When I was in college I wrote a paper on goal setting. I did the research and found that setting goals can be extremely motivating. I personally love setting goals and achieving them. I love the thrill of being one task away from reaching a goal, and I love the high of reaching a goal and then immediately setting another goal. For me the forward momentum is contagious; the intrinsic motivation is enough for me to accomplish great things.
At the same time however, I hate not reaching my goals. I feel foolish, undisciplined and lazy. I usually feel so bad when I don't reach a goal that I never want to set another goal and am extremely unmotivated for a period of time. I begin to come down on myself wondering why I ever thought I could achieve the goal I set. I am definitely my worst critic at times. So although I see the value of goal setting for success, I can also see the emotional havoc it can wreak on my life when I fail.
But what about spiritually? What motivates us in this realm? Should we be setting goals of how much good we can do or how many quiet times we should have?
Over the past month in my small group we have been walking through the Sermon on the Mount which has sparked great discussion over the topic of motivation. In chapter 5 Jesus walks through a list of legalistic “don'ts” and addresses them head on. He says, yes, these activities are counter-productive, but the major issue is the heart. As we move into chapter 6 Jesus walks through a list of legalistic “dos” and says again, these are good things, but what drives you to do these “good” things is more important than you doing them.
The list of good things that Jesus addresses in chapter 6 includes giving to the needy, fasting and praying. He tells us in this chapter that if our motivation in doing these three things is to be recognized by men, then when we are recognized we have received our reward in full. However, if we do these things in secret, then we will receive our reward from our Heavenly Father. Now this seems simple enough. And we all know gross examples of people who have been motivated by recognition from men to do good. We also have examples of men and women whose motivation was only to please God in their work. Both those who have been motivated by men and inspired by God have done great things on the earth. So what motivates you?
As I studied goal setting I studied the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a motivation that comes from within. It's a drive from somewhere deep down that keeps you going no matter how the outside circumstances change. Extrinsic motivation is an outside motivation, for instance the candy that was used to bribe us to memorize Scripture that I talked about in this blog last week. As children we weren't as concerned with knowing Scripture for the rest of our lives as we were with getting candy that morning at church. Often times extrinsic motivation does yield better results simply because we have someone else cheering us on to our goal and an outside source of praise when do accomplish our goal. Intrinsic motivation can be less effective because we must be more disciplined on our own to achieve the goal we set. No one is standing on the sidelines cheering us on or waiving some sort of prize across the finish line–all of the motivation must come from within.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says, we must turn away from being extrinsically motivated in our walks with the Lord. We must stop trying to please men and get their attention by the things we do. We must not be motivated by the guilt we will feel if we say “no” to men. Rather Jesus longs for us to be motivated intrinsically by honoring God, doing right out of obedience to the Father and obeying His commands because we love Him. It can be a very real struggle to continually ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What's my motivation? Do I long for the praise of men, or do I desire to please my Father?” If we are honest, we all have areas where we are tempted to do something simply to please men or to be acknowledged by them, but I pray today that you and I will wrestle through this and let our desire to honor our Father trump any motivation to please men.
I'm praying for you…will you pray for me?