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!


List Fatigue

The dictionary definition of “fatigue” is “extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.” In today’s society, fatigue seems an illness in its own right. And like cancer, it has sufficient notoriety and versatility to rate subdivision into multiple categories: one hears of compassion fatigue, chronic fatigue, career fatigue, e-mail fatigue, adrenal fatigue, customer service fatigue, and others. The word has even found its way into the technical jargon of many industries: engineers worry about metal fatigue causing structural collapse; marketers blame list fatigue when e-mail responses decline.

For me right now, list fatigue has a different meaning:

DEFINITION: an ongoing sense of stress characterized by the feeling that one’s life is controlled by the very lists that were intended to bring one’s life under control.


  • Having a list for everything: to-do lists, shopping lists, goals lists, reading lists, planning lists, budget lists, priority lists, daily-schedule lists, etc., etc.
  • Negative reactions ranging from fury to despair when a carefully laid plan is disrupted for any reason.
  • Severe discontent with oneself and/or life, completely irrespective of a day’s accomplishments or circumstances, so long as unchecked-off items remain on any list.
  • Trying to fit everything from tooth-brushing to starting the car into a precise and regular time slot.
  • Dreading getting out of bed in the morning because “there’s so much to do and I might not finish.”
  • Starting a new list whenever the sense of “making no progress” becomes troubling.
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting or hair-twisting, particularly when rushing or feeling impatient.
  • Various physical symptoms such as insomnia, increased blood pressure, weight gain, or unexplained aches and spasms.
  • Frequent annoyance with people for “interrupting me” or “taking too much time”; trying to rush them through whatever they want.

And the cause of list fatigue? The key component of original sin: the craving to “be like God,” to control what happens when, to decide what’s best for us and have it.

Ever since Eve, grabbing for the privilege of governing one’s own universe has led to trouble. While we recognize it as sitcom material that a rookie weight trainer should run to the heaviest barbell and persist until he faints in his determination to raise it overhead, we hardly see our infinitely more ludicrous attempts to swing the weight of world-running onto our shoulders and hold it out of God’s reach. This is the burden Jesus referred to when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Strange to say, most of us prefer a heavy burden of our own choice to the rest and easy burden He offers.

Even when we genuinely want to come to Jesus and accept His yoke, our fleshly nature lies in wait to tempt us into turning God’s direction into one more list. The legalistic Christian is the one who strives in church work like the workaholic at the office, who keeps a mental “is this true and right?” checklist by which to analyze every activity and interest–and who, whether he ultimately becomes a smug Pharisee or a pool of self-loathing and self-pity, is the antithesis of the joyful, showing-Christ-to-the-world Christian. The living picture of misery.

Misery is both the parent and the byproduct of fatigue–especially when our devotion to the “list” deludes us into thinking “I haven’t time to rest” or “I have to get all this done.” No, you don’t; the common assumption “I had no choice” is rarely true literally. Even if someone were holding a gun on you, you could still choose to be shot rather than comply. Unwise as that would be under most circumstances, more foolish still is to become so enslaved by compulsion to “finish the list” as to see the option of “neglecting” it for a while–even to pray or catch up on sleep–as on the level of arguing with a loaded gun.

Granted, for those of us who are already as one with the list, getting out of the comfort zone of habit can be painful. But not as painful as the physical or mental collapse needed to get some people’s attention.

Regardless of your immediate “list” situation, if you find only one takeaway point in this article, let it be this:

Coming to Christ for rest is not a one-time thing. If you genuinely want to live the remainder of your life under His easy yoke and free from self-inflicted lists and the resulting fatigue, make a point of spending time in His presence daily. And not just run-through-the-prayer-list, read-your-Bible-like-any-other-book, ask-Him-to-bless-your-preconceived-plans time; His yoke can only stay on you when you open your mind to listen, fill your heart with thanksgiving, and stay ready to accept it when (not if) He shows you that some (perhaps most) of your treasured “list items” are not on His list. If you insist that they stay on yours, there’s no way you will be able to keep them from being a stumbling block to your Christian life.

That possibility is the real reason many well-meaning Christians fill their lives with lists until they have “no time for God”; subconsciously, they fear He will “cross off” items they can’t imagine living without. Only by putting aside that fear will we see how God’s list is so much better for us, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

When you have God’s approval, you don’t need to measure your success in checked-off items.

  • 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

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