Most of my days begin with a list of things to do. I write it down occasionally if it involves new or unusual activity. But most of the time it's in my head, and many days the list may just be one thing.

For example, "fill that rack with firewood for next winter," or "finish a lesson plan," or "finish the day with a good disposition." These things require many steps that could generate a lengthy list. What a list of one does for me is keep me focused on what I need to get done that day. It provides a center on which to focus my energy. There may be other tasks to do, but if they can wait for another day they are left for the moment.

Lists of one can be helpful in other areas of life as well.

For example -- "I will read one chapter or one devotional today," or "I will pray about one thing today." It may even be, "I will be kind to one person today whom I judge not to deserve it." The last one may sound a little strange at first, but it puts that thought in our minds to act with thought and purpose.

Each of these lists of one require some context, preparation, and appropriate resources or tools. The more available these tools, the easier to accomplish the task. For example, filling a rack with firewood is terribly difficult without wood to cut, a chainsaw, maul or log splitter, and a vehicle to transport the wood. In the same way it will be much more difficult to be kind to one person without the appropriate resources.

I'm becoming more appreciated of discipline in devotional life as time passes. Such discipline provides us with the context, tools, and mindset to accomplish good in a world that desperately needs more goodness in it.

I recently pulled a devotional book off my shelf that I picked up some years ago. I know nothing of the author except that his name is W. J. Knox Little and the preface to the book was written from Hoar Cross, Staffordshire in 1896. What I found interesting about his devotional book is that each entry begins nearly identically and ends with "one practical resolution." What begins with discipline and preparation ends with a list of one thing to accomplish.

Each begins with 1. Kneel and place yourself in the presence of God. 2. Read carefully (the day's text). 3. Imagine or picture yourself (in an appropriate context). After which he shares thoughts about what has just been read.

Here are some of his thoughts on self-management that are still relevant today. "I must not be blown about by every passing breeze of my changing humour. Think of the dangers to others from submission in me to my whims. I darken lives. If a soul permits itself to be changeable, it is never happy. Think, how I must watch against over-sensitiveness; against the imagination leading to a dream instead of acting.; to look for an impossible ideal, and so become captious, cross, fretful, instead of making the best of what I am called to do and bear. Imagination and fancy have pleasure; also they have danger. Think how diligently they must be ruled. Otherwise for thee, O my soul, imagination will become the lurking-place of fear, the source of a dissipated and unrestful life." (pp. 57-58).

At the end of the day's meditation he suggests, "one practical resolution for today towards keeping a steady hand upon myself.'

The world is full of noise and busyness. "Multitasking" is considered an asset, a virtue even, in today's world. It is a standard by which one might be considered a good manager, parent, or teacher. Thinking in terms of lists of one will not make such noise go away, nor the necessity to deal with distraction. But it can keep us centered and focused on the task at hand and the attitude by which we get it done.

Focus reduces the stress and noise around us so that it fades and can be managed with grace and patience. It has the effect of calming those in our sphere because they also know what we are doing and what we are about. If they, too, have a focus and an appropriate attitude, it will help us handle differences and distractions together.

At the end of the Gospel of John, Peter and Jesus are walking along the beach and Jesus is re-centering Peter by asking him three times -- with slightly different nuances -- if he loved him. By the end of it Peter was a little frustrated, but he was re-centered. Then he turns and asks about John, who is following behind. Jesus' response again centers Peter by telling him to not worry about John -- just do what he is called to do. A list of one, "Feed my sheep." In other words, "Peter, take care of people and don't worry about what others are doing."

Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at

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