Someone once asked Dallas Willard, “If a person wants to grow spiritually, where should they start? Read the Bible? Pray more? Go to church?” Dallas’s answer was completely disarming —and unexpected. He said, “Do the next right thing you know you ought to do. Now when you try that, you may wind up going to church, because you’re going to need some help. Nothing will drive you into the Kingdom of God like trying to do the next thing that is right . . . because you will need help, and you will get it, because that’s where God is.”
So today, from one moment to the next —as the thought enters your mind —do the next right thing you know you ought to do:
Sometimes doing the next right thing seems impossible, even when it’s not. Once, after hearing Dallas Willard give a talk about “doing the next right thing,” a man approached Dallas and said, “I have a rebellious son, and I can’t help blowing up at him.” Dallas told him to simply promise his wife that the next time he blew up at his son, he would contribute $5,000 to his wife’s favorite charity.
Often, “doing the next right thing” will demand a power not currently available to us. Just like with an alcoholic who decides that the “next right thing” is not to take a drink, willpower alone will not get this done. Success will require a new way of life in which we will need to access strength from a Power greater than ourselves.
The beauty of “do the next right thing” is that it often reveals that we’re unable to do the next right thing. That realization drives us to seek God —and we will find him. But first we must be honest about our intentions.
When I lived in Chicago, I decided I wanted to get my body into better shape.
Then I met Doug, a professional trainer and body builder, and we started working out together. It was amazing. I felt like a member of a different and far inferior species. Nancy used to ask, “Can I come and watch you and Doug work out?”
“I can’t make it today,” I’d tell her. “It’s just gonna be Doug.”
“That’d be okay,” she’d assure me.
At one point, I told him, “I’d like to look like you.”
And he asked me, “Are you all in?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You don’t just drift into this,” he explained. “I will lift weights until my muscles ache. I push myself so hard sometimes that I feel like I’m on fire. Some mornings, I hurt so much I can’t bend down to tie my shoes. I monitor every calorie I put in my body. I wake myself up at night to ingest protein when it can best be absorbed. Mostly it takes the courage to face the pain —searing pain. Are you all in?”
Turns out, I wasn’t. I was only partly in. I was okay with not looking all the way like Doug. I have a life. I’m more an admirer than a disciple.
Now, here is our friend Jesus. He’s looking for disciples, people who will surrender their lives —money and reputation and achievements (which we cannot keep) —for a transformed character in a glorious Kingdom that we cannot lose.
It’s not a bad thing to be an admirer of his. But he’s looking for disciples. He promises to be there for us when we do well, and to be there for us when we don’t. Cross his heart. Hope to die.
John Ortberg, I’d like You More If You Were More like Me: Getting Real about Getting Close (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Refresh, 2017).