Beware: Examine Your Motives

Beware: Examine Your Motives

Beware: Examine Your Motives.

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure – ‘playactors’ I call them – treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matthew 6:1-4, Message).

All those with pure motives, please stand up. Anyone? The truth is, even if we think we have pure motives to do a good act, it’s still somewhat of a guess, because we remain a mystery unto ourselves at that deep a level. Nonetheless, we can do our best by opening our eyes and examining our motives. But only God has the visual acuity to see into the true status of our hearts. “Search me thoroughly, O God, and know my heart! Try me, and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23-24).

As we continue to be aware of our motives as deeply as possible, God will initiate the process and begin revealing to us the reasons we do the things we do. We will gradually be given insight into ourselves as we work on it, as we volunteer to be good in ways that are quiet, in secret even. Purity of heart comes gradually, and this is where God really wants to go to work. God wants to purify our hearts, He wants pure motives for our actions. He wants our hearts to be clean inner reservoirs of unsullied instincts and impulses. He wants us to be wiped clean of hidden agendas and double-mindedness. God wants us to have undivided hearts. He longs to see our motivations become unmixed with our inner vestiges of sinfulness. He wants to witness a pure mountain stream flowing at our deepest level way below the surface, with all the impurities washed away. But God needs our cooperation as we seek that same mountain stream and learn to act accordingly. Truthfully, only God can purify us at that subterranean level in the pursuit of pure motivations. Only the Holy Spirit can take the lead in that process.

What will our cooperation look like as we learn to abandon double-mindedness and pursue pure motives?

Self-Awareness. Be humble and willing to review our motives and think about them honestly;

Low Expectations. Don’t expect to receive anything in return for a good deed done for compassion’s sake;

Deflection. Refer any attention or applause to God. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble and good  deeds, and praise and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, Amplified Bible).

Secretive. Be willing to do a good deed in secret, anonymously, quietly, so the person on the receiving end doesn’t know whom to thank. “Learn to be unknown.” (Thomas A’Kempis).

Confession. When you notice your mixed motive, acknowledge and confess it, and ask God to help you grow in purity of heart.

Practice. Do your best and try in God’s strength to consistently act out of the best of motives. Practice makes perfect.

“There are great dangers in the practice of piety. Nothing is as offensive as people who make a great show of their piety. Jesus never spoke more angrily than when He spoke of these people. He called them hypocrites. The word comes from the stage, where people put on a mask to act a part in a play. Christian behavior can be put on like a mask. It has the immediate effect on the spectators of giving a pleasing impression, and just as at a play, they will often break into applause. But there is no applause in heaven for such people. And there will be no applause for us if we become their understudies and take their place on the contemporary religious stage.” (from a sermon by Eugene Peterson).