“Why did I do that?” Ever ask yourself that question? Ever have a hard time answering it? Last week I began a discussion about motives. Why do our motives matter? They matter because why we do what we do has a profound impact on us, on others, and on our relationship with God. The Bible often addresses our motives telling us, for example, “love must be sincere (Rom. 12:9)” or “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 2:3).” God wants us to do the right things for the right reasons.
The challenge, which I discussed last week, is that our motives are often hard to discern. We usually have more than one reason behind what we’re doing. I may, for instance, be kind to you because I care about you, but also because I want you to like me. Last week, I spent some time offering suggestions as to how we can become more aware of our motives. These included: filling our hearts with Scripture, listening to the Holy Spirit, paying attention to our own responses, letting others critique us, studying motives in general, and learning to discern our dominant motive in each situation.
I ran out of time and left one question unaddressed which I will discuss today. If our motives are hard to discern and hard to control, is there anything we can do about them? This leads to my last question:
How can I move my motives in godly directions?
1. I start moving my motives in godly directions by recognizing my limitations
As I’ve already implied, discerning my motivation is like trying to spot minnows flitting inthe depths of a murky lake. Often, the best we can get is a hint; a sense. If I don’t feel warm toward someone, for example, does that mean I don’t care about them? Not only is it difficult to recognize our motivations, it’s also hard to change them. If, for instance, I feel no interest in spending time alone with God and I do it anyway, does it still count? If I’m jealous how do I become unjealous? This leads to the next observation:
2. I move my motives in godly directions when I choose actions/thoughts which reinforce the motives I seek to possess
We don’t have a lot of direct control over our motives, but by choosing actions and thoughts which support good motives we can indirectly influence our motives. We can move bad motives toward extinction, maintain already existing good motives, and develop new, better motives by these acts of our will (with God’s help). Please take note of the last phrase “acts of our will”. Too often we try to change our motives by changing our emotions. Good luck with that. Emotions are notoriously hard to control and, as mentioned earlier, are also hard to interpret.
Our wills, however, can be controlled. We can weaken bad motives by confessing them and refusing to rehearse them (“Lord, I want others to dislike this person. That’s wrong. I confess it and reject it.”).We can choose to think and to act in loving ways despite our emotions (“I’m going to listen to this other person talk about their problems even though I don’t feel like doing it.”). Or we can spend our time in positive ways which reinforce motives we want to develop (“I’ll volunteer for that Big Brother program.”) . When we do this, often, our deeper heart attitudes begin to shift and with them our motivations.
3. I move my motives in godly directions when I feed my base of motivation with rich, spiritual food
The best way to help God in changing my motives is to drink deeply of His love and truth. Spend regular time in His presence – worshiping, sharing your concerns and thoughts, meditating on His Word. Converse withHim throughout the day. Spend time with godly brothers and sisters who model mature motives. You will find your motivations slowly, organically, shifting toward Christ-likeness.
4. I move my motives in godly directions when I minimize toxic input
While I’m not suggesting that we distance ourselves from sinners (Christian or non-Christian), I do believe that we have to be careful how much time and influence we give to those with questionable motives. Jealous people can feed our jealous tendencies. Grumblers can cause us to grumble. Selfishness too can be infectious. And there’s a lot of garbage in the media which feeds our baser motives. By all means, love all sorts of people, but know your limits. Some folks drag us down and bring out the worst in us. Limit your time with them, or at least try to exert a positive influence over your interactions.
5. I move my motives in godly directions when I make God’s priorities my priorities
The most powerful insight I’ve gained from writing this series has been that what matters most is our dominant motive. The dominant motive is the one that is ultimately in control; the one that makes the final decision about how I will choose to think or to act. If my dominant motive is to please God and to do His will, then the rest of my motives will usually fall into line. This gives me freedom to be human; to have a range of personal needs and desires and still be godly. I may want to be successful in my career, for example. That’s a legitimate motive. Or I may want my spouse to love me. That too is legitimate. The problem with these occurs when they become the dominant motive; when success at work, or the love of my spouse is more important than pleasing God. That’s when things get out of whack. Matthew 6:33 tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”. God’s priorities will guide us in our other motivations and keep them in their healthy boundaries.
6. I move my motives in godly directions when I lean hard on God to influence them
This truth has really given me freedom. Motives are such slippery things – hard to detect and even harder to change. I’ve learned to hand my heart over to God. Often I’ll just say: “God, please make my heart right. Whatever you want me to be, make me into that.” Then I hand it to Him and walk away. Over time, He has honored that request; slowly but surely rewiring my sinful, surly spirit; giving me new instincts and responses. It’s fun to watch. God is faithful.
As we yield our deepest motivations to the Spirit, He, like a master cabinetmaker, slowly transforms them into a work of holy art, until the invisible beauty inside flows into visible beauty outside and the world can see that Christ truly lives in us.