Yesterday was one of those days in the summer where you feel like being at home with no agenda, but then you get antsy by mid-morning because you have no agenda.
There were plenty of things to do, mind you, I just didn’t feel like doing them. After a little pep talk to myself, a whispered prayer, and an attitude adjustment, I started walking from room to room picking up toys and straightening shelves. I checked in on the kids playing and mixed up a birthday cake.
As I went through the motions of my day, I realized that there have been a lot of days like this lately. Maybe you’re familiar with the phrase, “Do the next right thing.” It’s a favorite of mine and has been helpful for me since I heard it about a year ago from Emily P. Freeman. She helps people who suffer from decision fatigue to discern their one next right step.
Sometimes I do struggle to know what is next—in my creative work, with relationships and ministry, big life decisions—but often in my day-to-day life, I know the next right thing but I just don’t want to do it.
Move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.
Take the time to instruct my children.
Say I’m sorry.
Make the phone call.
Stop eating the chocolate chips.
Befriend your neighbor.
Put down the phone.
What is it that keeps me from doing these next right things?
Sometimes it’s procrastination. Other times I’m lazy. Relational situations require more time, being uncomfortable, humility—things that don’t necessarily feel great—so to keep scrolling on my phone or ignore the people around me, well, that I can handle.
Recently, I’ve discovered that my lack of wanting to do what’s right before me is because I’d much rather be doing something else.
Read a book.
Write out all of my thoughts and ideas.
Go on a date with my husband.
Sit in silence and do absolutely nothing.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I see your posts on social media. I listen to you talk about your dreams and the frustration you feel by your lack of time and capacity. I know how tired you are of doing what feels insignificant. I see the longing in your eyes for more than what today holds.
A life of faithful obedience is hard.
James, the half brother of Jesus, talked a lot about faithful obedience, about doing right things. His entire book, a letter written to Jewish believers in the early church, was both a guidebook and a litmus test for followers of Christ. He spelled out what was required in a life of faith, and then the marks of how to tell if they were living up to it. It’s one of the most practical books of the Bible. Near the end of his letter he said these words, “…whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Convicting, right? I memorized this verse as a kid, and honestly it terrified me. Ever the rule-follower, I didn’t want to sin; I wanted to please everyone. Teachers, youth leaders, friends, my parents, God — I wanted to do good by all of them. I remember sitting at a friend’s house as a teenager with my back to the TV while a PG-13 movie played behind me. My parents had forbidden us to watch anything rated above PG, and my ride home wasn’t willing to leave. So, there I sat doing the right thing I knew to do. Of course I broke rules, disobeyed, and failed to do the right thing from time to time, but that verse frequently came to mind.
I’m no longer worried as much about pleasing people and I’ve grown in my understanding of grace, but when faced with a choice to do the right thing or avoid it, I’m reminded of these words from James.
Sometimes, when I choose to not do the next right thing, it is an actual sin.
We don’t like to talk about sin. We avoid even using that word because it’s not politically correct, it makes us cringe, and we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that we aren’t really that bad.
God’s Word tells us the truth. He is holy, we are not. From specific commands to follow, words of wisdom that apply to the issues of life, and teachings about the nature of God’s kingdom-people, his expectations for us are pretty straightforward.
Now, please here me clearly: I’m not saying that everything we avoid doing is sinful. What I am saying is that sometimes, when we choose to not do the next right thing, it is. We have to be willing to face the reality of our hearts and pray for the ability to discern those specifics when it’s not a clear biblical command.
Even as redeemed people of God who want to please him perfectly, we will sometimes fail; we could never measure up to his standard of holiness before salvation and we will never perfectly live out our faith in our sanctification.
This is why Jesus came. He died in our place on the cross so that we could stand in righteousness before God. He lived a perfect life of obedience and gave us an example to follow.
Jesus always did the next right thing.
Because of what he did on my behalf, I can live and move forward in his strength to do the right things before me today.
But there’s one more thing. My favorite part of this phrase, “Do the next right thing…” is actually the two words that are tagged onto the end: “…in love.”
Jesus always did the next right thing and he did it all for love.
Love for the Father. Love for his people.
If love is the motivation, then you can do the hard things, the uncomfortable things, the boring things, the seemingly insignificant things because you have a greater purpose.
Love for God. Love for others.
Love for God motivates my obedience and compels me to move forward in love toward others.
So, if you’re like me, and you struggle to do the next right thing, just do it, and do it in love.