A motive is “something that causes a person to act in a certain way or do a certain thing.”
In college, I wanted a body like I saw in magazines. I didn’t want to be skinny. So I lifted weights obsessively and force-fed myself seven times a day, including a 10-egg omelet every morning.
I took supplements and gained 30 pounds. It’s impossible to know what all my motives were, but I know vanity and insecurity often caused me to act a certain way and do certain things. Confession: They still do.
Fear can cause us to act certain ways and do certain things too. Let’s say you think you will be a failure if you don’t get much playing time. So fear becomes a motive to work hard and perform well.
Vanity and insecurities can help us transform our bodies. Fear can help us get playing time. Anxiety can help us get straight A’s. Egoism can help us become successful.
It’s not that those outcomes are bad to achieve. But those noble endeavors are meant to be strived for with depth, security and knowledge, not shallowness, fear and ignorance.
Motives are Complicated
Let’s say you get straight A’s. Should you feel bad because you are talented and driven?
Let’s say you work hard to maintain your starting position. Should you tone down your competitiveness and work ethic so you don’t play as well?
Let’s say you are disciplined with your workouts and what you put in your body. Should you start eating poorly and quit exercising for fear of shallow motives?
The answer is no. But it’s worth asking ourselves why we do what we do. And when we do that, we find motives are complicated.
We might wonder ...
1) Does it really matter what our motives are if the result is the same?
2) There’s no way to parse good and bad motives because they seem intertwined and inseparable, so why try?
3) Over-analyzing our motives can be paralyzing. If we wait until we think we have good motives to do something, we might not do the things we are supposed to do.
4) Since we act subconsciously as well as consciously, it’s hard to tell exactly what causes us to do something.
5) From a psychoanalysis perspective, the ego is responsible for personal identity. Part of what it means to be made in God’s image is to have a heightened sense of self. It can be difficult to tell where that ends and selfishness begins.
6) We might think our interests and desires -- like being fit, getting playing time and good grades -- are automatically shallow, foolish or selfish. That’s not necessarily true. But it might be.
Motives are complicated!
And they matter.
One of the reasons Jesus lived, died, rose and ascended was to put our hearts in the right place. After Jesus’ ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit who changes our motives by making His motives our motives. The Holy Spirit is God’s way of saying 1) Motives matter and 2) I’m here to change yours.
Motives were always important to God.
Sometimes the ancient Israelites did the right things even though their hearts were far from God (as we all likewise do today). That irked Him.
But thankfully, at Pentecost, God moved into us instead of away from us. God puts His Spirit in us and gives us new hearts and minds, and in turn, new motives. These new motives are key markers in those who are citizens of God’s kingdom.
This is proof that God not only wants to change the things we do, but change the reasons why we do things.
New Starting Point
It’s clear. God does not want us to succeed out of anxiety, or work hard because we are insecure. God does not want us to be motivated by shallow things.
He doesn’t want falsehoods to be the reason we do something. He doesn’t want ignorance to cause us to act a certain way. He doesn’t want us to do something because we think we’ll get something in return.
God doesn’t want us to try to prove we are good enough because we don’t believe we are.
All of those motives miss the mark. None of those places are good places to start.
But God put us at a new starting line. At this new starting line we are already secure, worthy, valid, attractive, important and victorious.
We already have enough, and we already are enough. When we start here, our motives will be different. Now we are unbound and free to love God, others and ourselves, for the right reasons.
Action: Become someone who asks yourself why you do what you do.