Do the Next Thing
I first remember hearing this simple command — Do the Next Thing — as a high school student many years ago. The late Elisabeth Elliot popularized the phrase, taken from the title of an old Saxon poem, and used it to encourage her readers to live a life of faithful obedience by simply doing the next thing God has called them to do. Doing the next thing is often not a sensational or glamorous process. Doing the next thing happens in the daily, often mundane, moments of life, when we are faced with the realities of what God has called us to do, and we do them with joyful obedience.
Do the next thing. The Holy Spirit brings this imperative to mind often when I am in seasons of life that seem particularly overwhelming or confusing. God may have you in a place like that right now, too. You may be questioning what God is doing, how he is working out his plan for your good and his glory, or why he has you in this particular season. When those sincere questions arise, and your strength begins to wane, brothers and sisters, keep your eyes fixed on Christ and simply do the next thing that God has called you to do. Then, do the next thing, and then the next, and the next, and the next; as we each strive to do the next thing, our lives should be characterized by recurring acts of obedience, remembering God’s faithfulness, and resting in God’s sovereignty.
Recurring Acts of Obedience
The Bible is filled with accounts of men and women of faith whose lives were characterized by obedience to God’s commands. Hebrews 11 recounts the lives of several of these saints who were remembered for their faith and trust in the one true God, who has revealed himself through his word and his son, Jesus Christ. When I consider a biblical example of a life patterned after obedience to God, Abraham always comes to mind. In both Genesis 12 and Hebrews 11, the faith and obedience of Abraham is set forth as an example for us all. Hebrews 11:8 says,
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Genesis 22 and Hebrews 11 go on to recount Abraham’s obedience to God’s command to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son...”
Abraham’s acts of obedience flowed from a confident assurance in the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God whose love is steadfast and whose promises never fail. We serve that same unchanging, powerful God today, and we can confidently trust him, as our father Abraham did, with each next thing.
Remembering God’s Faithfulness
The Bible is also filled with instances of God’s people remembering his faithful acts in the past. Psalm 77 has always been a reminder to me of the importance of looking back and remembering God’s goodness and faithfulness. This psalm of lament encourages us to remember and meditate on who God is, what he has done, and what he will do. Psalm 77 begins with cries of trouble and anguish, which lead to sincere questions,
“Will the LORD spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
But then, starting in verse 10, the psalmist begins to recall what God has done for his people in the past,
“...I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your works and meditate on your mighty deeds.”
The psalmist then goes on to recount specific examples of how God redeemed and led his people. Looking back and remembering God’s mighty works of mercy and grace in our past should fuel joyful obedience in the midst of our present circumstances. Such remembrance should cause our hearts to praise God for his faithfulness and also deepen our trust in God as we walk toward the future with confidence.
Resting in God’s Sovereignty
Doing the next thing also involves resting in God’s sovereignty. God’s faithful acts in both the past and present display his power and might and remind us that his plans cannot be thwarted. Isaiah 46:8-11 retells this truth:
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose,...I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
God will accomplish his purposes in the lives of his people, and that truth should ultimately give us confidence and peace as we say “yes” to what he has placed before us each day.
So, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to strive with me and do the next thing as we go about our days; as we do, may our lives display a pattern of joyful obedience to our God. May we remember his faithfulness in the past and rest in his sovereignty as we walk forward in faith, trusting him fully with our futures.