It’s Not All about What Gets Done

To-do lists are the mortal enemy of Christian joy.

I’m not saying that to be a joyful Christian you should burn your daily planner, delete your bucket list, and scrap your job responsibilities. But when accomplishment and activity become the keywords of daily life, time-management tools become the needle that feeds a dangerous addiction. If you check the clock every fifteen minutes to make sure you’re still on schedule; if you count the remaining items on the list as you finish each one; if you go into shock at the suggestion that three major tasks a day are enough … you probably have a list-idolatry problem.

“‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the LORD. … ‘For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.'” In few areas of life are these words from Isaiah 55:8-9 (New Living Translation) so obvious as in the area of efficiency and “getting things done.” It’s hard to understand why God waits years for one “chosen vessel” to answer His marching orders, or lets His servants struggle through their appointed projects amid an onslaught of interruptions and dead ends, when the world is full of unsaved souls and unmet needs. All human logic expects God to follow the way of the human employer: choose the best person to get the job done as quickly as possible, fire the slackers and slow learners, plan projects to follow the straightest path from beginning to end, and schedule everything at set times. What reason could there be for ordaining the route that causes a project to stretch out for decades, when a little practical reorganization could get it done in a few months?

In our obsession with doing things the “practical” way, we forget that God is not simply a Boss but also a Father–and that we are all special-needs children. Though it was often the “respectable” route in years past to dump children with severe incapacities into institutions, the suggestion horrifies people today. So what if these children aren’t as “promising” as their siblings, if there’s little hope they’ll graduate high school let alone make Ivy League or CEO, if keeping them in wheelchairs and medication takes a monster bite from the family budget? They’re still their parents’ children, loved because they’re part of the family, not because they have the potential to make the family rich and famous.

If the parents are wise as well as loving, they also understand that “special needs” rarely preclude the human need to be a useful contributor. The lack of “standard” abilities doesn’t mean a person should expect to sit and be waited on all her life. Nothing anyone can’t do negates his responsibility to learn what he can do, to explore his abilities and interests, to stretch a bit out of his comfort zone. Likewise, God accepts us with all our flaws while simultaneously coaxing us to new challenges and responsibilities.

The trouble–the list idolatry that kills Christian joy–comes when we start writing our calendars and to-do lists according to what grabs our immediate attention, what others (including the faceless societal worldview) seem to expect of us, what we’re afraid of missing out on. Though we often convince ourselves that our hard work is a means of pleasing God, it isn’t God’s gentle challenge and encouragement talking; it’s our own anxiety-riddled flesh. We think, “If I plan carefully enough, I can protect myself from unpleasant surprises”; God says (James 4:14, NLT), “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?” We constantly second-guess ourselves and double-check the time we have left to finish the whole list; God says, “Do not fret–it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:8, New International Version). We measure a good day’s work in terms of things finished, often putting quantity before quality; God says, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:41-42). God’s thoughts are nothing like our thoughts–and given the misery our “logical” thoughts can put us through, we should be grateful.

By all means, use organizers and lists as tools to work effectively. Just remember that they are only tools, that our real purpose is God’s business, and that He asks of us only two things in regard to “effectiveness”:

  1. Tend to the task of the moment; shut our minds to thoughts of “what might happen” and “what I still need to do.”
  2. Remember that He assigns the tasks according to each individual’s gifts and abilities, and that we can only see our way clearly by staying in touch with Him.

Many, many people neglect prayer and worship because “I have too much to do.” What they forget is that taking time to open our minds to God is our best protection against throwing time away on wrong-for-us things.

  • 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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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See for copyright details.
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