Managing Your Lists

for the week of December 11, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

I operate from daily to-do lists. Do you? Making out my list not only helps me remember the things ahead but to prioritize them. Deadlines are their most menacing when you've let them get so close that they smother you into inactivity.

The list I'm using today was written in a spiral-bound notebook early this morning. Something so regular as a "FAX of Life" has to fit into a day's routine. Otherwise, it doesn't get done. (This is item #4 for the morning!)

I try to keep each list reasonably short. As the number of items on my to-do list grows, the ability to manage my time effectively diminishes. Referring back to the list imposes discipline on my day and holds me to my tasks. "Planning is of no use at all," says Peter Drucker, "unless it eventually degenerates into work."

There are two other lists I keep as well. These aren't always written down in a notebook. Yet I carry them with me everywhere I go. And the strange thing is that each has the power to cancel out the other. One shrinks as the other grows.

My worry list tends to be composed of things that are beyond my power to control. So crisis events, others' demands on me, and things I'd like to bring under my control make this list. These are the things that distract me during the day and keep me awake at night. They seldom generate productive activity of any sort, for the idea that I can bring life under my personal control is only a delusion.

My prayer list is made up of the people, situations, and events I choose to surrender to God. These are the things I know I can't handle. They are too big and too important for me to try force them to an outcome I've settled in my mind.

See why they cancel out one another? Anything I've given over to God doesn't have to be fretted and sweated. He's competent enough to handle it. So long as I am trying to bring things under my personal control, though, I run the risk of fighting not only the defiant realities around me but God's will for my life. The more praying I do, the less power worry has to sap either my strength or sleep.

The Bible presents this challenge: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7, NRSV).

The more items that get moved off your worry list onto your prayer list, the better off you'll be. God will graciously replace your anxiety with his peace.

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