The Never-Ending List: Dangers of Idolatry in Everyday Responsibilities

When it comes to not overloading the to-do list and not trying to do everything in one’s own strength, my best qualification for offering advice is the old aphorism, “Those who can’t do, teach!” Oh, I’m willing enough to accept God’s strength for finishing each day’s tasks–so long as He doesn’t ask me to delay getting started, to interrupt anything before it’s finished, or to remove anything I’ve already decided belongs on the day’s list. I’m perfectly able, thank You very much, to lean on my own understanding when making those lists, and I’d appreciate it if You’d understand that I just want to get everything done that might possibly need doing and then have the bulk of the day (or the rest of my life) to myself.

A good corollary to the old saying would be, “Those who know better–still ‘do’!” Jeremiah said it even better: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, New International Version). Even when the “heart” (fleshly nature) in question is one’s own.

Well, if you other deceitful-hearted, frustrated, to-do-list-obsessed souls can take one more list, I offer these top 10 ideas for seeing the daily task grind in a different perspective, courtesy of the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. May those of us who teach eventually learn, by God’s grace, to “do”!

  1. God’s “grace is all you need. [His] power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When Paul wrote those words, he was recalling a time of serious frustration over some chronic problem–perhaps a crippling handicap that put a crimp in his former “doing speed”–that had taken up indefinite residence in his life. The answer he got to prayers for relief–that God wanted things that way so that Paul might never forget where his real strength came from–was probably exactly what he didn’t want to hear. When “the way things are” run contrary to the ease and efficiency we crave, we face a fork of decision: are we going to do things our way whether God likes it or not, or accept that He knows best whether we understand it or not? Paul opted for the latter, and eventually concluded, “Now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  2. “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28). Like the preschooler facing a vaccination or a plate of healthy food “for your own good,” we may not quite believe it; sometimes, we may not even feel we love God very much if this is His idea of what we need! But for those He calls, the promise holds in all circumstances, whether the “everything” working for our good is a major tragedy or an online connection that freezes up just as we were about to send something barely in time for deadline.
  3. “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world” (Psalm 46:10). The Hebrew phrase translated “Be still” literally means, “Let go, relax, stop working at nonstop pace.” The more we feel that the fate of the world rests on our shoulders, the greater our need to take a break, pause in God’s presence, and remember that the One Who governs the ultimate fate of all nations can still carry on if we go to bed without checking off every last item on today’s list.
  4. “He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! … Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?” (Isaiah 29:16). The source behind most of our frustration over foiled plans and out-of-control schedules, is the insane assumption that we, the creatures, know better than the Creator. While we may never have the audacity to say to Him outright, “Either You do it my way or I won’t do it Your way either,” we say it by implication every time we grumble over circumstances, refuse to consider altering what’s “already on the schedule” for any reason, or hit someone with the “I want what’s on the original list and I won’t tolerate any excuses!” line. The tantrum-and-guilt-trip routine may work with humans, but trying it on God only proves how foolish our pride really is.
  5. “What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will … do this or that'” (James 4:15). That one was aimed specifically at people who are overly confident in their own long-term plans, presumably made without consulting God. James reminds us that not so much as one day ahead comes with a money-back guarantee. It’s one thing to make a list of things we plan to do tomorrow–it’s another thing to ignore the possibility that God may surprise us with His own plans.
  6. “There is only one thing worth being concerned about” (Luke 10:42). That was what Jesus said to Martha when she complained, “my sister just sits here while I do all the work” (Luke 10:40). Martha was so hung up on serving the Lord by “doing,” she was practically ignoring the Lord Himself! The “one thing worth being concerned about” is to stay tuned to God’s guidance, whether hard at work or “just sitting” absorbed in worship–and paying attention to God is our best means of understanding which is needed at the moment, whether or not it’s officially “time” for it.
  7. “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A truly Christian attitude virtually precludes grumbling about anything, perhaps especially interruptions to our precious plans. Most of us develop instant tunnel vision when one little glitch annoys us: we can see nothing else, and the world as a whole is suddenly a major injustice created for the sole purpose of making us miserable. We may well delight in misery if clinging to an “unfair” opinion reinforces our foolish pride. If we prefer to experience Christian joy, we have to turn our eyes to all we have to be thankful for.
  8. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6). On some level, we are always aware that our schedules could be interrupted or our plans spoiled; hence, if “things going right” means everything to us, we are sending open invitations to anxiety. Note that “pray for what you need” does not mean “plead and whine desperately that you will get what your heart was already set on”; God still makes the final decision on what you really need, and adding thanksgiving to our requests is an essential part of remembering that–and forgoing bitterness when a request is met with a “no.”
  9. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (Jeremiah 29:11). Before we develop a “prosperity gospel” attitude toward this promise, we do well to read it in the full context of Jeremiah 29, which says in effect, “I’ll take care of you during the waiting period, but it’ll be two generations and then some before things are ready for the whole of what you really want!” That news–or not having the faintest clue whether the wait will be seven days or seventy years–can seem “disaster” in itself to those of us who like everything neatly laid out step-by-step and scheduled to the hour. Remember, faith in God’s good plan includes accepting His good timing.
  10. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6). If God Himself plans to “finish” His work only when all things are brought to final consummation, who are we to demand the right to finish everything today, tomorrow, or next year? Concentrate on your responsibility of the moment–even if it’s not what you expected–and rather than trying to rush results, be thankful for what we have to look forward to.

Be strong in the Lord and His perfect schedule!

Thankful But Not Overjoyed

“In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18, KJV) is a Bible verse as widely misused as it is widely known. It sounds like a command to be glad for literally everything that happens: thus the dry humor that quips, “So I’m supposed to jump up and down with joy over a sprained ankle?” and the double pain of feeling we should be “happy” in the face of real tragedy. A careful study of the Scriptures, especially the example of Jesus (e. g., Mark 3:5, Luke 19:41–44, and the well-known John 11:35), is the best argument against any claim that God invariably counts it as sin to see us in tears.

However, for those of us reduced to tears over everyday frustration, the question of obeying the “thankful” command becomes trickier. Picking up on last post’s theme of thought habits, I can say from personal experience that the “grumble-and-brood reflex” is capable of putting up quite a fight—particularly when life as a whole is delivering an ongoing overdose of change-stress:

  • My home church of twenty years is on the edge of changing both senior pastors and parent denominations.
  • I’ve told my landlord twice in the past year that I’d be moving “soon,” but all attempts to set a specific date have been foiled.
  • A relative from another state died just before Mother’s Day, throwing weekend plans into a tailspin for a dozen extended-family members.
  • While the full-time job I want remains elusive, I suddenly found myself shouldering three new and regular part-time/volunteer/contract commitments in as many weeks. One involves initiating a social media program from scratch with rank-amateur experience and near illiteracy on SEO.
  • My long-time sources of regular freelance income have dried up, and I haven’t seen an expression of interest in my self-published works in months.
  • Major depression seems out to get me (I spent a good part of the past month’s days off, including Easter weekend, under a mental black cloud), necessitating a dreaded physical checkup and possible medication.

Add in the sense of pressure to find full-time work, do some freelance marketing, lose forty unwanted and very stubborn pounds—and do something about this fed-up-with-the-world-for-not-indulging-me attitude—and, while I may be hard put to match Job or Paul for degree of suffering, it definitely is tempting to conclude this is more than an ordinary mortal should have to deal with. So how am I supposed to pull a “give thanks in everything” attitude from it?

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Asked another person for daily accountability. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer” (Ecc. 4:12, NLT). Just knowing that someone will ask “how you did” in a few hours is often adequate incentive against “just this once” temptations.
  • Started a blessings journal. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8, NLT). Even on “one of those days where everything went wrong,” the “everything” is never 100%. There are always little surprises—a swallow darting by, a rose bush by the road, a taste of cool breeze—and at least the consolation of having survived to fight again tomorrow!
  • Determined to remember where my strength comes from. “You will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:8, NLT). When we think “this is hopeless, I can’t do anything with it,” then is the time to turn our attention to God-with-us and ask Him to hold us up. He does for us what we in fact can’t do for ourselves—including being patient and forgiving when it seems our imperfections will weigh us down forever.
  • Began looking for points of thankfulness that truly encompass “everything” and “at all times.” “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17, NLT). Try as we may to concentrate on the positive, there come times—if only due to our own underdeveloped attitudes—when we see little to be grateful for in our immediate circumstances. Then is the time to remember that God’s gifts are more than immediate: Jesus died for us once for all time, always forgives us, is always with us. God has an eternal inheritance in Heaven saved up for us. An eternal glory awaits. When we’re anything but glad for the now—when even our ability to appreciate everyday spots of beauty is seriously weakened—we still can remind ourselves how much God has given us that nothing can take away.

I’ll admit it: despite over 25 years as a Christian, most of this is a long-put-off, “just started first grade” matter for me. But by God’s grace, I will learn what true thankfulness is.

How About You? What does “being thankful in all circumstances” mean to you? In what new ways has this post inspired you to think about that phrase? What are you doing to cultivate the habit in yourself?

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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