“Are we seeking God’s glory or our own? Is it about Him, or mainly about us?” The minister’s words had been ringing in Frank’s ears all week. He’d felt pretty good about his spiritual life before, but now he wasn’t so sure. Was he really seeking God’s glory first, ahead of his own? He certainly enjoyed an occasional compliment or pat on the back. Was that wrong? How could he know whose glory he was seeking first?
This raises a wider question: How do we know any of our motives? Why am I interested in helping a particular person--is it because I really care about them or is it because they have something I want? Why is it so important for me to succeed in business? What’s behind my obsession with weight? Let’s begin by defining “motive”.
What’s a “motive”?
Nevid notes that: "The term motivation refers to factors that activate, direct, and sustain goal-directed behavior... Motives are the "whys" of behavior - the needs or wants that drive behavior and explain what we do. We don't actually observe a motive; rather, we infer that one exists based on the behavior we observe" (Nevid, 2013). ) Another source says: .”Needs and instincts, drives and emotions, and attitudes and ideals are classified as motives” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia,1979).
Why is it so hard to be sure of our own motives?
1. My motives are difficult to detect
As already mentioned motives are invisible. They can also be imperceptible. I honestly don’t know why I do everything I do. As I act, a thought flashes through my mind, an emotion flits past, but what does it all mean?
2. I usually have multiple motives for any particular action or attitude
Some actions are very simply motivated – I’m thirsty so I get a drink of water. I’m tired so I sleep. But most actions/attitudes are more complex. I often sense a cluster of motivations driving me – some good, some bad, and some neutral. For instance, when I’m kind to others I do it because I care about them, but I also do it because I want them to like me, because I want God to be pleased with me, and because it makes me feel good. So which one is my motive?
3. My conscious motive may not be what’s driving me most
This, of course, is what keeps counselors in business. A person’s drive forsuccess at work, for instance, may be more about gaining a sense of self-worth than about making a living. Or, in the case of conflict, a lot of arguments aren’t really so much about the particular issue as about the need to be in control.
4. Satan and sin also deceive me about my motives
One of the Enemy’s strategies is to get us to rationalize about our actions. He ennobles our rebellion and calls it “self-expression”, turns our rationalizing into “open-mindedness” and our selfish ambition into self-actualization. Sin may cause us to focus on a noble surface motivation while ignoring the deeper sinful motivation which may be really driving us ( a lot of affairs start this way-“I just enjoy her friendship”).
Why does it matter if I understand my motivations?
It matters, in general terms, because awareness of my motivations moves me away from just reacting instinctively and allows me to be more thoughtful and deliberate in my actions. It matters also because the Bible has a lot to say about our motivations. It turns out that why we act a certain way is just as important as what we do. Consider these passages:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves“ (Phil. 2:3).
“Love must be sincere. . . “ (Rom. 12:9a).
“Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them . . . “ (Matt. 6:1).
God wants us to do the right things for the right reasons. In other words, He wants us to have the right motive. This leads to our next question:
How can I discern my motives?
1. I discern my motives by filling my heart with Scripture
The Bible does this, first, by teaching us about motives in general. We learn about love and lust, humility and pride and many others. The Bible also teaches us about motives by shining a light in our hearts. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
2. I discern my motives by relying on the Holy Spirit’s prompting
The Spirit is God’s light in our darkened hearts. He convicts of sin (Jn. 16:8). He “searches all things” (1 Cor. 2:10). He can cut through the confusion and the deceptions and show us what He finds. He’s by far the best interpreter of our hearts and motives.
3. I discern my motives by monitoring my responses to situations and to people
This one can be tricky. We are complex creatures. As I mentioned earlier we usually have multiple motives running simultaneously. For example, if I don’t want to get up and read my Bible does that mean that I don’t love God? Not necessarily. A physical motive may also be at play here — my body wants more sleep. Nevertheless, my invisible motives often spring briefly into view through my attitudes and actions. Why am I more excited about serving certain people than others? There are no automatic answers to these questions, but they prompt us to reflection and, perhaps, insight about what’s driving us.
4. I discern my motives through the critique of others
Often those around me detect aspects of my motivation that I have missed. . Others can see patterns that we miss – like how we typically respond in particular situations or toward certain sorts of people. Learning about these patterns can be helpful in understanding our motives.
5. I discern my motives by studying motives
The Bible is our foundation for understanding and evaluating motives, but the Bible doesn’t attempt to explain everything. Good books on psychology can also give us a lot of insight on why we do the things we do. I’ve had a number of “aha” moments over the years as I’ve perused a range of practical books or talked with insightful people.
6. I discern my motives by searching for the dominant motive
I often have multiple motives for my actions or thoughts. The critical question is: which one’s in charge? Which one can trump the others? The answer to this makes all the difference. If, for instance, my dominant motive is to be liked by others, this will lead to problems. It’s hard to maintain a healthy sense of self and of integrity when others have this much power. Furthermore, God gets demoted from His proper place if pleasing Him isn’t at the top of my list. If, on the other hand, I’d enjoy being liked by others, but pleasing God is more important, I will handle the people-pleasing in a more healthy, balanced way. The dominant motive needs to be connected to what’s actually most important; to our highest priority. Most of our motives are fine if they’re kept in their proper place of priority. It’s when they’re improperly elevated that they become a problem.
So how can I change those slippery, shadowy power-brokers called emotions? Tune in next time and we’ll discuss it.