Thursday, February 2, 2017

An anatomy of motivation

There are two overall but opposite approaches we observe in scripture regarding our motivation to obedience. All underlying forms of motivation fall under these two. These two broader areas are...

·        positive motivation
·        negative motivation

There seems to be indication that at a minimum we are to be moved initially on the path of obedience by the negative (which results in a positive outcome). As we mature the positive elements to motivation become increasingly greater and the preferred (and ultimate/highest) form of motivation. However since the negative appears to be where scripture starts we will look at this first.  

Pro 1:7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (wisdom, true understanding). We could say it's the foundation on which all other knowledge and true wisdom is built. It is the starting point (though not the ending) for living obediently.

Why? Because any true movement towards God must start with the recognition that he is the God of great glory/worth and that all things come from him and belong to him. Therefore we answer to him on how we conduct our lives. If we act contrary to who he is and how he designed us, there are always consequences. In short we are to respect (fear) he is God, we are not. 

But how does God use fear? As we dig further in to the context of  Prov 1 we see consequences for living contrary to God's will, direction, commands, fill in the meaning and basis for this fear.

To say it another way, there is a good way to live and a way that is harmful. To ignore this basic reality has consequences. To respect this is to have a healthy fear of acting contrary to God's expressed (spoken) will and our design. Ultimately this is a respect for God and that there are consequences for violating his design/will/word.  

There are consequences because we live in a world of design and purpose. We see evidence of this daily in simple things like, stop breathing and you die. Cut off your arm and you bleed to death and so on. Just as there are physical consequences for violating God's design, there are spiritual and moral consequences as well. To go contrary to these basic realities is to violate ours and the worlds design. The reality of what is. 

The spiritual, emotional and psychological world have a design that is equally consistent and predictable. 

And there is design simply because there is a designer. So living contrary to our design is indirectly living contrary to the will of the designer. To respect or fear this reality is wise and ultimately a respect/fear of God i.e. the fear of the Lord (the designer of all things) is the beginning of knowledge.

In chapter one of Proverbs, Solomon goes on to lay out why we should follow God's instruction and if we do not what the consequences will be e.g. terror, calamity, distress and anguish in verse 27. Destruction, dread and disaster in verse 32 and 33.  Whereas on the flip side verse 33 also promises security and ease if we follow his instructions.

All of this based on not recognizing truth and not choosing "the fear of the LORD" in verse 29.

(It's also worth noting that LORD means self sufficient one. He is the "I AM" who needs no one. We need him)

Pro 1:27  when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
Pro 1:28  Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Pro 1:29  Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
Pro 1:30  would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,
Pro 1:31  therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.
Pro 1:32  For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
Pro 1:33  but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster."

Click here if you wish to see the entire chapter.

So again, we can see from the above, a central element of fear is knowing their are consequences  for violating God's design/will. We also see this in Heb 11:7 

"By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."

Noah built the ark because he feared he and his household would drown if they did not i.e. he believed (had faith in) God's warning. His taking action on God's warning was an indictment on the rest of mankind for not taking action. 

The role of trust/faith

This foundational motive is acting out of respect (fear) for God. To say it another way, if he says it, don't question it; it's true. A key element of this fear is trust. If we don't believe/trust the one that warns us of harm, we will not heed their warning.

If Noah didn't believe God was someone of his word he wouldn't have heeded his warning and built the ark.

And in reality many "obey" this truth on a regular basis whether they believe in God or not. We have simply learned (come to believe/trust) that if you go contrary to certain "baked in" rules you will incur harm to yourself or others i.e. if we violate certain principles and step over certain boundaries we suffer harm. So we don't necessary have to trust God, we trust violating or pursuing a certain "law" will always result in the same negative outcome. We are smart enough to recognize there is design even if we don't acknowledge the Designer. To use a biblical expression, we have come to understand we reap what we sow. This too is why I think this fear is the beginning of knowledge, since even unbelievers recognize this on some kind of basic level.  

Until higher motivations are developed we act by faith out of respect for God or at least "belief" and respect (fear) for the consequences of acting contrary to the design we see all around us and in us. This is an action that is often absent any feelings (except the fear itself) or affections for God, but simply action out of respectful or reverential trust that to go contrary to design causes harm/pain etc. 

If all we have is trust and there is no felt love and affections for God then we are still to act and will still experience the consequences of not acting or the benefits of acting regardless of how we feel. Obedient faith is not contingent on feelings but on confidence in the faithful character of God (or at least his law if we are believers or given observable "laws of nature" if we are not).

So what must we believe about God in order to act?

What exactly is it we respect regarding God? That he is all wise, powerful (can and will do what he says) and loving, in his being and the directions he gives us. Because he is, he knows there are negative consequences for going contrary to his loving design that are harmful for us. 

*Sometimes God in his mercy suspends the normal consequences of violating his design. When does this occur? When we truly and genuinely see the foolishness of going contrary to his design before the full consequences occur. The desired outcome of the consequences (i.e. repentance) has already occurred so that the full consequences are no longer needed.

More than fear

However for a believer there is additional, higher elements to obedience (aligning ourselves with God's design); the positive ones I alluded to in the beginning.

I say higher because fear of consequences only involves saving our own neck. These other and higher motivations however involve the benefit of another.

What are these higher motivations? They are love and a desire to honor God.

I propose that honor is the highest and ultimate motivation. It is the most mature kind of motivation as it's solely focused on the benefit of another instead of solely our own. It will even move us to sacrifice our own benefit for another. And that in great part because we come to see all we have and are, comes from the one we desire to honor.  

And in fact we draw our truest sense of value from displaying the value of another i.e. God, the most valuable and honorable of all. So our honoring God actually does benefit us, but not as an exclusively isolated benefit. It is tied to the benefit of others and only comes about as the fruit of focusing on honoring another. 

It is the place we come to when we are so certain he only has our best interests at heart (only allows things that are for us not against us) we no longer need to concern ourselves with that best interest.  We are so trusting of  God's love, goodness, wisdom and ability to bring about what is best (not necessarily easiest, most comfortable or most reasonable [to us anyway]), we only desire his honor (a place I do not consistently live in by the way, but see it more and more as a part of my motivation). 

In short we are so convinced he's working in our best interest, we no longer give thought to it or feel to need to ensure it. We are convinced God "has our back" and we have no need to concern ourselves with our own welfare.

We may relate to God solely out of respect in the beginning but as we mature our affections for God grow as our awareness of the full extent of God's love for us increases. This results in ever increasing trust in God. As our relationship matures it blossoms ultimately into honor/respect for God springing out of these affections of love and delight (pleasure) in God.

To come to the place we are moved by God to obedience (faithfulness) out of this ultimate higher motivation of a desire to honor God goes as follows...

* a strong desire to honor God (our highest and best end and the ultimate end where God seeks to bring us), 
* out of a deep love and trust in and for him, 
* because of a clear understanding of his sacrificial love for us
* demonstrated in giving us his son Jesus i.e. we love him because he first loved us.
When someone sees us as we truly are in all our brokenness and still:
·        Does for us what is required of us and from us (because this is who we were created to be), ...totally providing remedy for our brokenness (because we have not and can not do it ourselves), how can we not love them in return?
·        Pursues, receives and embraces us fully, how can we not trust them?
·       Treats us with great value and honor, how can we not value and honor them in return?
The more we understand Gods great and personal love for us in and through Christ, the more we trust him and are moved to faithfully follow his directions i.e. obey.

(But lack of affections does not mean you should not act. We act by faith anyway if only out of fear/reverence for God.

When we act by faith without feelings we also act in the confidence that this both honors God and is in our best interest)

Stated simply, the primary motives for obedience after and beyond fear and pointing to the ultimate motivation of honor are 

* love
* trust
* honor

So the lists of all forms of motivation started from the most basic to the highest are:

* fear
* love
* trust
* honor

Whether we are mature followers of Christ or new followers, all of these come into play. But as we mature it appears we move more and more to honor as the dominant motivation and the one we ultimately should seek. 

But what about hope?

From scripture we get the sense that hope is not so much a motivator as it is a sustainer i.e. something that keeps us from giving up on faithfulness (obedience). Hope seems to go hand in hand with faith, but is not itself faith but more the objective of that faith i.e. that thing we believe we will obtain but do not yet have. So you could say it's a support to or element of our faithful obedience more than a cause of it. 

Hope is more a confidence that what is promised to happen, will actually happen. A sure hope is a confidence in an objective certainty that is not yet a subjective experience or reality. 

Heb 11:1

(AMP)  NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. 

(DRB)  Now, faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. 

(ERV)  Faith is what makes real the things we hope for. It is proof of what we cannot see. 

(ESV)  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

(GNB)  To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. 

(KJV)  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

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Grace to you
Jim Deal