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Paralyzed by motives


Questioning of our motives ought never outweigh the command Jesus gives us to love our neighbor.  I love theology, but there are moments when a little common sense trumps the deepest contemplations of the spirit.  Serving the Lord provides us with ample opportunity to face our motives.  The question is how we respond.  I’ve witnessed three approaches in my own life: 1.) Ignore the question completely. While this certainly wins no points for spirituality, you can get a lot done.  2.) Consider the motives, offer them to the Lord, consider how you can purify them and move on to the task at hand. 3.) Wallow in guilt over your shameful motives, label it humility and retreat.  The latter, of course, is the one I find interesting. 

I have no trouble finding myriad examples of this in my own life.  I have been blessed with a delightfully prideful spirit and thus, selfishness preys upon every ambition.  Several times in my life I have arrived at a distinct moment when I had to decide how this would affect my ministry.  Often, this was some form of leadership.  I enjoy leading, but it also brings a huge potential for developing an inflated sense of your self worth.  This, I already had in spades. 

The question was clear.  Should I avoid a leadership position until my motives are purified?  This sounded quite noble at first.  Can you think of a more humble and pious excuse for not serving in ministry?  Ridiculous.  Even the motivation of humility is currupted.  Yet there lies a tendency, both in myself and in fellow Christians, to label certain ambitions as most dangerous.  Pride, glory, legalism, merit, etc.  Yet we cheerfully overlook the more likely motives of fear, laziness and comfort.  

Our motives are not etched in granite.  They are malleable, fluid and highly dependent upon the condition of our heart in any given moment.  Yes, there are long term trends as our motives degrade or purify, but the sin will haunt us until we meet our Lord in heaven.  Something as simple as a conversation, or reading scripture can completely reverse our motives in a matter of seconds.  How frantic would our lives look if we constantly assessed our motives and instantly responded to any changes. 

An example.  Often I arrive at community group in a less than stellar mood.  I’m not sure if the devil carries a daily planner, but if so, Wednesdays at 6:30 are certainly circled in red. I imagine myself gathering the group together after our meal, everyone taking a seat around the living room.  Hey guys, I’m sorry but my heart just isn’t in the right spot and if I lead tonight I may become prideful.  Please go home, we’ll try again next week.  I hope they would ask me never to return. 

Do we not follow a similar route in ministry?  This scene looks ridiculous because it occurs after the leader long ago agreed to lead the group.  Is it much better when we never join the ministry in the first place because we fear ill motives?  Much like pride, I’ve found motives are redeemed not by intense scrutiny, but rather through an intense focus on the Lord.

Oswald Chambers, in his classic My Utmost for His Highest continually returns to the importance of immediacy.  We must learn to place this instant response of hearts upon the revelation of our motives.  And with this, we can joyfully return to the task at hand.  My fear is not that we spend our lives under unredeemed motives.  No, I fear the deep joy we miss when while waiting for the flawless motives reserved for us in heaven.  

We do not grow into a spiritual relationship step by step— we either have a relationship or we do not. God does not continue to cleanse us more and more from sin— “But if we walk in the light,” we are cleansed “from all sin” ( 1 John 1:7  ). It is a matter of obedience, and once we obey, the relationship is instantly perfected. But if we turn away from obedience for even one second, darkness and death are immediately at work again.  —  My Utmost for His Highest, October 10th.


Comment from Melissa McEwen
Time October 24, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Wow! Have I never read that scripture before? I’m sure I have, of course, but it just took on new meaning for my life. I quite enjoyed this one, Jim. I can identify with most of what you said about our motives. I especially enjoyed the comment of malleability. How true, but I have never once thought of motives in that light. In addition, immediacy is essential. Dwelling on how and when the right time will come along and change our motives leaves us open for attack. Focusing our attention on our Father and allowing him to mold us will cleanse our motives and make them His. After all, aren’t His motives what we’re really seeking?

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