If you’ve read or listened to Elisabeth Elliot much, you have probably heard her use the phrase “Do the Next Thing.” Here she explains the rationale behind it. I believe this is part of a transcript from one of her “Gateway to Joy” radio programs, the transcripts of which used to be published on the Back to the Bible site, but sadly, are no more. I don’t know if this was included exactly like this in any of her books.
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. 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.
Then she tells about baby-sitting her grandchildren for a few days and finding the constant demands and needs of multiple children daunting. When she asked her daughter how she managed, especially with a nursing baby, “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.”
Wise advice, indeed. We don’t often know the whole big picture, but we can tend to the immediate needs of the moment, and God will sustain and guide those individual moments as He leads us along the path of His will.
You can see the full transcript here.
See all the posts in this series here.