Why do we do what we do? I suspect you can all relate to that question. I can. Sometimes, after saying something hurtful to my wife or acting in a prideful or selfish way, I look back and wonder – why in the world did I say or do that? What motivated me to act or speak that way?
The fact is, we are always motivated by something. Motivations are the energies that propel and drive the decision we make. They are the essential substance of our character. Even people who don’t look like they are motivated – like the young man you know who cannot be bothered to get out of bed and get a job – is highly motivated. That young man is just motivated to do what he can to stay where he is so he does not have to change. On the other hand, positive change happens in our life when we are captivated and energized by the right motivation.
So where do our behaviors come from? What determines our motivation? In his book, Making Spiritual Progress: Building your Life with Faith, Hope and Love, author Allen Ratta takes some time to explain what he calls the behavioral supply chain in our life. This supply chain is explained in five principles that apply to all of us.
Principle #1: Our behaviors are pre-determined by our character. Our character, our inner nature, sets the direction of our actions. Jesus understood this, as he explains in Matthew 7:17-18: “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” (ESV) According to Jesus, the quality of our behavior – good or bad – is consistent with the nature of our character – good or bad. We cannot permanently change our behavior apart from a transformation of our character.
Principle #2: Our character is pre-determined by our motivations. Our motivations are the shaping forces behind our character. Ratta argues that faith, hope and love are the 3 positive motivational forces that should direct our life. Of course, the opposite it also true – when our life is empty of faith, hope and love, it is reflected in our motivations and thus our character and our behavior.
Principle #3: Our motivations are pre-determined by our master. Who or what rules your life? That person or thing will determine the nature of your motivations. Our motivations are ruled by whatever or whoever is sovereign in our life. If it is God, then our motivations will reflect things that honor God. If it is something or someone else, we will be motivated to pursue the will and direction of that master.
Principle #4: Our master is pre-determined by our heart. We must get to the heart level to manage our motives. The Bible understands the importance of the heart. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23, ESV) “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21, ESV) We must guard our hearts, and examine what our heart holds as its treasure. What does our heart value most of all? What captivates our hearts? What energizes our hearts? The answer to those questions will determine who the real master of our lives is.
Up to this point, perhaps this discussion has been rather depressing for many of us. I have used the word “pre-determined” an awful lot. It would seem that we are rather powerless in this whole thing. How can we change when everything is determined ahead of time? Thankfully, those thoughts bring us to our last principle.
Principle #5: Our heart is liberated by the Holy Spirit. Every Christian has been given the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And while we cannot change our hearts, the Spirit can. As Ratta aptly points out, “Personal growth requires that we put ourselves in a place of awareness where we are capable of hearing and responding to the movement of the Spirit.” (p. 26) The work of the Spirit is to fill our lives with positive motivations, motivations that line up with the character and will of God. By His Spirit, God seeks to fill us with faith, hope and love, three things that can transform our heart and make us effective for Him.
Our behavior is determined by our character. Our character is determined by our motivations. Our motivations grow to serve our master. Our heart determines which master we follow. But thanks be to God, God’s Spirit liberates our hearts to serve God!