Elisabeth Elliot’s famous encouragement, “Pick up the broom, and do the next thing” graced my growing-up years. Mom shared this motto with me first, and often it literally involved grasping the broom and sweeping the floor. As time passes, this phrase becomes more and more inspiring and brings hope to more than just my chores.
Lately all the extra time at home has given me an excuse to procrastinate on the little things and to be nervous about the big things. Little things like pantry organization and big things like a loved one’s lost job.
Elisabeth Elliot — a woman of deep faith and obedience — made the following poem well-known:
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.
This poem was often attributed to “anonymous.” But Emily P. Freeman, when researching for her book entitled Do The Next Right Thing, discovered it was originally published in 1897. (Emily shares the story on her blog of how she found it in the book Ye Nexte Thynge by Eleanor Amerman Sutphen.)
123 years later the simple, simple direction “do the next thing” still encourages men and women to break marathons down to one next step.
How is it so timeless?
Prone to do nothing
Do the next thing. Or even just “do the thing!”
The timeless advice crosses 123 years because as humans, when we have much to do, it’s easiest and safest to just do nothing. A myriad of ordinary tasks on our list can demotivate us.
Or sometimes we bump into the decisions that paralyze us because they could change the course of our lives. And we have no idea what to do. Continue the romantic relationship? Change the college major? Move overseas? Visit the doctor or wait it out?
I tend to freeze in fear when I don’t have clarity on issues like these. Maybe if I just pretend this choice isn’t here it will be easier. Maybe it will help if I don’t think about it until later. Barbara Mouser points out, “Not to decide is to decide.” Wow. Just delaying all action won’t solve the problem.
I love what a missionary family I know has made their mantra:
“Fear paralyzes but faith mobilizes.”
When we’re in His Word, our faith grows in better understanding of the all-wise God who holds the big picture. When we trust in that truth, we know our tiny part brings worship to Him. His children are called to be faithful in the small things (Luke 16:10).
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”
With His strength, we don’t cry, “I can never do all this.” We say courageously, “What can I do next?”
Sometimes being faithful in the next thing looks like a walk. Write just one more page in the paper. Make a phone call to ask for advice. Bow our knee in prayer. Change the flat tire. Answer the email.
Jim Berg (author of Changed Into His Image) says you and I don’t have the helicopter view as we plod through life. We have a car dashboard view and must choose the next right response with the information/wisdom we’ve been given.
Wisdom is not having God’s perspective of the whole matter before us, but having God’s perspective about what next response will honor Him while keeping us still usable to Him.Changed Into His Image, Jim Berg
A beautiful visual for me is Princess Anna in Frozen 2. She hits her rock bottom when hope is gone. She’s not sure there’s “a day beyond this night.” But she remembers the anthem, “Do the next right thing” and sings words that make me tear up! “It’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” (I resonate a lot with Disney princesses for one who doesn’t have big hair, or a solo voice, or a fury sidekick.)
Underneath the music video, I noticed an online comment stating something like,
“Everyone always loves Elsa’s songs, but this song. This song will save lives.”
On daily walks beside our canal, I’ve pondered these words, since Anna’s lyrics have been stuck in my head (happens when you listen to Disney songs more than once).
The writer of the comment was referring to moments like depression, when just taking the next step (drinking water or getting up off the floor) will help one out of the innermost cave.
On a whole deeper level, I can see that as a believer, do the next right thing means obedience to God — and indeed, it does bring life. “Keep my commandments and live” (Proverbs 4:4). Sin always brings forth death (James 1:15).
My question of late, born out my love for God — What does it look like for me to be obedient next?
I’ve found plenty of ordinary tasks to overwhelm me, but the life-changing decisions loom on the horizon, too. My husband and I have encouraged each other often by sifting out the stressful beyond-our-control worries from the steps of obedience clearly defined in Scripture — no matter how insignificant they may seem.
What does it look for you to be obedient next? Maybe, like Anna, you know what it feels like to succumb to darkness. Perhaps you just feel unmotivated about your to-do list. “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.” (Minnie Paull, full poem below)
Working or suffering, His dear presence presses us forward in grace to be obedient.
For me, the next thing means taking a chunk of uninterrupted time with God. It looks like not dwelling on the unknowns of the future but taking this day as it comes. Tomorrow cares for its own worries. It means creating a Tuscan soup and folding a laundry mountain and pushing publish on this post.
Today it literally means sweeping the floor.
After that, I’m not sure . . . but I pray the next thing will be done with faith and courage.
“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.”
—Minnie Paull, Ye Nexte Thynge by Eleanor Amerman Sutphen
PC: Soren Creative