When I go on Pinterest to look at art quilts or anything else that inspires me to make my own quilts, the array and number of beautiful items can be overwhelming — I need to remember that I can make only one of them at a time. That is doable; a long list of ‘I want to try this’ soon becomes discouraging!
Isn’t this the same with the commandments of God? The Bible says obedience the test of whether or not I love Him. But Jesus tell me that I must keep all of them. Impossible. How can I determine what to do when?
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23–24)
The commandments can be as overwhelming as too much creative inspiration. Even the list of ‘do unto one another’ in the New Testament can produce in me a deep sense of inadequacy — if I forget that I can only obey them one at a time!
At any given moment, I can do all things? Right now, the command of God is that I should desire His Word, read it, consider what He says. I can do that right now. However, feed the poor, visit the sick, preach the gospel, take care of the homeless, minister to widows and children, and so forth — I cannot do all that right now; I’d need to clone myself.
Obedience is never about me deciding what I should do at any given moment anyway. It is about paying attention to the Word of God and Holy Spirit and doing what He points out to me as: ‘this is it, do it right now.’
Elizabeth Elliott was asked how she managed her time. She is a speaker, author, and ambassador for Christ, plus a normal person with the usual responsibilities of life. She said, “I do the next thing. You always know what it is, the next thing.”
This has been an important and helpful guide for me. The next thing is often loud and clear. I’ve been in the grocery store, picked up most or all the items on my list when I hear ‘go home’ and know that is the next thing. I’ve been at home and finished my to-do list when some chore pops in as the next thing, or ‘phone someone’ or some other action pops to mind.
This works in conversation too. Not every thought that comes into my head needs to be expressed, but the Holy Spirit makes clear that when He wants me to say something, I know that whatever it is becomes the ‘next thing’ and I must say it.
Is this inner voice ever wrong? Not very often, but if that happens, it is because it is from a personal desire or agenda rather than me waiting on the Lord’s guidance and Him giving it. If I go ahead and in error or selfishness do whatever I thought was the next thing, the weight of conviction descends on my confidence. I feel guilty, annoyed with myself, sorry for jumping ahead of the Holy Spirit. Figuring out what has happened might take a while, but if I’m honest with myself, it usually does not take long.
Jesus, I like how Tozer says that the “final test of love is obedience” not emotions, willingness to sacrifice, or zeal, but obedience to Your commandments. You are teaching me that the distinctive sound of Your voice will never ask me to take on more than one thing at a time, but to obey the next thing. Life has become a whole lot less complicated because of this simple truth.