Do the Next Thing




I have been barely functional for the last several months.

Participating in a clinical trial for post-polio since the fall has left me exhausted, struggling with crushing fatigue and discouragement. I feel drained and overwhelmed. So many things have been left undone. My desk, piled with things to do, seems too daunting to even approach.  Where do I start? Since I can’t do everything, I wonder if I should bother to do anything.

As I sat at the table pondering my options, I remembered this advice from Elisabeth Elliot. Advice that has taken me through numerous trials and countless days. Days when I felt inundated and didn’t know what to do. Days when it seemed impossible to accomplish anything.

Do the next thing.

These simple four words that have fueled me through the mundane and the monumental.  Somehow they brought clarity and strength when I needed it. Direction when I felt overwhelmed.

They provided me a framework after my son died. “Do the next thing” meant take a shower. Write the obituary. Plan a funeral. And after the initial flood of activity, it was invaluable advice in grieving when I still had the daily tasks of life before me. Make dinner. Beg God for grace. Do the laundry. Read the Bible. Call a friend. Take a nap.

And then years later, wondering how I was going to make it as a single parent, I followed the same advice. I was obsessing and lamenting over how our broken home would affect my children. Would they love God? How would they process their pain? How could I even maintain a household in the midst of insanity?

All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry. Give in to self-pity. Make it all go away. But I knew that I needed to face what was before me. I couldn’t hide.

I would ask God for strength, and then do the next thing. Make dinner. Drive them to their game. Prepare my Bible study lesson. Pray with them at night. There was no sense worrying about the future. I couldn’t control it anyway. I could just do the next thing.

And each time, by just doing the next thing, I was able to make it through. I had just enough light for the next step. But that was sufficient. It was all that I needed. More information would not have been helpful.

I had to do the next thing in the strength that God provided. And trust he would supply what I needed. While the future looked dim and unknown, I knew that everything was under his loving sovereign control. I had to take God’s hand in the dark, trust he would guide me and then act on the information I had in front of me.

When I started living that way, I began experiencing tremendous freedom. Somehow the weight of my decisions was lifted. I didn’t need to figure it all out. I just needed to be connected to God. To hear his voice. To be still. And most of all, to trust him.

So now when I feel overwhelmed at the enormity of a situation, I begin by tackling the simplest most mundane tasks. And then move to the things that I have been putting off because they are either unpleasant or I don’t know where they’ll lead.  I have discovered that the things I feel inadequate to face fully, I can handle one small thing at a time.

I know I can’t think of everything that needs to be done. I can just focus on the next thing I need to do. Sometimes it’s just to get up and make dinner. Or write an email that I’ve been dreading. Or make a phone call I’ve been putting off. Each time I obey, God gives me clarity to do the next thing after that.

This simple advice, to do the next thing, has helped countless people. I first read it in Elisabeth Elliot’s book, The Shaping of a Christian Family (p. 178-79), from a poem her mother loved.

On her Gateway to Joy radio program, Elisabeth explained how “do the next thing” had been so helpful to her. Elisabeth and her husband Jim had been serving on the mission field in Ecuador when he was martyred, leaving her alone with an infant daughter.

When I went back to my jungle station after the death of my first husband, Jim Elliot, I was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. I had a good many new roles, besides that of being a single parent and a widow. I was alone on a jungle station that Jim and I had manned together. I had to learn to do all kinds of things, which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do. It was a great help to me simply to do the next thing.

Elisabeth goes on to say:

I’ve felt that way <other> times in my life, and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. I don’t know where this is. But this is a poem which was written about that legend.

The poem says, “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 resultings, do the next thing.” (The poem in its entirety is here.)

If you are feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, I encourage you just to do the next thing. Pray and then do the next thing after that. Trust God with the results. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He will guide you as you look to him.

Just do the next thing.




  • February 16, 2017 - 5:35 pm

    Rebekah - I LOVE this and needed it in this very moment. Your words of truth and your genuine nature have encouraged me many times. Thank you. On to do the next thingReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 9:23 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad, Rebekah. “Do the next thing” has helped me so much!ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 10:16 pm

    Elizabeth Johnson - Wow. This is just such incredible advice. Yet so simple. I really needed this. Thanks for sharing and God bless you Vaneetha.ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 9:04 am

    Scott - Thank you so much for your continual encouragement Vaneetha. You have been in my prayers. “The Lord be with your spirt. Grace be with you.” (2 Timothy 4:22)ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 9:23 am

    Gaye - I woke up this morning feeling under the weather and after a day of rest resolute to get “something” done today. I literally said out loud to God, where do I start. And then as the microwave beeped to tell me my oatmeal was ready, I sat down to breakfast and started with this e-mail. WOW, talk about timing! God’s so amazing! Thank you my dear Sister that he used you to talk to me in my daily grind. God’s Blessings to you!ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 11:57 am

    Sheila - Vaneetha I can’t even tell you how timely and helpful this is to me right now. Thank you for letting your broken life bring life to others!! Thank you! May God bless you and give you the strength you need and the next thing he has for you!ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 1:27 pm

    Precious - “Thank you for letting your broken life bring life to others” I agree with Sheila. Thank you so much beloved.ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 1:43 pm

    Trudy - I’m so sorry these last months have been even harder on you, Vaneetha. I love this post. It really has encouraged my heart. Not to worry about what I haven’t been able to do, but just to keep doing the next thing. This especially strengthens my heart – “I didn’t need to figure it all out. I just needed to be connected to God. To hear his voice. To be still. And most of all, to trust him.” Thank you so much! I pray God will give you daily strength and peace!ReplyCancel

    • February 17, 2017 - 2:36 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad “do the next thing” is encouraging you too!ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 4:44 pm

    Jeanne Takenaka - Vaneetha, what beautiful truths and encouragements you share here. Just do the next thing. I’m so thankful that when we don’t know what else to do, or when life is overwhelming in its severity, we can do the next thing. There’s healing in following this wisdom. Doing the next thing brings us through the dark places . . . along with God, of course. Thanks for your encouragement. I needed your words today.ReplyCancel

    • February 17, 2017 - 9:18 pm

      Vaneetha - I agree, Jeanne – there is so much wisdom in following this advice. It has been so helpful to me!ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 4:54 pm

    Kathy - Do the next thing. I’ve used this before in times of upheaval when I didn’t know what to do. I never knew where it came from. Thank you for sharing. Praying that you will start to feel better.ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 6:13 pm

    Mike R - What a blessing to find your new post, today. Thank you.

    “While the future looked dim and unknown, I knew that everything was under his loving sovereign control. I had to take God’s hand in the dark,..”

    As my long battle with illness continues with no improvement, and new and upsetting lab tests roll in, it feels like blow after blow keep coming. And all the while my life’s demands don’t go away or lessen. So I just go from doing less to doing little. Formerly a very active and involved to a couch-sitter (because most of the time that is all I can manage).

    The things around me continue to go untended. My “18-month” illness has gone to “2-3 years” to “We’ve found some other problems…”. Suddenly it may be life-long, or life-ending, depending on what my doctor tells me next week.

    The one clear thought that comes to me now is, “Be still, and know that I am God.” On the one hand, it is the sobering reminder that this life is not about me. And there is the comfort of knowing that our God loves me and is working out my final redemption.

    Thank you for your writings. They are encouraging and edifying.ReplyCancel

    • February 17, 2017 - 9:23 pm

      Vaneetha - Thanks so much for writing, Mike. So sorry for what you are dealing with – health issues can be a constant reminder that this is not our home! Praying as I write this that the Lord will encourage you as you wait…ReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2017 - 12:07 am

    Allyson Marshall - I have a small group of fellow sufferers who are slowly but surely working our way through your book- slow only because with our poor health and various personal trials, we have a hard time getting together! Thank you so much for the ways you have willingly shared your heart with your readers! Even from a place of barely functional, God is using you mightily!ReplyCancel

    • February 18, 2017 - 1:34 pm

      Vaneetha - Oh Allyson, what a blessing to know that the Lord is using my book in that way. That means a lot. Thank you for writing! The last few months I have struggled with whether I should post at all- and your email is a precious affirmation.ReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2017 - 10:58 am

    Teresa - Thank you so much for your precious words, they are always just what I need to “hear” And Thank You from the bottom of my heart that while in your suffering you take the time to share and pour into others! I can see God smiling at the warrior you are! Praying for you lady!ReplyCancel

    • February 18, 2017 - 1:32 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Teresa. I’m so glad God is using the blog and thank you especially for your prayers. Sometimes its hard to press on and “do the next thing” but I’m so grateful when I do.ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 9:25 am

    Faith - Thank you for your bravery and honesty, Vaneetha. I’ve been immensely encouraged by many of your articles on Desiring God, often coming across them at just the right time. Reading this post on your blog also came at just the right time – all part of God’s sustaining grace in the darkness of suffering I suppose. I’m still in the dark and seemingly unending tunnel of physical, mental and emotional suffering.. struggling very hard to trust God and see him as the good and loving father he is in the midst of all this. I hope I can be as faithful and sure as you one day. Keep fighting, keep trusting and keep blessing others! Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 10:20 am

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Faith. So glad God used this post to encourage you. Praying as I write this that God would keep sustaining you, and that you would sense his intimate and life-giving presence in the midst of this tunnel of suffering. Also praying for deliverance!ReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 5:50 pm

    Barb - But what does one do when there are dozens of next things that need done now? And ai pick the wrong next thing???ReplyCancel

    • February 22, 2017 - 9:34 am

      Vaneetha - That’s a dilemma! But do it with prayer and pick something and trust He is working in it. As the poem says, leave the results to Him.ReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 7:01 pm

    Battle exceptions and options – Coffee at Midnight - […] *blog post can be found at Dance In the Rain […]ReplyCancel

  • February 22, 2017 - 3:07 am

    Ruth (Fruitful Today) - Thank you so much for this word of encouragement. I’ve never read any of Elisabeth Elliot’s writing but I think I should! I’ve read some beautiful, powerful quotes from her, including this one today. Praying for you now, that God will help you to know his comfort and peace within your crushing fatigue. Sounds like it’s been an awfully frustrating and discouraging few months…ReplyCancel

    • February 22, 2017 - 9:37 am

      Vaneetha - Elisabeth Elliot’s writings contain so much wisdom! I have learned so much from her and highly recommend her books. And thank you for praying for me. I so appreciate it.ReplyCancel

  • February 25, 2017 - 3:22 pm

    Donna - Just what I have been needing. It is great relief to read this blog. No doubt I was led here. I think God will be able to speak to my heart reading here. Finally, I have found something I can’t relate to. Possibly make sense of. So needing this. Thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • February 26, 2017 - 10:22 am

    janet - That’s how I’ve always done it. When I’m overwhelmed, I do something that can be accomplished without too much time and effort, which makes me feel good as well as keeping my occupied. Then I go to the next thing.


    • February 26, 2017 - 2:48 pm

      Vaneetha - It’s such a simple and freeing way to think about things, isn’t it?ReplyCancel

  • February 27, 2017 - 6:07 am

    Gina - I’ve been exhausted from health issues since Christmas while working full time and I admit- sometimes I did just curl up in a ball and ignore the world, but “do the next thing” will be my mantra the next few months as I dig out of that which has piled up all around me literally and figuratively. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • February 27, 2017 - 1:35 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad this was helpful. I’m having to remember this myself today!ReplyCancel

  • March 2, 2017 - 3:03 pm

    Joy Lenton - This is so helpful, Vaneetha! I’ve been living in the overwhelm of late, rather than an in the overflow of God’s grace. It has been there, of course, but anxieties and myriad clusters of concerns have clouded my eyes from seeing it. I’m stopping by from my good friend,Trudy’s site ‘Freed To Fly’, because she kindly linked to this post. And I’m so glad I did. Bless you for sharing from the deep place with such wisdom and great advice. Now to try to put it into practice! 🙂ReplyCancel

    • March 2, 2017 - 4:24 pm

      Vaneetha - Thanks for writing, Joy. I so understand about “living in the overwhelm of late, rather than in the overflow of God’s grace.” Praying you will sense the overflow of God’s grace as you put it into practice!ReplyCancel

  • March 3, 2017 - 5:03 am

    weekly grace and links – Abounding Grace - […] Do the Next Thing by Vaneetha Rendall Risner. She shares how these four words by Elisabeth Elliot have fueled her through the mundane and the monumental, and I am right there with her. There might be season when there is just enough light for the next step — but that is sufficient. If you are feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, just do the next thing. That will be enough. […]ReplyCancel

  • March 24, 2017 - 1:00 am

    Ethan holden - Vaneetha, I just wanted to let you know how much this article helped me! Recently, due to a certain situation I have been letting fearful thoughts overwhelm me, and there have been times where I have been so overwhelmed It has paralyzed me. I read this article and it really has helped me! When fear hits and I can’t get my mind of those thoughts that fill me with fear I just do the next thing and I’m able to get my mind Back in order.ReplyCancel

  • March 25, 2017 - 10:12 pm

    Marvin Eylander - How can one do the “next thing”, when one’s mind is seized-up by the calcified rust and sticky goo, of 40+ years of anxiety, fear, and melancholy?ReplyCancel

  • March 27, 2017 - 8:03 am

    Kathy Vaughan - Thank you,Vaneetha. This is such good advice. I have saved the poem you referenced for the days when all I can do is to do the next thing. Blessings!ReplyCancel

  • April 7, 2017 - 1:13 pm

    Liesl - I have a confirmed calling for the profession I’m in. Which is very blessed to know. I’ve recently been given new employment by the Lord. Yet I’ve struggled to adapt to my new role and have become overwhelmed to the point of paralyses.
    By His grace He has carried me through and I’ve been given a precious revelation of how desperately dependant I am on God to do His will. That He is a good Father that supplies all my needs.
    This taking one thing at a time and just doing that which is in front of me as an act of obedience and worship and thankfulness unto God, has been such a revelation to me. God is taking me into ever deeper levels of trust and surrender, because I used to be one of those have it all together and under control women.
    The longer I walk with the Lord, the weaker I realise I am. Previously, such a thought would have horrified me. Now, I am grateful and joyful. There is such freedom in surrender. There is still real pain and suffering, but in it I have come to a contented rest in God in the midst of the storm.
    Thankfully, the work storm is in the process of passing and having had to go through it, has drawn me so much closer to God.
    Thank you for your courageous, vulnerable, authentic and thoughtful blog posts. They are a real source of encouragement.ReplyCancel

    • April 8, 2017 - 4:25 pm

      Vaneetha - It’s funny how when we feel completely out of our depth and have to trust God for the simplest of things, we experience an amazing freedom and joy. I have found when I am able to surrender everything to God because I know I can’t do it myself, I find such freedom in simply resting in God. Thank you for that reminder.ReplyCancel

  • July 30, 2017 - 12:52 am

    Do the Next Thing » Vaneetha Rendall – Simone Samuels - […] Source: Do the Next Thing » Vaneetha Rendall […]ReplyCancel

  • August 25, 2017 - 12:53 am

    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage - Hello Vaneetha,

    I found this article in a Google search for the old do the next thing poem. I’m a cancer patient. I’ve had five rounds of chemo. This one is really giving me a hard time. The side effects are, well, unpleasant.

    Your article was very encouraging to me. I thank you for writing through your pain. I try to encourage others through what I’m going through. Sometimes, like tonight, I find my energy and resolve failing. God lifts me up as do the prayers of his saints. Tonight, he used you as well, even though you wrote this months ago.

    Father God, I ask you to meet Vaneetha right where she is, with what she’s doing right now. God give her hope, peace, strength, and healing in her body by the power of the blood of Jesus Christ and in his name. Amen.

    God bless you Vaneetha.

    Please drop by and say hello!
    ஐღLaura ღஐ
    Harvest Lane Cottage
    …doing what I can with what I’ve got where I am
    on a short shoestring budget!

    • August 30, 2017 - 8:42 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Laura. Praying for you right now as you deal with the side effects of chemo– both physical and emotional. I’m sure both take a tremendous toll. Praying God would strengthen you and encourage you as you do the next thing…ReplyCancel

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