The best advice I’ve ever been given on time management came from former missionary, author and speaker Elizabeth Elliot. At a conference for women in a nearby city, she said, “Do the next thing. You always know what that is.”
In the Spirit, I do know. Even as a person with ADD and a long to-do list, when I pay attention the Lord’s still small voice nudges me in the direction of that ‘next thing’ and He never leads me astray.
What fouls me up is making my own plans. I’ve tried every form of personal information manager going. Day timers using paper and planners on the computer may work for some, but I’ve not found the perfect system. I usually fill them so full that I get discouraged and wind up getting nothing done, or fall short in the discipline needed to carry out the plans that I’ve made.
The best system is listening to and obeying God. If I am willing to do that, He is willing to show me the next thing…
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)
The first mistake I make in time management is assumption. I can block out today, tomorrow, the entire week, and yet life can interrupt, sometimes vastly. For instance, Saturday night’s near head-on collision. We didn’t put that in our plans and discovered how one second can make the difference between arriving at home safely or being in the hospital or the morgue. Life truly is a vapor. We don’t know what will happen next. How can I assume that all my plans are a go?
The second mistake is not making any plans at all. Someone said, “It is better to aim for the stars and hit the woodpile, than aim for the woodpile and hit your foot.” I agree. I can plan and have today’s list already sitting on my desk.
Without that list, I can waste an entire day doing ‘busy work’ that keeps me occupied but accomplishes nothing of importance. For this, I do use a computer planner to keep track.
Yet as these verses say, I need to hold that to-do list loosely. For instance, last night’s plan to relax was interrupted by four important phone calls. One of them consumed forty-five minutes but involved mutual encouragement with a person I’ve not talked with for a long time. If I am going to follow the will of God, I cannot hold tightly to my personal agenda. He will interrupt it, particularly if I have a “my time is my own” attitude. As James says, God calls that arrogance.
Lastly, when I know the right thing to do, I’d better do it. That nudge from God is not a whim on His part, but part of His plan. He is not running my life so much as He is fulfilling something far greater. Humanity fell into sin. God is in the process of restoring humanity to a covenant relationship with Himself. He is redeeming sinners so that one day Jesus will return to claim His people who will live forever with Him in eternity.
My actions, even those that seem insignificant to me, are part of His bigger plan. When He pops to my mind the ‘next thing’ then He wants me to put into place a small piece of a much larger to-do list, His to-do list. I may not understand why such tasks are important, but faith says to do them anyway. Otherwise, saying no to the next thing is sin because it is saying no to the will of God.