Understanding Motives

A motive is something that causes a person to act in a certain way or to do a certain thing. Your motive, then, is the goal or the object of your actions. Motives cause you to move – they motivate you – in a certain direction.

I’m motivated to exercise daily because I don’t want to gain weight but also because I want to be as active as I can for as long as I can. I’m motivated to stay gluten and dairy free because doing so significantly helped with healing my depression.

I remember being motivated to discipline my children because they embarrassed me rather than for the purpose of developing their character. I’ve also complimented someone to endear them to me rather than for their edification.

Maybe you’ve bought a gift for someone to distract them from some stupid thing you did rather than to honor them and bring them joy. Maybe you cleaned something or did some other task out of spite rather than because you know it will make your spouse happy.

Motives are all too often selfish. If we fail to recognize this and purpose to let our motives be shaped by God, relationships will continue to be mostly frustrating and often drama filled. While some self-serving motives may not seem like bad things, we must ask ourselves if they are God-serving.

Creating Awareness

Are you always aware of your motives? When you think about why you do something, do you honestly admit it? Or do you create a veil over them, fooling others and even yourself? Maybe you know your motives but try to justify them, making them seem like the right reason for doing whatever you want.

Reflecting like this can help create awareness of your motives. So, too, can verses like the following:

“We justify our actions by appearances. God examines our motives.” (Proverbs 21:2)

“Mixed motives twist life into tangles; pure motives take you straight down the road.” (Proverbs 21:8)

Motives that are self-serving but that we try to paint as selfless and helpful to others take us down a circuitous route that eventually leads to knots and tangles (i.e., drama) in our lives. Conversely, living with pure motives, keeps our paths clear of brambles and snarls.

Examining Motives

The practice of scripture-based reflection purifies our motives. Through prayer, we can identify wrong motives and step into the process of allowing God to change them.

To help in that effort, consider the following reflective questions in addition to the ones above. Through experience, I know that journaling – actual pen and paper, not electronic – helps tremendously with this reflective process. Writing by hand, with any electronics in another room, slows down your thinking and allows you to consider your motives in a way that can lead to real change.

  1. Are you motivated by what others think of you? (Matthew 6:1-18; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  2. Are you motivated by being better than others? (Philippians 2:3)
  3. Do love and faith motivate you? (1 Timothy 1:5)

These very general questions provide a starting point for letting God change your motives. First, they will likely create an awareness in you like you’ve not had before. If you read – and reflect on – the accompanying scripture, you’ll also experience how God’s word can change your life by purifying your motives.

If you give yourself regularly to this process and allow God to refine you, you’ll find connection with God and healing for your soul like you’ve never known. With consistency, you can discover a new vision for your life motivated by an insatiable desire to do what pleases God.