Do the Next (Best) Thing

Some time ago, I came across an anonymous poem which Elisabeth Elliot had popularized before her death. God ministered to me through the poem, and He continues to bring it to mind in places where I am feeling overwhelmed with all that He is calling me to.

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message for me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: DO THE NEXT THING.

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, DO THE NEXT THING.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, DO THE NEXT THING.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing!
Then, as He beckons thee, DO THE NEXT THING.

I have always been an overachiever and workaholic, and therefore I often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the immensity (and impossibility) of all that I have undertaken and would like to accomplish. So it is into that place of anxiety and stress which this simple thought speaks powerfully: Do the next thing.

As helpful as that instruction is, though, I also know that I can easily get caught up in doing a long string of “next things” that are not always best. Whether it is getting stuck in the endless cycle of unimportant tasks, or the treadmill of the urgent, or the idolatry of only what I want to do, it can pull me away from the best things that really matter in the perspective of eternity. And so “Do the next thing” needs to be continually evaluated by what God is calling me to do, and what He has already called me to be and do. Then–and only then–can I be confident that when I do the next thing, that next thing is also the best thing, which moves me along in the mission that God has designed me for and called me to, for His glory.

(An excellent book on connecting productivity with a Gospel-centered mission is called What’s Best Next, by Matt Perman.)

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