Week 3: How are you doing?
Are those resolutions still sticking? Starting to wane? Completely abandoned? You know, it doesn’t have to be January 1 to be RESOLVED on growth and life improvement. But whether you are considering making a completely new life-improvement resolution, wanting to stay on track or get back on track with an old one, or just wanting to improve your life in general, you can be RESOLVED. Today we jump into Principle #1: Rewrite your motivation.
For an introduction to this series, click here.
Rewrite Your Motivation
Motivations matter. When our motivations are misplaced, our entire plan will founder. In fact, sometimes our motivations are what scuttle our resolutions from the very beginning. Sadly, if our motivation is unhealthy, then our resolution simply can’t be healthy no matter how good it sounds on paper.
This principle is demonstrated by a story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14.
The Pharisee’s Unhealthy Motivation
To Jesus’s audience, the Pharisees represented a very religious, very righteous group of people intent on maintaining God’s rules and regulations to the very jot and tittle of what His Law prescribed. For Jesus’s audience, it was hard to imagine anyone more likely to be justified (declared innocent) by God.
Listen to his prayer and see if you can sense his motivation:
God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
The Pharisee’s goal is justification, but his motivation is superiority. “I thank you that I am not like other men.” His motivation for justification is being better than everyone else. He is in the midst of the comparison game. He wants to prove that he measures up, or at least comes closer to measuring up than others.
I know that I am often plagued by this same kind of motivation. I make resolutions to put off sin or put on spiritual discipline because I want to prove I’m worthy of God’s love, or at least more worthy than the person down the street.
The Tax Collector’s Healthy Motivation
To Jesus’s audience, tax collectors were Roman sympathizers, compromisers, and extortioners. For Jesus’s audience, it was hard to imagine anyone as a class less likely to be justified (declared innocent) by God.
Listen to his prayer:
God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
This man’s motivation may not be quite as obvious from this statement alone. However, remember sin was a problem because it destroyed the sinner’s relationship with God. He pleads for mercy, a term that highlights relationship. The tax collector isn’t trying to prove himself worthy. He isn’t trying to compare himself to anyone. He simply longs for a relationship with God he knows he doesn’t deserve.
Who Got What He Wanted?
Notice Jesus’s conclusion to this story:
I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other [the Pharisee]. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
When our motivation is flawed, it will mess up our whole plan. While the Pharisee’s plan seems to be great, his motivation won’t sustain his plan. We would probably all agree that getting rid of extortion, injustice, and adultery in our lives while adding self-discipline and spiritual prioritization with food and finances is a great plan.
But how did the Pharisee do with this? Certainly, I know this particular Pharisee is a character made up in a story by Jesus to make a point. However, I also understand that Jesus used the typical Pharisee as an example for a reason. How did Jesus see the typical Pharisee?
According to Luke 20:47, He saw him as an extortioner who devoured widows’ houses. According to Matthew 23:23, Jesus explained that while the Pharisees did really tithe, they neglected justice. And according to Matthew 5:27-28, though the Pharisees may well have put up a boundary around actual physical adultery, they reveled in adultery in their hearts and minds. In other words, though the Pharisee thought of himself as meeting his goals, he didn’t. His motivations did not lead to righteousness, they led to self-deception, comparison, and mind-games.
Regarding the tax collector, surely we don’t believe Jesus’s story is intended to tell us keep on sinning, just make sure to check in with a humble prayer now and then to be justified. Rather, we see the mindset of the person who grows closer to God, putting sin away and putting on spiritual discipline. The tax collector wasn’t concerned how he compared to the Pharisee. He was simply convinced he didn’t measure up and needed mercy so he could overcome the sin that kept him separate from God. He went away justified.
What is Your Motivation?
Examine your resolutions. What are your motivations? Are you trying to prove yourself worthy? Then rewrite your motivation. Are you trying to prove yourself as good as or better than someone else? Then rewrite your motivation. Is your motivation to prove to God, to the world, or even just to yourself how great you are or can be? Then rewrite your motivation.
Let your motivation be a relationship with God. Let your motivation be the blessings of communion and fellowship with God in a healthy relationship with Him. Think about the wonders of drawing closer to Him. Think about the wonders of having all wedges removed between you and Him. Think about having God as your best friend.
Putting Some Legs on This Motivation
Let’s see if we can demonstrate this idea practically. Perhaps you want to cut off gluttony. If your motivation is to be thin like other people or to prove your self-control to God or the brethren or to impress people with your own body, you are almost certainly destined to fail.
However, what if you focused on reveling in your relationship with God as your refuge? What might happen then? What if you focused on having stamina and endurance to serve the Lord in your family, your congregation, your community? What if you envisioned the longevity of being God’s instrument for good works among your family, friends, and brethren similar to Paul in Philippians 1:19-26? Imagine the difference that would make.
Certainly, having the proper motivation is not the only key to being RESOLVED. However, it is the right foundation.
I didn’t use the word “rewrite” simply to start off a cool acrostic, but rather to highlight the benefit of actually writing down your motivations. Write down what motivates you. Write down the blessings that will come from sticking with your resolutions. Write down what you really value about those blessings. Write down why they are so important to you.
Then in the moment of temptation, pull out what you have written and read it. Don’t agree to violate your resolution or make an exception to it until you have reviewed your motivations in writing.
Write it down, and be amazed at how much that will help you pursue God instead of the false god of whatever sin you are trying to conquer.
Principle #1: Rewrite Your Motivation
Come back next week to learn Principle #2: Establish behaviors not byproducts.
Photo adapted from Graceway Media