Do the Next Thing
by Sharon Betters
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
What should we do while we are waiting for the Lord to “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert?”
Elisabeth Elliot, author, speaker and spiritual mother to thousands regularly shared her no nonsense approach to living a life of obedience to the Lord. Shortly after our son Mark’s death, I started reading her book, A Pathway Through Suffering and within a few minutes I wanted to throw the book across the room. Her matter of fact approach to sorrow and grief did not resonate with me, but I continued to read, sensing this wise woman who had lost so much, had treasures to give me in my darkness. Sure enough, the Lord opened my heart to my need to respond in obedience to this pathway on which He had placed me. I later wrote a thank you note to Elisabeth, for her candor and unflinching call for Christians to walk in obedience to their trustworthy God. This amazing woman responded with a hand written note. I cannot wait to sit at her feet in heaven, and listen as she praises our God for all His blessings.
In the business of Christmas, some of us are overwhelmed, especially if we are trying to celebrate Christmas in the context of deep anguish and uncertainty. Elisabeth Elliot faced numerous similar seasons, especially after her husband, Jim, died at the hands of the very people he loved and wanted to introduce to Jesus. Elisabeth, against all human wisdom, returned to the very land of his death, to continue the work Jim had started. If you have never had the blessing of Elisabeth’s influence in your life, I strongly urge you to search for her books and archived radio broadcasts from Gateway to Joy. One of her best known messages is “Do the Next Thing”. The following is a partial transcript from one of her messages on Gateway to Joy. I include the poem she references at the end. How often the words, “do the next thing” helped guide me out of a dark period. I need to hear this message again and again. I’m confident you will be encouraged to “do the next thing” as you wait on the Lord.
From Elisabeth Elliot – Do the Next Thing
Gateway to Joy
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, and 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. I don’t know where this is. But this is a poem which was written about that legend. The legend is “Do the next thing.” And it’s spelled in what I suppose is Saxon spelling. “D-O-E” for “do,” “the,” and then next, “N-E-X-T.” “Thing”-“T-H-Y-N-G-E.”
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.
She goes on to tell about applying this in her missionary work, and then asks the listener:
What is the next thing for you to do? Small duties, perhaps? Jobs that nobody will notice as long as you do them? A dirty job that you would get out of if you could have your own preferences? Are you asked to take some great responsibility, which you really don’t feel qualified to do? You don’t have to do the whole thing right this minute, do you? I can tell you one thing that you do have to do right this minute. It’s the one thing that is required of all of us every minute of every day. Trust in the living God.
Now what is the next thing? Well, perhaps it’s to get yourself organized. Maybe you need to clean off your desk, if you have a desk job that needs to be done. Maybe you need to clean out your kitchen drawers, if you’re going to do your kitchen work more efficiently. Maybe you need to organize the children’s clothes.
I know what an enormous job that is for Valerie, my daughter. All of a sudden, the children are coming out saying, “I can’t wear this. This is too short or this is too long or this doesn’t fit me anymore.” What do you do with those things? If you’re going to save them for the next child, you’ve got to put them somewhere where you can find them. So you just do that one thing. Somehow or other, the peace of God descends upon us when we take things calmly, peacefully and humbly as the next thing that God has assigned us to do.
About three years ago, I think it was, my daughter and her husband were going away for a weekend and taking with them the nursing baby. The baby was just a few weeks or months old. Val and Walt decided to go off for a weekend. They asked me if I could stay with the other children. I was delighted. I live on the other side of the continent from my children and grandchildren, and I was delighted for the opportunity.
So I stayed with them. In the first day, I don’t remember ever being so busy in my life. I mean, it was “Granny this” and “Granny that” and “Granny, will you read us a story?” and “Granny, can we have some more juice?” and “Granny, would you pull my pants up?” “Granny, would you pull my pants down?” “Granny, can we have some juice?” “Granny, can we go outside?” “Granny, what time is supper?” Until I really thought I would go mad.
Well, my dear sweet daughter had the good sense to call me that evening. She said, “Well, Mama, how are you doing?” I said, “Wonderfully, Val.” And then I said, “But I’m not sure I can make it through the next three days.” Then I assured her that her children were wonderful children. They’re not disobedient. They’re not unruly. Everything was going along really very well, when you think of the way some households are run. But I said, “I keep thinking, ‘Valerie’s got a baby to nurse. That takes about six hours a day. How does she do it?’ So tell me, Val, how do you do it?”
She laughed and she said, “Well, Mama, I’ll tell you how. I do what you told me years ago to do. Do the next thing. Don’t sit down and think of all the things you have to do. That will kill you. It’s overwhelming. It’s daunting if you think of all the things that are involved in a task. Just pick up the next thing.”
Do the Next Thing
From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors 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, and 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.
And now the next thing! Read Matthew 1 and pay close attention to the Matthew 1:1-3a, where you will meet Tamar. Read Genesis 38 in preparation for unwrapping the gift that Tamar offers, a gift that cannot be broken.
STORE UP MORE TREASURES
At some point in our lives, we or someone we know will go through great suffering. I encourage you to go the MARKINC website and listen to the interview “Surviving A Tsunami of Grief: A Conversation with Andrea Maher" so that you can store up treasures of encouragement for the next rainy day in your life or someone else's. Here is a summary and teaser of this resource:
Her oldest son’s battle with drug addiction ended when drug induced hypothermia took his life. Several years later, her youngest son made a decision that would forever change his life and resulted in imprisonment. How does a mother not just survive but find hope and joy when a tsunami of grief repeatedly slams her deeper into an abyss of sorrow?