It’s amazing how many Christian activities average believers participate in at one time or another during their Christian life. They feed the hungry, sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, collect clothing for the homeless, visit prison inmates, witness on the streets, volunteer in a nursing home, demonstrate for a moral issue, collect money for sick children, support a missionary, help the elderly and so on.
All of these good causes are a help and blessing to others. However, often I have wondered what the motivation is behind an individual’s involvement in the kingdom of God. It can be for many reasons. For some it may be the challenge and excitement of being involved in something significant. For others it may be the need for fellowship and love. Some like the honor and glamour that come with the action. Others may be motivated by guilt because they have so much more than those poor people on the street or in prison. Then, of course, there are always those who hope that their faithful service will ensure them a sizeable reward in heaven. Finally, there are those believers whose hearts are burdened and touched by the suffering of others and the needs of a lost and dying world.
When we look in the Bible, we find that none of those motivations is adequate to get us through the hard times ahead, which Paul describes so clearly in 2 Timothy 3:1-4. They are insufficient tools to keep us committed until the end.
Jesus was filled with compassion when He saw the widow whose son had died and when He encountered the sick, the blind, the demon-possessed and the multitude who were lost like sheep without a shepherd. But when it came to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, it wasn’t just compassion that motivated Him. It was His love for His Father in heaven! Out of this love relationship came the motivation to be obedient unto death and to say, “Lord, I came to do Thy will” and “Not my will be done, but Thine.”
You see, our commitments are so short-lived, and we change from one worthy cause to another because as soon as difficulties and disappointments come our way, our motivation is also gone. Furthermore, excitement, honor and compassion will not carry us very far, but love will.
Remember Jacob, who served Laban for 14 years in order to receive Rachel’s hand in marriage? It was an enormous price of service he had to pay. Yet, amazingly, the Bible says that it seemed to him like just a few days because he loved her (see Genesis 29:20).
The apostle Paul wrote at the end of his life to Timothy, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). What was the motivation behind such a life? It was this: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, was working hard for many years and struggling to keep his commitment until he discovered “the exchanged life,” which means to be motivated by love for the Lord rather than by duty. A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance, tells us how he learned this lesson in his own life. As a young pastor, he struggled to serve the Lord in his own strength, until he was broken down in health. Finally, he met with God in such a way that it changed his whole outlook on ministry. He expressed his experience in these powerful words:
Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, now it is His Word;
Once His gift I wanted, now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone.
Once ‘twas painful trying, now ‘tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation, now the uttermost;
Once ‘twas ceaseless holding, now He holds me fast;
Once ‘twas constant drifting, now my anchor’s cast.
Once ‘twas busy planning, now ‘tis trustful prayer;
Once ‘twas anxious caring, now He has the care;
Once ‘twas what I wanted, now what Jesus says;
Once ‘twas constant asking, now ‘tis ceaseless praise.
Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, now He uses me;
Once the power I wanted, now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, now for Him alone.
Once I hoped in Jesus, now I know He’s mine;
Once my lamps were dying, now they brightly shine;
Once for death I waited, now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored safe within the veil.
All in all forever, Jesus, will I sing,
Everything in Jesus, and Jesus everything.*
*Simpson, A.B. “Himself,” public domain, 1891.
Some years ago, I remember meeting a young national missionary. His name was Par. When he first started serving as a missionary, he encountered opposition. Several of his enemies held him up in the air by his legs and told him, “We will tear you in half if you ever come back!”
But Par went back and shared the love of God with the people in this area. Wasn’t he afraid? Did he not take the warning seriously? Oh yes, he was afraid, and he knew his enemies meant what they said. What gave him the strength and the motivation to risk his life? It was his love for Jesus, nothing else.
Love is the greatest motivator of all. John 3:16 tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He gave Jesus not out of compassion or pity, but out of love.
We, too, will have the strength to follow the cross and be faithful unto death if our motivation is love. One of the tests that reveals our heart’s condition is to ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this or saying this? Is it for something I can get out of it, even a ‘thanks’ from others, or simply because I love Him?”
Love Him more than life itself, for He is your life.
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