It isn’t unusual for me to ask someone in the church to do a particular job or ministry. I almost always ask them to not give me an answer right away but to think and pray about it. Most of the time, I get a pretty straightforward answer, either yes or no. Every once in a while I get a “yes” only to discover down the road into the project or ministry that nothing is really being done. It is at such times that I begin to question the motivation behind the initial “yes” to my request to serve. This gets at what the real motivation is behind what we do or don’t do.
We all have times of not feeling like doing something. That is completely normal. But if we have a habit of never saying “no” and always saying “yes” then resenting that we are not getting enough appreciation or acknowledgment for our service, we have a real problem. This gets at the heart of what really motivates us. It was Jesus who said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). If we say “yes” knowing in the back of our minds that we don’t really want to do it, then this does not come from a place of spiritual health.
If we simply comply with what others expect of us, fearing what they will think of us, or too afraid to say “no” we are being externally motivated and it will not last. What is more, someone might ask with a manipulative tone and try and guilt us into serving and/or doing what they want us to do. If we acquiesce to this, we are being pressed into an external motivation which will also not stand up both in this life and in the life to come.
Saying “yes” really ought to come from an internal place. Plenty of people do things because of external controls – the possibility of some reward if they succeed or some punishment if they do not. Either we do things to please ourselves and God, or we do things to please another person. It doesn’t take a genius to discern which approach is going to produce the better results. The Pharisees are the biblical Exhibit A of externally motivated people. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them,” exhorted Jesus. “If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Instead, we simply ask and seek, love and serve, and find that God notices and responds (Matthew 7:7-8).
Holy Scripture, common sense, and contemporary research all agree: external motivation is more likely to create conditions of compliance and/or defiance, whereas internal motivation will keep a person working and serving even if there is no immediate outside reward. Externally motivated people only serve when the rewards and punishments are in place – once they are taken away, there is no service. This is the very opposite of a life centered in and motivated by grace, which is why it is so heinous in the view of Jesus.
Gracious and exemplary church servants and leaders have a passion for something other than their own recognition and fame. They care about making a difference for God. They deeply desire to give back something for the gracious and costly gift of salvation and new life given to them through Jesus Christ. They really don’t care who gets the credit as long as God is glorified, the church is edified, and people come to know Jesus.
So, what motivates us is quite important because it demonstrates the true state of our hearts and makes all the difference in how things get done in the church. This is why the Apostle Peter said, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, be because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). May Peter’s tribe increase!