There is nothing more satisfying to a list-maker than a series of neat, orderly check marks. Every day, I live by “the list,” and this practice has served me well, rescuing me from missed appointments, ensuring that my children show up when and where they are expected, and reminding me of phone calls, ministry responsibilities and other commitments that I, in all likelihood, would have forgotten without my list. I keep a list for Christmas presents (I buy all year long), a packing list for family camping trips (so I won’t forget anything), and a prayer list (for specific requests related to missionaries, family, and other loved ones).
The only drawback of being a list maker is that, often, life does not organize itself neatly around my list. When my children were babies, they did not necessarily nap according to my schedule. During the years that I was homeschooling all four of the boys, I learned that the best way to generate math questions from a third grader was to sit down and try to do math with the fifth grader. (This was also the best time for the kindergartner to have pressing penmanship problems and for the toddler to need help with the potty.) As my boys grew toward manhood, I envisioned high school graduation, college, marriage, and then grandchildren coming along in lovely, linear order according to my plan, and I believe that God may have been amused, because once again, it was time for me to learn the lesson of Isaiah 55:8,9 –
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
God knew that my eldest son would marry his childhood sweetheart three months after his high school graduation. God was well aware of the means He would use to provide for the young couple as my son finished college, and then He orchestrated the arrival of my adorable grandson six months ago. He managed to do all of this without consulting my list – even once!
My theology goes all to pieces when my schedule falls apart, because, when the wheels come off my well-laid plans, I realize that my lovely list has ceased to become a tool and has instead become an idol. The people of Israel were also adept at manufacturing idols out of almost anything that was handy: golden earrings (Exodus 32:3,4); cedar wood (Isaiah 44:15-17); even angels (Colossians 2:18). When I cling to my orderly do-list instead of being open to God’s direction, my life becomes a stagnant pool of service without Spirit. By contrast, a phone call from a friend who needs a listening ear, a teachable moment with one of my boys, or an opportunity to serve my elderly mother are fresh-water streams that run through my days, expanding the banks of my life and reinforcing the truth that God is, indeed, sovereign. Letting go of my white-knuckle grip on my time is, for me, a call to worship. If I believe Christ truly does hold all things together (Colossians 1:17), if I believe that He is at work coordinating the movement of the stars and, at the same time, holding together the very atoms that comprise the chair I’m sitting on, there should be no doubt in my mind that He can manage the details of my life.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He anticipated that they would need, whenever they prayed, to bow to the will of God. As followers of Christ, we acknowledge this on a large scale, but those of us who are list-makers need to bring the sovereignty of God into the details of our days, for this is where life is lived, moment by moment, as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy list be done,” in absolute trust of our sovereign Lord.