“To-Do” List or “To-Be” List?

By Chip Ingram

When I was in my third year of seminary, I was living life at a crazy pace. I was up at 4 a.m. studying, then I’d go to my full-time job at the church, and then to class. Afterward, I’d go home and try to be a good dad and a good husband, and then do it all over again. It was nuts!

But one of the highlights of my week was when a group of students and I would get together with our professor, Howard Hendricks, over lunch. I’ll never forget the day when he turned to us and said, “Men, the problem with your lives is that you have too much on your ‘To-Do’ list, and not enough on your ‘To-Be’ list!”

“What do you mean by a ‘To-Be’ list?” I asked.

“Look, you will never get all your ‘to-dos’ done,” he said. “But your life isn’t based on your performance. So instead of focusing on all the things that you have to do, you need to get very clear about who you want to be. Ask yourself, who do I want to become?”

That day, I realized I could either keep living this crazy life where I wasn’t quite the husband I needed to be, and where I wasn’t getting enough sleep and working out. Or I could begin living like the person I’d rather be instead.

I remember leaving seminary and driving to Dairy Queen where I wrote down on a napkin: “I want to be a man of God. I want to be a great husband. I want to be a great dad. I want to be a great friend. I want to be a great pastor. And I want to be someone who takes care of my body.”

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I can’t tell you that everything overnight got way better. In fact, most of the things that I wrote down on my “to-be” list didn’t happen for a long time.

Then, ten years into my marriage, I remember thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe it could get this good!”

And then, twenty years into my relationship with my kids, I remember thinking,“I said ‘no’ to this and to that so we could eat together every night as a family. It was difficult but so worth it because now I’ve got grown kids who love God and have a relationship with me.”

Most of our culture tells us: Do as little as possible to get as much as possible for the greatest income possible. We apply this to our relationships, too.

But if we want true, lasting change, it takes our effort, focus, and time.

Just like when we begin exercising, we don’t see results right away. We don’t build muscle overnight. Similarly, personal transformation takes diligent “training.” It takes our time and energy on a daily basis.

The changes that I wanted in my life happened because of God doing a work in me, but also because of my diligent “training.”

In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul describes this training process. He commands us: …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil 2:12-13)

For change to occur, there’s God’s part, and there’s our part.

Later, in Ephesians he writes: Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28)

He’s saying, “Stop stealing.” In other words, stop taking shortcuts. Rather, recognize the value and the purpose of work. It’s not about just meeting your own needs. It’s about meeting the needs of real people.

To become who we – and God – wants us to be, we need to depend on God’s grace, yet make every effort to be diligent, work hard, and refuse to take shortcuts.

So what about you? Do you know what kind of person you want to become? Take a few moments today and create your “to-be” list. Then ask God to help you to stay diligent in the process.

To learn more about how to have real life change and how to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ, check out more of Chip’s spiritual growth resources.

Written By

Chip Ingram

Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge

Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.

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