Doing vs. Being

Ecclesiastes 2:11; 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16

My high school graduating class had its thirtieth anniversary reunion a number of summers ago. I’m sure they had a ball. A blast would better describe it, knowing that crowd. You gotta understand the east side of Houston back in the 1950s to have some idea of that explosive student body . . . a couple of thousand strong and a lot of ’em mean as a junkyard dog with a nail in his paw.

Since I wasn’t able to attend the reunion, I decided to blow the dust off my yearbook and stroll down nostalgia lane. Faces aroused smiles and stories as one memory after another washed over me. Funny, I remembered a project we seniors were given before the yearbook went to press back in ’52. We were asked to think about the next twenty years and answer, “What do I want to do?” The plan was to record our dreams and goals in the yearbook, then evaluate them when we met again at each subsequent reunion . . . you know, sort of a decade-by-decade checkup. Some of the goals are not fitting to repeat, but some are both interesting and revealing.

Several said: “Make a million bucks.”


  • “Win all-American honors and play professional football.”
  • “Be the concertmaster of a symphony orchestra.”
  • “Finish medical school and have a practice in Honolulu.”
  • “Become the world heavyweight boxing champion.”
  • “Make a living writing short stories, plays, and novels.”
  • “Travel abroad as a news correspondent.”
  • “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”

All sorts of goals. Some admirable, some questionable, some crazy, a few stupid.

Without wanting to sound needlessly critical, as I look back over three decades, I think we were asked to answer the wrong question. What we want to do is not nearly as important as what we want to be. And the longer I live the more significant that becomes. It’s possible to do lots of things yet be zilch as a person.

Doing is usually connected with a vocation or career, how we make a living. Being is much deeper. It relates to character, who we are, and how we make a life. Doing is tied in closely with activity, accomplishments, and tangible things—like salary, prestige, involvements, roles, and trophies. Being, on the other hand, has more to do with intangibles, the kind of people we become down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards. But of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time. It may take half a lifetime to perfect . . . but hands down, it’s far more valuable. And lasting. And inspiring.

Remember those familiar words from Colossians 3? Twice we read, “Whatever you do . . . whatever you do . . .” (Colossians 3:17, 23). It’s almost as if the Lord is saying, “Makes no difference what it is, whatever you do . . . ” But then He immediately addresses things that have to do with being. Like being thankful, being considerate, being obedient, being sincere, being diligent. Same pattern—God emphasizes being more than doing.

So then, are you giving thought these days to things that count? I hope so. Goal-setting and achieving are important, especially if we are in need of being motivated. Moving in the right direction is a great way to break the mold of mediocrity. It’s helpful to ask, “What do I want to do?”

But while you’re at it, take a deeper look inside. Ask yourself the harder question, “What do I want to be?” Then listen to your heart . . . your inner spirit. True treasures will emerge. Pick one or two to start with. Don’t tell anybody, just concentrate some time and attention on that particular target. Watch God work. It will amaze you how He arranges circumstances so that the very target you and He decided on will begin to take shape within you. Sometimes it will be painful; other times, sheer joy. It won’t happen overnight, but that’s a major difference between doing and being. One may take only twenty years; the other, the better part of your lifetime.

One can be recorded in a yearbook and is easily forgotten; but the other requires a lifebook, which is on display forever.

Taken from Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 1983, 1994, 2007 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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Accuracy, clarity, and practicality all describe the Bible-teaching ministry of Charles R. Swindoll. Chuck is the chairman of the board at Insight for Living and the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chuck also serves as the senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, where he is able to do what he loves most—teach the Bible to willing hearts. His focus on practical Bible application has been heard on the Insight for Living radio broadcast since 1979.