Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in May 2015.
My mom was — and still is — a master of to-do lists. “The first thing we need to do is make a list of what to do,” she would say, without any sense of irony. It was sometimes frustrating, but it always served a purpose. Years later, I realized that it makes a lot of sense to take stock of what needs to be done before trying to do it. Because of what my mother taught me, I always have a pad of paper next to my laptop to keep track of what I have to do, and every week begins and ends with me adding to or crossing through my to-do list.
There’s a way in which God is a list-maker and a planner. It may have been effortless for the Creator to create, but that doesn’t mean it was improvised. Look at Genesis 1. He created light, and then the waters, and then land, and then vegetation, and then birds and fish and animals. This is the handiwork of a designer: Vegetation would need sunlight and water to live, and animals would need vegetation to live. The sequence of things was important. Genesis 2 even suggests that God was holding back the plants from blooming and blossoming because “there was no man to work the ground.” In short, this is a God of forethought and planning — and to-do lists.
He goes into minute detail about plans for the Ark and the Tabernacle. He promises Jeremiah — and us — that He has big plans for His children. “I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The wisdom books tell us more about our Lord’s lists. The psalmist reminds us that “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Importantly, he says this in the same breath as he describes how “the Lord gathers the waters of the sea,” how “He spoke, and it came to be,” how He “forms the hearts of all” and “considers everything they do.”
Through it all, God was following a well-designed plan. And He still is. Luke calls it a “deliberate plan.” Paul promises that the Lord is working things out according to His plan.
The Lord Himself asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Who marked off its dimensions? … Who stretched a measuring line across it? … Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place? … Do you know the laws of the heavens?” In other words, God didn’t just snap His fingers and create creation. He first considered and conceived all the rules and laws by which creation could come into existence.
Through it all, God was following a well-designed plan. And He still is. Luke calls it a “deliberate plan.” Paul promises that the Lord is working things out according to His plan. And the author of Hebrews says God is planning “something better for us.”
So, my list-crazy mom is in very good company.
With Mother’s Day and the May graduation season upon us, I can’t help but think of the to-do lists my mom and I made as I prepared to go to college: what to pack, what to shop for, where to be and when to be there, what to do before that all-important first semester began — and when to do it. My college to-do list helped me cut through the clutter and chaos. It helped me prepare for all the changes. And it helped me focus on what mattered most. To-do lists are good for that. But God’s propensity to plan and prepare for all things reminds us that to-do lists don’t have to be limited to the nuts and bolts of everyday life. They can also help us focus on the things in life that really matter — eternal and transcendent things.
Whether graduating from high school into college, or from college into a career, there are some bedrock lessons to apply to the next phase of life — lessons that are too often overlooked amid the hustle and bustle of these post-graduation transitions, lessons that moms like mine have passed down for generations. As your kids complete another year in school — especially if they are transitioning from high school to college or from college into the real world, perhaps the following to-do list will help them navigate what lies ahead.
Stay true to yourself. There is only one of you. God calls you a priceless work of art, a poem from the heavens. So don’t try to become something else. It will always be less than what He has planned.
Work hard. Every class or corner you cut, every course you give less than your best, will have an impact somewhere down the road.
Play hard. There is no other time in life that allows you, even encourages you, to focus on yourself quite like high school and college.
Pray hard. The Holy Spirit will guide you, but He can’t help if you don’t listen, and He’s sure to intercede if you ask. So pray in all things.
Make new friends. And choose wisely — they’ll have a big impact on you. Proverbs 13 reminds us that we “become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.”
Share the Good News. God wants you to have a big impact on your friends. As Paul puts it, you are Christ’s ambassador. Don’t squander this special status. And don’t forget that your words and deeds reflect on your Savior.
Find a place to worship. Remember the example of Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus is the Word Made Flesh, our Great High Priest, the Living Temple, and yet the Bible tells us that He and His followers faithfully celebrated the Sabbath by worshipping. Jesus will challenge you more than any class or any job. But He can’t do it if you’re not within earshot of His word.
Take your Bible, and read it. There’s no finer piece of literature, work of poetry, reference book, guidebook, how-to book, or road map for life.
Call home. It’s more than the town you came from and more than your address. It’s the place where people know you best and love you most.
Write your grandparents. If you’re blessed to still have grandparents, write them an old-fashioned letter. They may never tell you, but a note from you will make their day, their week, their year.
Don’t be afraid to struggle with God. He already knows your questions and worries. He just wants to hear them from your heart. He loves it when His children come to the end of themselves and admit, “Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”
Guard your heart. It is the wellspring of your life and the dwelling place of your Savior.
Think about the future. Today’s decisions and indecision, actions and inaction, will affect your tomorrow.
Proverbs reminds us that “those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.” So imitate our Lord and plan to do what is good as this new chapter of life begins — and then go do it.