Motivations can be subtle. I’ve done things in selfish ways without realizing that I was looking for personal gain. Sometimes the lights come on afterward — when no one thanked me and I pout, showing me that being recognized and applauded took the upper hand over simple kindness. Sometimes the pastor brings a sermon that exposes selfish motives. Sometimes I realize I have them when I hear the confession of others with the same problems.
Christians know that only by the power of God can we overcome our selfishness, but waiting for Him to zap us into compliance is not the answer. Paul says that doing things selflessly is a choice . . .
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:2–5)
Choosing the power of God that was displayed in the death of Jesus Christ takes some forethought. That choice needs a deep realization that evil was most demonstrated at the slaying of pure innocence, but evil was also conquered by the same event. That is, the worst event in the history of redemption was also the pinnacle of redemption. This is the astonishing power of God.
The practical point for Christians is this: God might put us in dire situations and use us in those awful places in a mighty way. In other words, serving Him in total selflessness might not be very comfortable. Not only that, seeing the good He is doing will likely be impossible, as will the ability to willingly remain in that awful place even if we have figured out why He wants us there.
I’ve been involved in a ministry that literally threw me into the place of one of my greatest temptations. How uncomfortable. After weeks of asking God why, and weeks of fear and trembling, He showed me that if I would determine to rely totally on Him, my weakness could be the avenue for His power. Like Paul, I’ve pleaded three times and more about this, but He says to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Because of that, I’ve learned to cling to Him. He teaches us to live in this world and resist all temptation to do anything selfish, but the only way is by trusting Him all the time. I’ve not yet been able to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses” or be “content with weaknesses” but He shows me that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8–10). He uses tough challenges like that one to keep my focus where it ought to be.
Today’s devotional reading talks about the subtle nature of motivation in doing any ministry of obedience to God. I can start thinking that my written or verbal presentation of the truth has to be perfect so God can use me, instead of having confidence in the power of the truth. The difference sounds slight, but one relies on God and the other on me.
Relying on God needs to be a daily thing, an all-the-time thing. That trust cannot shift to the way things are going either. If I teach a study, or visit a needy person, or have folks over for dinner, and my teaching or talking don’t go as well as I’d hoped, then what? If I burn the soup or put too much spice in the dessert, will I consider the entire thing a disaster?
If I go into anything relying on my performance and thinking more about myself than about those I serve, then bad experiences would certainly mean failure, at least in my eyes. Yet consider this: if my friends need assurance that failure isn’t the end of the world, God could be giving me an opportunity to show them that.
Of course, the right motivation is to trust God with all things. As I rely on Him and the power of the Holy Spirit, He can do great things with whatever happens, clarity and excellence, or burned soup. Faith is only as good as what it is rooted in, and if it is rooted in experiences, all kinds of silly stuff can upset my faith. But if it is rooted in Almighty God and His great power to create something out of nothing and to use all things for good, then I am secure. Feeling weak is not a bad thing if it keeps me in close relationship with Jesus, and keeps my motivations solidly in Him instead of shakily in me.