Sustenance for The Spirit
I enjoy a good mystery. I read them, I watch them and I often dissect them. In good crime drama, you can be sure that at some point the “motive” will become an issue. As the detectives gather forensic evidence and begin to make a case for this suspect, or that one, if there is no motive, it’s back to the drawing board. I’m learning to assess motives as I read a mystery, and see if I can put facts together to name the killer before it’s revealed at the suspenseful climax, when all becomes known.
When it comes to motives, there are many possibilities. In the genre of crime novels and mysteries, the characters who are on the solving end of things, will “follow the money,” because evidently, money is a huge motivation for doing bad things. There are other popular motivators, like jealousy, envy, status, anger, family strife, job strife, general strife and any number of rather negative emotions stemming from circumstances where someone became disillusioned, often experiencing loss. When you think about it, we all experience ups and downs, which make us vulnerable to motives stemming from being self-focused rather than neighbor-focused; which is a problem when we read the “love thy neighbor” passages in scripture. Unfortunately, our number one motive as humans, when we really dig into it, is some form of getting what we want.
In Matthew chapter twenty, there is a parable that throws our self-directed motives out the window and explodes them into tiny pieces. The story is about a landowner who pays the same day’s wage amount to the workers that worked all day, as well as to the workers that are hired late in the day and worked only an hour or so. “It’s totally unfair,” is the protest heard by the landowner. He carefully explains that he is giving the amount that was promised to each worker. The landowner can extend grace to whomever, whenever, he wishes. In Matthew 20:16 we read, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (NIV) So, what is our motivation to work hard?
I believe we hold onto the idea that God thinks like we do, which is exactly opposite of truth. We generally think that if we give, we will get. It’s somehow built into us. Maybe it’s cultural, but maybe not. Maybe it’s something we can blame on our parental upbringing, or our teachers or politics. But, the bottom line is that God sees things differently than we do, and to know His will is to get as much into the mind of God as possible. We need to, in some way, recognize the difference between motives wrapped in self and God.
Jesus taught us to love one another. He showed us how to spend time with friends, acquaintances and strangers, teaching them about love. Intimacy is a powerful motivator. We long to be with one another and to know each other on a deeper level. When we accept intimacy as a motivation stemming from God, emulated by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit, it begins to look very different from a worldly view. This is why love is discussed, written about, portrayed in movies and preached about on any given Sunday. We can easily get our motives confused.
I have enjoyed studying the book of Ruth recently, and one aspect of her story that I find particularly compelling is how her actions reflect pure, selfless motives, even though she was not a Jew, and may have only recently come to know God. In fact, Ruth’s homeland of Moab was despised by Jews, and as the story evolves into Boaz caring for, marrying and then redeeming Ruth and the family of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, it is nothing short of miraculous that God uses Ruth to continue the genealogy of Jesus. Yet, again we glimpse God’s grace to a young woman whose heart was in the right place at the right time. But, the Jewish community continually refers to her as “Ruth the Moabitess,” separating her from their chosen-ness so to speak. Ruth’s motivation was to care for Naomi first, before herself. God saw, and he chose, as needed. It’s really pretty simple.
Let’s keep it simple. Let’s do regular motive checks. Let’s read about people like Ruth and the landowner in Matthew twenty, and follow Jesus in scripture, and in life. God’s Spirit helps us, and the closer we keep our hearts turned to His guidance and love, the purer our hearts and minds will be. We get rid of being first or last or anything in between. We don’t care how hard someone else has not worked or what they’ve not done. We recognize those thoughts as weeds not grown from God-seed. We strive to know people on the inside more than their façade or costume. We develop a God-vision as we interact with and view the world around us. Our motives will improve, knowing God better. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8, NIV) Live little for self and lots for God. There’s nothing mysterious about it.
Have a wonderful day!