All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. –Proverbs 16:2
A lady answered the knock on her door to find a man with a sad expression. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” he said, “but I’m collecting money for an unfortunate family in the neighborhood. The husband is out of work, the kids are hungry, the utilities will soon be cut off and worse, they’re going to be kicked out of their apartment if they don’t pay the rent by this afternoon.” “I’ll be happy to help,” said the woman with great concern. “But who are you?” “I’m the landlord,” he replied.*
We all have motives for the things we do. Yet, often these motives operate unchecked, below the surface of our own awareness. Could it be that like the landlord in the story, our motives for doing good deeds are too often layered with self-interest? I believe that all Christians, to one extent or another, struggle with mixed motives for our actions. When we take time to truthfully evaluate, we find that we constantly face the inward tug-of-war between saint and sinner. Like the Apostle Paul, all Christ-followers experience the desire to do those things that please the Lord, but often end up doing something different instead. Or, like the landlord in the story, we bring mixed motives to even our best attempts to serve in Jesus’ name. We serve the Lord, even while pursuing self-interests like recognition, fame, comfort, success, pride, control, money, getting someone off our back and the like.
What’s the answer to the problem of mixed motives? Honestly, I think this is a life-long struggle we face. We need to be prepared for the battle. We can minimize the effect of our own mixed motives by being honest with ourselves, performing regular self-evaluation combined with confession and repentance. God’s grace is sufficient to help us win the daily battles. We will never completely banish this foe from our lives during this life, but we can gain the upper hand in the struggle by checking our motives regularly and by trusting God to make us more like His Son.
1. Reflect on a recent experience where you volunteered time to serve in a ministry or did something good for someone else. Can you identify any mixed motives that were at work?
2. If you find that you are experiencing a struggle with mixed motives, confess this to the Lord. Ask for His presence in your life to help you put away self-interest in your actions.
Proverbs 4:23, Romans 7:15-25; 1 Corinthians 4:5, James 4:3
* 750 Engaging Illustrations, Craig Larson, editor; Baker Publishing; 2002.