The best thing that you and I can do, when we are not sure what is the best thing to do, is to do the next obvious thing. Faced with uncertainty, confronted with multiple choices and disoriented by circumstances, wisdom would tell us that the way forward usually starts with what lies at hand. If the path forward is unclear, the next step ought to be the fulfillment of our obligations. Doing one’s duty rarely leads you astray.
If anyone exemplified this practical and prudent pattern, it was Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary. Following her husband’s 1956 death at the hands of indians in Ecuador, Elizabeth decided to return to their jungle station, believing that doing the next thing is always the best thing to do. For her, this simple formula was a stress buster, and an anxiety killer. So, while everything had changed with the death of her husband, Elizabeth acted in a manner as if nothing had changed. There were many things for her to do - a mission to carry on, fifty boys to school, twelve girls to teach to read, a church that needed translated Scripture, a ten-month old baby to raise, medicines to dispense, and babies to deliver.
I will let Elizabeth speak for herself:
“I really didn’t have time to sit down and have a pity-party, and sink into a puddle of self-pity. I did the next thing. And there was always a next thing after that. And I have found many times in my life, such as again after the death of my second husband, just the very fact that although I was living in a very civilized house, I had dishes to wash. I had floors to clean. I had laundry to do. It was my salvation.”
Doing the next thing got Elizabeth Elliot through many an anxiety and agony, and it will for us through our difficult circumstances as well. When trouble comes, when confusion reigns and when the future dims, doing the next obvious thing can spell salvation – same as Elizabeth Elliot. Rather than rummage around a broken dream, or stand paralyzed before a threatening future, we would do well to put our hand to the plow of the day’s duty, and get about sowing the seeds of a productive life.
In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we are told “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” Here is a biblical admonition to do the next thing and do it well. Life’s circumstances and challenges can make us want to throw our hands up in an act of surrender. However, the Bible would encourage us to put our hand to the next thing that needs to be done, and do it well. Because doing the next thing is an act of faith, as you say no to despair; because doing the next thing is an act of love as you serve others; and because doing the next thing is an act of hope, as you believe God will bring better days (1 Cor. 13:13).
Interestingly, Elizabeth Elliot’s husband Jim was famous for saying, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you perceive to be the will of God.” What a one-two punch from this dynamic duo. Jim would say “wherever you are, be all there,” and Elizabeth would say, “do the next thing.”
Good advice for these days!