“What’s my motivation?” is a question asked by actors of both the stage and screen. In asking about their motivation, the actor is attempting to get at the heart or reasons for his or her character’s actions. In the busyness that is everyday life in trying to balance family, career, church and our relationship with God, all the while dealing with equal parts problems and pains, triumph and tragedy, we must step aside and ask ourselves “What’s my motivation?” What is the driving force in your everyday decision making? Of course, there are as many different types of motivations as there are people. Some people are motivated by their love for God or their love for their family; others may be motivated by pride, greed, revenge or a fear of failure to name a few motivations. We must take the time to sincerely examine and test what is in our hearts, especially when it comes to our relationship with God.
In the Old Testament Book of Zechariah, the Israelites are returning home after seventy years of exile in Babylon. The Israelites are also in the process of rebuilding the second Temple. The people of the town of Bethel sent a group of people, including Sharezer and Regem-Melek to pose a question to the priest and prophets of Israel.
“Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” (Zechariah 7:3, NIV).
The words Zechariah received from the Lord cut right to the heart of the Israelites motivations for their appointed time of fasting and mourning.
“Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: ‘Ask all the people of the land and the priest, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seven months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?” (Zechariah 7:4-7, NIV).
From those verses, it shows that ritualistic fasting and mourning was a problem God had stressed to Israel before the Babylonian Exile by other prophets “when Jerusalem was at rest.” The Lord through Zechariah goes even further to explain that during times of fasting and other times set aside for the Lord were meant to be a time of reflection, a time to reflect on sins, a time to confess sins, and do the work of God by sharing his love with those around us in our lives.
“And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:8-10, NIV).
The pre-Exile prophet Isaiah expressed the same sentiment as Zechariah concerning empty fasting.
“’Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?” Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves” Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:3-6, NIV).
It is often said of Christianity that it is not a religion, but a relationship. We have an active relationship with the only true and living God. Because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can come boldly to the throne of grace as we are- we do not need to follow a prescribed set of religious rituals. Ephesians tells us that we are accepted in the beloved, thus God has accepted us through our faith in the finished work of Christ.
The danger of following prescribed religious rituals is that over time the meaning and true motivation is lost. It is possible to become hard of hearing or even deaf toward the things of God. It is possible for us to become blind to our sin and our rituals will be for nothing, as was the case for the Israelites. In fact, it was the constant idolatry and refusal to listen to God and his prophets that led to the Exile.
“’But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen, ’says the Lord Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” (Zechariah 8:11-14, NIV).
In the New Testament, Jesus warned to people not to follow the example of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day because many of the things they did were to be seen by the people and their heart was not right toward God. In Philippians, Paul discussed how his imprisonment for preaching the Gospel inspired others to preach the Gospel, some out of a genuine love for God, and some others just to stir up more trouble for Paul.
The New Testament Book of James describes the internal battle we face concerning our motives, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:1-3, 7-10, NIV).
Though we live under the free grace of God, we must understand that grace is not cheap. God sacrificed His only Son that we may be freed from our sins and come into a relationship with Him. Everything we do in life should be done for the glory of God. Let us not waste our time and lives caught up in the petty bickering and picking from trees that have no fruit. Instead, let us call upon our gracious God and listen to the still, small voice. No matter what we do whether it be fasting, prayer, work, or leisure, let us take the time to ask ourselves the question, “What’s my motivation?”