their journey. A pillar of fire or a dark cloud gave them visible directions, or they were told what to do by God through their leader.
At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses. (Numbers 9:23)
This did not make them robots. For one thing, they always had a choice. By trial and error, obedience and disobedience, they learned that God’s direction was for their good and that they were wise to follow it. This applied to their travel, but also to the details of their lives including what to eat or not eat.

Again, I do not have a similar list of rules for the details of my day. I want to obey God yet am aware that I can procrastinate, avoid, or just refuse to do some of my chores. His concern for my well-being isn’t necessarily about the chores, but the attitudes of my heart. Do I say no because I am lazy? Or afraid of failure? Or selfishly more interested in doing my own thing? I need to pay attention to Him for many reasons.

Further, obedience to God requires sacrifice. It might be a short-term thing, like not watching a favorite television show because He puts a needy person on the telephone. It might be something more time consuming, like losing a whole day to drive a friend to the hospital, or require my resources such as taking a chunk of cash from my bank account to pay a bill for someone who is experiencing financial trouble. It might be a demand on my emotional strength, like holding the hand and crying with a neighbor who is grieving.

This “next thing” idea includes all sorts of things that I don’t put on my to-do list. They are unplanned, unexpected, and often not at all what I’d hoped for in my day. I might start out with ambitious projects in mind, then become tired and the “next thing” is a nap — about at the bottom of my priority list. I may hope for a leisurely day and up pops demands that are far from relaxing.

All this does not mean that all interruptions or opportunities must be answered as if they are from God. He offers a choice, but also that inner voice, the guiding of the Holy Spirit to let me know if this is the “next thing” or a mere distraction that requires a simple “no thanks.”

Lord, I am grateful that You guide me so I don’t need to spend my days in a willy-nilly fashion. Any time that I am confused about what I should do, You provide Your Word, Your people, and the nudging of the Holy Spirit to take me to the next thing. Whether You want me to rest or move forward, do this thing or that thing, You also provide the confidence, strength and all resources to do it as well. Thank You that even at this very moment, I know the next thing.

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