I love getting things done. I feel accomplished checking off boxes on my to-do list. I’m satisfied with finishing even small tasks, like washing a few dishes in the sink. There’s something gratifying about laying my head on my pillow, knowing it was a productive day.
Our ideas of a productive day might be different, but it’s undeniable that we, as a culture, love seeing results for our work. We like the politician who promises us they’ll get things done for us; projects and goals are only deemed successful if we achieve the end result; and we go to college so we can get a good paying job that will help us climb the corporate ladder. Nothing is wrong with these scenarios, but they’re all forms of our culture’s tendency to place a greater importance on “doing.”
“So, what do you do?”
When you meet someone for the first time, you might ask them, “So, what do you do?” We tend to identify someone by the things they do. We classify and place value on different occupations, salaries and outward talents and skills. Even our college education system has become more concerned with career goals than about the idea of what an educated person is.
Much of this mentality has to do with the American-grown philosophy of pragmatism. There is a large breadth to this philosophy, but I’m using it in the sense of practicality. To be pragmatic means that the practicality of ideas, policies and proposals is the only criteria of merit and is what makes a principle usable. I’m a practical person, and I know there’s nothing wrong with that, but pragmatism can’t be the only measurement of worth and value that we use.
In The Consequences of Ideas, R.C. Sproul tells a story about attending parents’ night at his daughter’s public school. The principal explained the school’s philosophy of education by detailing the daily schedule. He explained the educational purpose behind every activity, even assembling puzzles. When he asked if anyone had any questions, Sproul asked, “Why did you select the particular purposes you have chosen? What is the ultimate purpose you use to decide which particular purposes you select? In other words, what kind of child are you trying to produce and why?” Sproul sums it up like this, “There were purposes without purpose, truth without truth.”
What’s the purpose behind my doing?
Sproul’s question about his daughter’s education helps us ask ourselves, “What is behind all my ‘doing’?” All the activity, work, lists, all that has to get done must have a greater purpose. Jesus answers this well in Luke 10:38-42 when Martha “was distracted with much serving,” and Jesus tells her that her sister Mary “has chosen the good portion.” Martha was busy with “doing,” while Mary was content with “being.”
By “being,” I don’t mean our culture’s version, which stems more from New Age philosophies. Instead, I’m referring to who God has made us at our very core. He has made us for himself. Mary was keyed into this as she sat at Jesus’ feet. Mary cared more about the kind of person she wanted to be, rather than all the things she had to do. Like Sproul said, all of our purposes need a larger purpose. Mary knew that larger purpose.
In a culture that places a greater emphasis on doing over being, it’s important that we value who we are becoming. All of our doing must flow out of our being in Christ. But we usually care more about the end than the means. The measure of our worth and value must not ultimately be about what we’ve accomplished, but about character, integrity, humility and growth in godliness. God cares about our final end, but he knows the only way we’ll get there is through his means of shaping and molding us into the likeness of Christ.
The means of our work are of utmost importance to God, because it shows the true character of a person. For example, I love getting things done so much that sometimes I’ll get angry at my family if they get in the way, I’ll become anxious like Martha, or I’ll have bad attitudes along the way. I might get everything done, but I’ve shown who I really am in the process and have not glorified God in my work. God uses the means to show us our true selves and our need of him in order to make us who he wants us to be.
In her blog post titled, Doing Vs. Being, in the Huffington Post, Mary Pritchard says this: “Society praises those who do: It’s more about what you accomplish than who you are as a person.” Jesus’ response is, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [accomplishes everything] and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
We can do all we want, even good things, but when we skip over our heart, soul and mind in the process, our actions become worthless. Our “doing” must come out of who we are in Christ. And when this is in place, we can say with the psalmist, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psa. 90:17).
This article originally appeared on ERLC.com, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Used with permission.
Liz Wann is a freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two sons. She is Editor in Chief at MorningbyMorning.org and regularly contributes to Desiring God, Think Christian, and Christ and Pop Culture. You can find more of writing at lizwann.com and follow her on Twitter @liz_wann.
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Publication date: August 10, 2017