Motivation and Discipline

I have been thinking recently about “motivation” as part of Empowering Leadership. “Motivation” is sometimes misunderstood, and is closely connected to the discipleship to which we are called by the Great Commission. To Christians who came before us Jesus said, “Make disciples of all by going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey” (Mt. 28:19-20). Their task from God, and our task from God is to make ourselves and others disciples of Christ. How are you motivated for this task?

If we see motivation merely as “feeling like doing it,” then we have made it difficult for ourselves to respond and move forward. We know that we too often “don’t feel like it.” If we don’t feel like doing it, we will not want to do it. We all know that we can always find (perfectly reasonable, well thought-out, and irrefutable) reasons for not doing what we don’t want to do. As long as we operate at a “feeling” level we are most likely doomed to failure. Feelings are fickle and fleeting, and can change with the wind. If I eat right only “when I feel like it,” I willrarely choose the salad over the bacon-double-cheeseburger. If I only exercise with I “feel like it,” I am going to sit on the couch in front of the TV a lot.

It has occurred to me that the Scriptures do not say a lot about motivation. The Scriptures more often say, “Do it!” “Believe! Obey! Follow!” The Scriptures do not provide feeling-motivation and, in fact, suggest that living Christ’s way might lead to persecution and the cross. It seems that the Scriptures do not operate primarily at a feeling level, but at a “discipline” level. “Discipline,” a word related to “discipleship,” has to do with training and habits. Discipline means doing something not because we feel like it, but because we know we should, because we are obedient. In all honesty, there are times when I do not feel like loving my neighbor. I would perhaps rather yell at them for their ignorance or their rudeness. But I do not, because I have disciplined myself to be obedient to the commandments of God. My motivation is to respond to the love of God I have experienced in Jesus Christ. And, wonder of wonders, it is after I have acted that I get some feelings, feelings of accomplishment, success, or contribution.

There have been times in the past when I did not want to pray or read and study Scripture. There were too many other things, seemingly more important things, to do. But now, through training and establishment of habits, I have created a discipline of prayer, regular Scripture reading, and times of study. I feel good about that and, in fact, I feel bad when I am unable to engage in these disciplines because I feel I am missing an opportunity to deepen my relationship with God.

So, how are you motivated in your personal life, for better health and relationships? Are you waiting for the right feelings, or doing what you can? How are you motivated in the community or at work? Do you always feel like doing the job, or do you find that you feel good when the job is well done? How are you motivated in your congregation? Do you serve in and through your congregation “when you feel like it?” Or, do you heed the call of Jesus Christ to participate in God’s compassion for the world, and the creation of authentic community, and share your God-given gifts and experiences and passions for building up the Body of Christ? Give it a try, knowing that God is calling, inviting, and empowering you. And hear again Jesus’ promise that follows disciples’ actions.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk. 6:38).

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