I opened the email and read the question. Immediately my mind jumped 10 years ahead. All the “what ifs” and “what could be” filled my thoughts. I allowed my concerns with what others might think, my schedule, my desires, the future unknowns to pile up and paralyze me.

“Much of this confusion arises from taking too long view. We think of years rather than of moments… It is hard to plan a year’s duty; it is easy to plan just for one short day. No shoulder can bear up the burden of a year’s cares—all gathered up into one load! But the weakest shoulder can carry without weariness—just what really belongs to one day.” J.R.Miller 1888

When I consulted a wise friend on how to handle the email, she gave me this advice: “Do the next right thing”.

photo credit (edited with picmonkey)

The “next right thing” in this situation was to simply answer the question. Not to be  concerned with the uncontrollable, unknown future but to focus on the immediate information at hand. I wasn’t answering future questions or making a commitment. I only needed to deal with the next step.

Read these words from Elisabeth Elliot’s on this concept:

“When I went back to my jungle station after the death of my first husband, Jim Elliot, I was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. I had a good many new roles, besides that of being a single parent and a widow. I was alone on a jungle station that Jim and I had manned together. I had to learn to do all kinds of things, which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do. It was a great help to me simply to do the next thing.

Have you had the experience of feeling as if you’ve got far too many burdens to bear, far too many people to take care of, far too many things on your list to do? You just can’t possibly do it, and you get in a panic and you just want to sit down and collapse in a pile and feel sorry for yourself.

Well, I’ve felt that way a good many times in my life, and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea.

The poem says, “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 resultings, do the next thing.” That is a wonderfully saving truth. Just do the next thing.

I don’t know what your days look like. I don’t know what demands are tossed your way. In my home, constant requests are being made: “Mommy, I need you to help with my shoes”, “Mommy, can I have a snack”, “Mommy, I spilled my drink”, “waaahhhhhh (3-month old wanting to eat)”, “Mommy, brother has a dirty diaper”…

I often joke: “Your request will be answered in the order in which it was received”. In truth, this is the only way to remain sane in a busy home. To address one request at a time. To continually do the next thing.

I noticed my friend’s advice was “do the next right thing”. Whereas the ancient poem simply stated: “do the next thing.” By following all of the advice given in the Saxon poem, then doing the next thing would be doing the “right” thing. Here are the full instructions given in the poem:

  • Pray*
  • Have faith (casting all care)
  • Look for God’s hand
  • Trust Him with the results

Through prayer in faith, looking for where God is working, and trusting Him to handle the results of any decision we make, we are free to “do the next thing”. The next thing becomes the next right thing.

What decision do you have to make this week, today, in the next hour? Now what is the next right thing to do? Do it!

“Resist the allure of self pity, and just take the next step of obedience. We are typically given enough grace just for the next step. Fret not about what lies around the bend. Perform faithfully the next step, and we will make it home safely in the end.” Professor Ray Van Neste

*Pray: “Direct my footsteps according to Your Word” Psalm 119:133