Recently, I am reminded of the power of motivation when my 3½ year old daughter, Sophia willingly agreed to go for swimming lessons with one of our friends. For someone who does not enjoy having water go into her eyes during bath-time, this is a welcomed breakthrough. And the reason behind this breakthrough, believe it or not – dolphins. More specifically, the prospect of being able to come up-close and swim with those dolphins in the S.E.A. Aquarium.
Whether we are an adult or a child, there is no doubt that our motivation determines how much we are willing to do something. And if we consider the idiom, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink”, we can understand why organisations, schools, parents and others flock to motivational speakers despite having to pay a premium for their seminars. After all, if an employee, a student or a child is inspired after the talks and can overcome their inertia or “underachieving”, it would seem that half the battle is won.
In the Reformed tradition, we understand that even our coming to God in repentance and faith is a gracious gift from God (Eph 2:8-10). But now that we identify ourselves as Christians, we want to consider what helps to motivate us to obey God. And for some, we may even need to search our hearts and be honest about whether we are truly motivated to obey God.
Hopefully, fear is not the primary motivation that governs the way we live our lives and how we relate with God. In the first place, fear is a poor motivator since on its own, it will only reduce our obedience to God to mere drudgery. Just think about it for a moment. How healthy do you think is a relationship and how long do you think this relationship will last if it is built upon fear, a fear of the pain that this person will inflict upon you when you make a mistake, say something hurtful or go against his wishes. Unfortunately, some Christians have a distorted understanding of God as the Ogre in the sky and this has perhaps hindered them from experiencing the joy of following Christ.
While the Bible does talk about walking in the fear of God (Deut 8:6, Eccl 12:13-14), this fear is to be properly rooted in the acknowledgement that only a holy and just God alone has the right to hold us accountable to how we live our lives. Instead of fearing what Man, the world or Satan can do to us, Christians are called to fear God. This is because when we learn to fear God, we are less likely to compromise, cave in to our sinful nature and give ourselves over to the pursuit of selfish pleasures.
Furthermore, just as caning as a means of discipline will no longer be effective for a child who has developed a callus and has trained himself to resist the pain, the threat of eternal condemnation will hardly be intimidating if someone’s heart is hardened and unregenerate. In the book of Revelation, we see that despite the outpouring of God’s wrath, there were those continued to resist God to their own peril (Rev 9:20-21, 16:9-11).
Undoubtedly, love is a far more powerful motivator. In 1 John 4:18, the Apostle John assured the believers that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear” (I John 4:18). He understood that the only way love for God could be created in us was through a grasp of God’s prior and perfect love towards us. When we understand that those times when we failed God does not faze God one bit, a born-again believer will only grow in his desire to obey God instead of persisting in disobedience. Indeed, God’s love has this supernatural ability to transform us and enable us to love God in response.
If we desire to cultivate a love that motivates obedience, we must learn to focus more on God’s love towards us rather than our love for him, more about God’s faithfulness and love than on ours. On the contrary, when we merely focus on ourselves, on our success or failure to obey God, we are likely be overwhelmed by guilt or puffed up with pride. Understandably, neither of these will serve to deepen our love for God and motivate us to obey Him.
For Sophia, there is something so attractive about dolphins that motivated her to learn swimming. For us, what would it be about God that will spur us to love Him more and more until the day He calls us home?
November 24, 2013