To-Do Lists Never Satisfy

by Glynnis Whitwer

By 9 a.m. this morning I was already overwhelmed. Deadlines loomed, laundry piled and my to-do list screamed. Two responses battled for attention:

1) Just start doing something on my list … preferably something easy.
2) Do something completely different, like play solitaire.

When my panicked instincts take over, I become a micro-manager. Instead of bringing focus to my work, I shift and shuffle the tasks before me.

Thankfully, I’ve got a deeper river of motivation: my priorities. It’s how I stepped back this morning to a place of simple, calm focus. Does it always happen? No. Sometimes I jump into the fray with both feet. Usually those days end with me shrugging my shoulders and wondering why nothing got done. It’s like going to the grocery store, spending $100 and having nothing for dinner.

Planning my day based on God’s priorities for me gives me a much greater sense of peace and purpose. My days can still fall apart, but they are less frequent.
Although there’s satisfaction in checking items off a to-do list, mundane work can easily fill our days. Then we find ourselves looking in the past, wondering where the time went. Weeks, months and years fly by, “If only” sprinkles our conversations, and we establish patterns of regret.

Can we know God’s will?

The Bible makes it clear we can avoid this type of reactive life and know God’s will. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Based on Scripture, we can know God’s priorities for us. However, there are two conditions:

• Not conforming to the pattern of the world.
• Being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

The pattern of this world will obscure God’s priorities for us every time, because it creates a self-centered life — one in which we consistently choose the ways of this world. That typically means following our own desires, regardless of whether they line up with God’s desires.

Ephesians 2:1-3a explains in greater detail:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.”

We live among parallel kingdoms constantly in a spiritual battle for our hearts. When we weave between the two kingdoms – choosing between the ways of the world and God’s ways – our hearts are divided. A divided heart always faces confusion.

Years ago my own life reflected this conflict. Even as a committed Christian, I didn’t understand the need to seek God’s will above my own. For years I pursued priorities that took me further spiritually from where God wanted me. My inner struggle resulted in frustration and annoyance, which often spilled out onto those I loved.

Outsiders might have looked at my priorities years ago and thought they “looked” good. My resume included a career in public relations, serving on non-profit boards, leading ministries at church, singing on the praise team, and spearheading exciting projects. It was a full and productive life. Just not the one God had in mind for me.

My mind was stuck on me – my career, my plans, my needs. Apparently I needed an earthquake to get unstuck. Once that happened through a cross-country move, it didn’t take long to see the truth – about myself and my life. God sweetly began the process of renewing my mind, a process which continues to this day.

When I seek God’s priorities and not my own, renewing happens and clarity follows. Like a dancer who focuses on one point while twirling – I maintain balance no matter what swirls around me.

How to determine priorities

One way I evaluate if I’m living according to God’s priorities is to work through a set of questions. By taking the time to process them, I press the pause button for a few moments and reposition myself to a peaceful place outside the fray.

What can only I do?
What has God entrusted to me?
Am I a good steward of what I already have?
What has God asked me to do that I haven’t done yet?
What passion (or dream) has God put in my heart?

My questions always start with an evaluation of how I’m doing with the responsibilities I already have. If I’m neglecting the priorities God has given me, I’m not ready for new ones.

Once you have a clear vision for your priorities, don’t be surprised if it takes time to work it out. You may have to resign from certain responsibilities in order to fulfill others. Crafting your schedule to reflect your priorities takes prayer and ongoing revisions.

All this to say, it isn’t easy. To be a woman who lives according to priorities, I frequently check my motives. I choose to pull my heart back to a place of submission when I want to run ahead. I’m learning to wait on God’s confirmation of something rather than challenging Him to stop me. It’s a completely different way of thinking than I had 15 years ago. But it’s brought more peace – in my life and the life of my family – than any to-do list ever could.

Glynnis Whitwer is on staff with Proverbs 31 Ministries as the Senior Editor of the “P31 Woman” magazine. She is one of the writers of Encouragement for Today, the Proverbs 31 e-mail devotions, with over 350,000 daily readers. Her newest book, “I Used to Be So Organized,” was just released. Glynnis, her husband Tod, and their teenagers live in Glendale, Arizona. Visit or to learn more.

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