Mishandled – An Introduction III “The Action Over Motivation Principle”

Isaiah aptly warns of us of the the Word of the Lord in Isaiah 29:13.

“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.”

As we begin to understand some of the areas where we have ‘mishandled‘ teaching the next generation, we must further examine what it is we are passing down to them. In my first introduction to this topic I introduced an illustration that summarized the three generational rule…

First Generation > Second Generation > Third Generation
Motivation + Action > Actions + Responsibility > Confusion + Rebellion

In this example we worked out that there is an inherent problem I call the ‘Action over Motivation principle’. This principle explores the innate human tendency to hold the actions of men to a higher degree than their motivation. Though I doubt anyone would suggest that actions are better without proper motivation, they might conclude that some actions are necessary whether properly motivated or not. This tends to be a predominate thought for several reasons: actions are easier to pass down, actions require less explanation, actions show automatic and traceable results, etc. However, the problems that result out of passing down actions over motivation have drastic affects.

The natural inclination of human nature, when motivation is neglected, is the hopeless effort by man to enforce rules and regulations. When actions replace motivation, they become empty and do not please God. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are more inclined, by nature, to appeal to actions over desire. As a result, we need to constantly challenge ourselves to search out our proper motivation and find ways to cultivate it.

For anyone who is attempting to teach someone else, what you’re looking to get out of them are appropriate responses. These are actions. We want to motivate others to right actions, but we don’t want to simply right out a recipe for spirituality that anyone can learn to fake. Still, actions are the tangible results we are looking to accomplish, but this cannot bypass motivation and still be considered a success.

To be completely honest, appropriate actions are not universal. There are very few things that we hold to that are genuine imperatives in Scripture. If the things we’re tying to pass down to the next generation were really that important, they would have been recorded, black and white, in God’s Word. What we are left with, however, is a process of working out our salvation that will inevitably lead Christians of all types into different positions in life.

For the sake of continuity, I’m going to use ‘going to church’ as the proper action for this study. This is a appropriate action that we should be concerned about being passed down to the next generation. This is not only a conviction, but also an imperative from Scripture, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25) However, it can be taught in such a way that it actually works against itself. It’s possible if a child is forced to go to church that they will build up a wall of resistance to the Church and it’s teaching. This hardening of heart might be worse than if the kid had never set foot in a church.

There is a parameter that needs to be discussed here because there are some things in life that should just be obeyed without explanation. Looking both ways before you cross the street doesn’t need proper motivation. It just needs to be done.  For a child in the early development years, when everything is black and white, not everything needs to be explained to them, but when they are old enough to ask that annoying question, “Why?” you should probably have an answer for the things that are really important.

The reason we go to church should be motivated by a desire to seek and please God. Unfortunately, some parents don’t have that motivation themselves so they can’t pass it down to their children either. We need to first examine our own hearts and see if we are properly motivated to do what God has called us to do, or if we are simply acting out of obligation or the fear of man. I honestly believe that if a parent has earnest devotion to seek the LORD they will be able to demonstrate to their children proper motivation. Any other motivation than seeking the LORD is lying to the Holy Spirit, which killed Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5.

When a child is young, they can’t really process this large of a concept. There is a distinct age, however, when a child changes from being a concrete thinker to being able to handle abstract concepts. I don’t think there is a universal age, but once you start to notice a child is developing thoughtful questions and responses, it’s time to start cultivating motivation. I would go as far as to say, if a child is old enough to be left home alone when you go out, then the child is old enough to decide if they want to go to church. Some people will challenge this point and I can understand why. Parents want their children to sit under the hearing of the Word and children aren’t allowed to just drop out of school at the age of 12, so why would anyone let them decide to skip church? This is a bigger question than I can answer here, but if you’d like to comment on it, I’ll carry out a dialogue. I’ve already stated that passing down actions over motivation has drastic consequences. I further noted that going to church needs to be motivated by a desire to seek and please God. If a child is old enough to start thinking abstractly, giving them the opportunity to test their faith could prevent them from learning how to pretend they’re Christians, or worse, cultivate an aversion toward Christianity.

I once asked a group of teens this question. “If you were 21 and living on your own, what would you do on Sunday morning?” Some of them were frank and honest, “Sleep in!” One said she’d go to church, but only time will tell where these kids will really end up. Based on statistics, most of them will have abandoned the church by the time they graduate. Needless to say, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at passing down motivation to the next generation.

What we’ve tried to do is marinade our youth in the Word of God, hoping that if we surround them with Christian influences, they will want to love God. Instead, what we’ve produced are a bunch of people who know how to pretend to be Christians and a large majority of people leaving the church altogether. As long as we continue to emphasize action over motivation, we will continue to fill our churches with empty seats and empty people.

One thing that the next generation is looking for is authenticity. If we will work out our own salvation with fear and trembling as the Bible implores us to, we will be able to show them the authenticity to our faith and provide them with a sincere example of motivation. Let’s pray that we might exercise conduct worthy of the gospel in such a way to stand as a testimony of our faith and direct the next generation to seek the LORD as well.

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

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3 Responses to Mishandled – An Introduction III “The Action Over Motivation Principle”

  1. Brandon Leonard says:

    I believe I understand your argument, Adam. To put it simply, actions without proper motivation are dangerous and hurt more than help.

    But how do we explain our humanity in that our motivation rises and falls like the ocean’s waves?

    As an example, I am motivated to go to work because I need money to buy food, clothing, shelter, etc. But sometimes I go to work even when this motivation isn’t enough. Even though work provides me with many good things and I’m grateful for it, I don’t usually want to go.

    Do we refrain from going to church because we aren’t 100 percent motivated by truth, or do we go realizing we won’t always feel motivated to attend but should to please God? Where’s the line? Is it a personal thing? How do we balance it with our natural tendency towards sin?

    • Adam Miller says:

      That is an excellent question, or series of questions. Let me see what I can do to address it.

      The argument is built on expectations of others, not personal expectations. As far as a person goes, we understand the struggle to maintain our own motivation with the peaks and valleys of life. However, each person has a history to reflect on, a relationship to consider, and a purpose to pursue. The psalmist in Psalm 42 reiterates the struggle of trusting God in the midst of circumstances, but he reflects back on history and persists ahead knowing that, though he isn’t motivated, the blessings are in front of him.

      When it comes to going to work and going to Church, the motivation is completely different. Work is something we do out of duty, worship is not. This doesn’t mean that we have to be 100% rightly motivated to go to church on occasion, but if we recognize the attitude is consistently lethargic, then we need to recognize our heart issue and get right with God. Motivation should never be an excuse for the person to not do what God has called them to do. I am well aware of the postmodernist cry for authenticity that suggest just doing nothing until we are moved. This attitude shifts too far away from the problem and creates a problem of itself, that many churches who took that position are starting to realize. An individual needs to acknowledge God and press on despite the doubts, anxiety, fears, and apathy. That’s working out our salvation and earnestly contending for the faith. I may have mentioned this before, but everything surrounding a man is designed by God to bring him to a place of holiness, but there is something inside a man that prevents him from seeing that clearly (human nature/depravity) and therefore the inner man must be constantly challenged and brought to task to transform and renew the heart and mind. A true believer, who is working out their salvation, will learn to recognize and repent when their attitude, desires, and motivation are not in check.

      Here is where the problem comes in. We can’t know anyone else’s heart or mind. Not even by what they say or do. Only God can see the heart and this leaves us in a predicament. Because we are so engrossed with Modernity and the scientific method, we tend to thing that if we test something, prove it to be true, it must be universally true. Therefore, when we miss church on a given Sunday and test our heart to know that it was sin, we automatically assume anyone else who misses a service was sinning as well. What people need to learn to realize is that they are not supposed to worry about anyone else, unless they are doing something blatantly wrong.

      One thing that my role model taught me is the risk of placing spiritual expectations on youth. Let’s face it, we’re more satisfied to see a teen singing special music than to see a teen confess their sin and repent. While we can’t know the heart of either, it’s very likely that the one singing is filled with a sinful motives, while the latter is responding appropriately to the work of the Holy Spirit. My point, and my desire is that we will look deeper and seek to cultivate Biblical convictions and responses to life than simply perpetuate what we have been taught to think about a particular thing. That is the purpose of the ‘Mishandled’ series. I want to address some of the things we have manipulated for the sake of conformity without starting with the emphasis of the gospel to transform from within. Ultimately, what I hope to accomplish is to properly educate youth to think Biblically about life and work out their own salvation rather than tell them what their salvation should look like.

  2. Pingback: Generational Differences | Worthy of the Gospel

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