To Be, or to Do, that is the question

God is speaking to me again—I resist this message—about Being before Doing. I mix them up. I bet you do too. It is so “natural” to work (do) those extra hours in order to feel (be) successful; or to “do” the dishes in order to “be” considered a good spouse.

Scripture doesn’t teach doing first; it teaches being first. We have to BE loved in order to DO love (1 John 4:19).

Despite knowing in my head that I need to “be” accepted first, I tend to believe in my heart that scripture is about my “doing” to get God to like me. It’s easy to read scripture like a Christian Aesop’s Fables, little stories that promote good behavior (doing). In other words, if I do these things I’ll be a good little boy (or girl).

This Aesop’s Fables view of scripture is so ingrained in my heart that any other interpretation of a passage feels heretical. Let’s look, for example, at the parable of the Treasure in a Field.

The treasure in a field

The kingdom of heaven is like great treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matt. 13: 44).

My default interpretation of this parable creates a whirlwind of hope in my heart. It’s Blackbeard’s booty in exchange for my piggy bank. It is the investor’s ultimate fantasy.

It’s something for me to do. All I have to “do” is give up everything.

My problem—and I bet your problem too—is that I need motivation to do anything. The joy of the treasure motivates the man’s “everything must go” garage sale. So what treasure motivates me to “do” the giving up?

My motivation is usually psychological or spiritual. Psychologically, I feel good about myself when I give money to a needy friend; “I’m the kind of guy who is generous.” Spiritually, I feel that God will like me when I befriend (or at least I’m nice to) the man who slanders me behind my back; “I’m the kind of guy who loves his enemies.”

My doing is self-serving. I need to be rid of that self-centered nature in the “doing” that makes me feel good about myself.

But those selfish motivations are what inspire me to give things up. How can I give up the very motivations that empower me to give something up? It’s like emptying my gas tank in order to go to the gas station for a fill-up.

I’m “doing” to “be,” caring for the poor to gain self-respect and loving the gossiper to gain God-respect. These “doings” are the very things that give me a sense of the being. I can’t’ give THEM up.

But what if…

The kingdom of heaven is like—I don’t know about you, but the kingdom of heaven is certainly not “like” how I sell all that I have. At least, I hope not.

But what if the kingdom is like Jesus? Because he is the only person who ever gave up everything, wealth (you know, heaven!), relationships (with his Father), reputation, comfort, career … everything! The kingdom cannot be how we sell everything; it can only be an illustration of how Jesus did.

If Jesus is the one selling everything, then we are his treasure, we are his joy. Hebrews says, “for the joy [that’s us!] set before him,” he gave up … everything (Heb. 12:2).

The bible is filled with these word-pictures of what we mean to God:

  • The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deut.7:6).
  • They shall be Mine, says the Lord, in that day when I make up my jewels. (Mal. 3:17).
  • For the LORD’S portion is his people… (Deut. 32.9).
  • We are the “riches of his glorious inheritance.” Eph. 1:18

Stop for a moment—yeah, right now—look away from the computer, and imagine being the Ultimate Being’s treasured possession (the thing he loves above all other possessions), his jewels, his portion, and his inheritance (the thing he longs to inherit).

It almost feels too good be true that we are his treasuer. Swirl that around in your mouth like a fine wine. Taste his joy in us his treasure. Doesn’t that fill that empty spot?

We are his treasure.

Admit with me, it seems heretical to believe that the Treasure in a Field is a picture of what Jesus did. No! Something inside wants to say the parable is about what I must do. I must deny myself; I must crucify the flesh; I must take up my cross. Me. Me. Me.

When I come to believe that God sees me as his treasure buried in a field (and yes, that treasure sure is buried under a bunch of dirt), then I don’t need to grasp for my self-justification. I already am a treasure and a joy. I don’t need to strive for it. I can “be.”

And now I can safely do

Once my heart believes God’s love for me—his delight and his joy in me—then I can safely give up all else, and now no longer out of selfishness. The joy in my motivation is gratitude and delight in his love. Now I can take up my cross with joy.

Shakespeare wrote, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” He was wrong. Rather, “To Be, or to Do, that is the question.”

I’m learning to “be” his treasure, and therefore I can “do” giving up with joy.

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  • Fred Morton

    Thanks….We need to stay here a while, not just read this and move on!
    Doing first- puts us back under the law much like our Old Testament brothers we like to feel superior to. We are his original thought before anything was created. Christ died before the foundation of the earth was laid. Grace. He has done is it all. Let our doing come from that realization overflowing within us.

    • http://beliefsoftheheart.com Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Fred,
      Indeed, “Let our doing come from that realization overflowing within us.”
      I don’t know about you, but my tendency is to slip back into doing first. I think it comes from an internal need to be significant, and I tend to “do” in order to “be” significant. I need to maintain and intimacy with Christ; maybe more, I need to invest in that intimacy with Christ.

      Thanks

  • Bruce

    Dearest Brother,
    Oh, what an addiction doing is!!! My Dad (earthly) taught me by word and deed that doing was all there was and if I did enough I might get his approval. The hidden side was that when I did more, he raised the bar and I had to do still more to get his approval. I finally gave up trying because I just couldn’t jump high enough to clear his ever rising bar. As an adult, with very little approval from my Dad over all those growing up years, I took up trying again to see if he would approve of me now that I was older. Never happened.
    I got saved along the way as a young teen but the church taught that doing was the way to get approval from my Sunday school teacher, preacher, fellow parishoners, etc. and that only re-enforced the lessons I was taught as a kid by Dad. Educational institutions and society then followed and re-taught the lessons of Dad and the church. My immediate and extended family gave me approval at times, but only if I did.
    In later years I learned that Jesus loves me just as I am; irrespective of my doing. I end up at war inside, listening to all the old tapes vs. Jesus message of being first and doing out of gratitude for Him, His love and His salvation.
    Your message today sends me back to His alter on my knees, asking Him to give me the grace and help to break those old addictions and bask in His approval and not turn my eyes from Him to see if anyone else is approving of me by what I just did.
    Maybe that all sounds like excuse-making but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
    Love and Blessings,
    Bruce :~)
    PS-And thanks for the wonderful teaching; perfectly lined-up with scripture, as usual.

    • http://beliefsoftheheart.com Beliefs of the Heart

      Bruce,

      Calling this “doing” and addiction is exactly right. I think we need to nurture our inner life with Christ; or else our natural external life rears its ugly head and cries out, “Me, me, me.”

      Even Jesus needed to hear, “You are my beloved son, and I delight in you.”

      If he needed this “being” before the “doing” of his earthly ministry, then we need it more!

  • Martha

    I’m reminded of an idea I heard just this week: Working out of rest, not resting from work.

    This in turn brings to mind the passage in Hebrews (somewhere) that implies that the new birth in Christ is the early stage of an eternal Sabbath.

    I need to contemplate this for a while.

    • http://beliefsoftheheart.com Beliefs of the Heart

      Martha,

      Great comment. Until we sense who we are in Christ, we’ll always be working without rest.

      And eternal rest–the eternal Sabbath–comes from a deep heart understood sense of the doing being done.

      Once the “doing is done”–paradoxically–we can begin doing out of rest.

  • Jim McFarland

    Sam,

    Your comments made me wonder how to best repond because I am caught as well in the Be versus Do response.

    It occured to me that perhaps I need assurance of a third ingrediaent. i.e. To Have.

    When I Have assurance of God’s gifting and enabling I am more able to both Be & Do. I particularly struggle with Being & Doing the things a good father would since I had no real role model.

    God has since shown me that he can enables a willing heart to Be & Do the things that don’t come natural or are weak spots in my nature or nuture.

    There IS a certain Joy in seeing God work in me to conform to His desires in spite of my objections or limitations to Be & Do what at times seems impossible.

    Apprecuate your insight as always.

  • http://beliefsoftheheart.com Beliefs of the Heart

    Jim,

    Thanks for this. I agree. Maybe “having” is the ingredient we need first.

    Thanks, I always appreciate your comments and observations.

    Sam

  • http://twitter.com/KAnstaett Kim Anstaett (@KAnstaett)

    Wow Sam….

    this is a thought that has had my head running 100 miles an hour lately and then I come across this post you did.

    I don’t quite know how to respond ….
    I will be re-reading and sitting with this thought for awhile.

    Thank you for posting this!

    • http://beliefsoftheheart.com Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Kim,

      Dare I say it … you’ll be meditating for awhile!

      I encourage you. I’m genuinely finding this an incredible way to find intimacy with Christ; meditating–and imagining–on the words of Christ WITH Christ. It’s not only asking God for things, though it is that; it’s not just thanking God for things, though it is that; it’s not just praising God for things, though it is that too.

      It is a personal sharing, intimacy, with God, about dreams, understanding his Word, seeing ourselves in his word pictures.

      Frankly, it’s great!

      Thanks for your comments.