Spring brings a compulsion to clean, fix up, and straighten out our lives. It is the season for new beginnings. Our Bible study group, using the book How to Pray, by Ronnie Floyd, focused on “The Wall of Improper Motives” chapter.
We learned that “the most distinct hindrances to prayer are the improper motives and ways Christians relate to God and His church.”
Floyd says that, 20 years ago, when he began to pastor (like I did), people had a great love for the local church. It was their source of strength. Now, he posits, the church may be just one of many spiritual stops where believers gain strength.
The church today is more driven to meet the needs of members, rather than those of unbelievers. Church culture today reflects American consumerism, with a focus upon having our needs met, rather than upon serving the Lord through serving others. The past two decades have witnessed changes in the motives of churchgoers.
Proverbs 16:2 reads, “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him but motives are weighed by the Lord.”
Floyd appears to be right. When it comes to prayer, there seems to be a wall separating us from God, and weakening our connection. When we have no standards for judging motives, we are doomed to rationalize what we hear about God and our faith.
In an argument, most of us will concede, we feel that we must prove ourselves right. Proverbs 16:2 challenges us to ponder our argument and to ask, before we act, three questions:
1. Is this plan in harmony with God’s truth?
2. Will this plan work under real-world conditions?
3. Is my attitude and motive pleasing to God?
Proverbs 16:1 says, “To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.”
When our motives are pure, we commit to the Lord, not to ourselves, not to the church, not to other members, but to God!
For some, motives for work are disguised as commitment to the Lord’s work when, in fact, personal motives are being served. For others, God is given temporary control that is rescinded when expectations change. Others commit their task to the Lord, putting forth little effort and wondering at the task’s failure.
When our motives are pure and attitude correct, we can then move to strike a balance—trusting God as if everything depended upon Him, while working as if everything depended upon us.
Scripture teaches us to put our energy into pleasing God instead of pleasing others. Proverbs 16:7 reads, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.”
Our efforts at peacemaking usually make us attractive to people, even to our enemies. But if our efforts displease others, we must still strive to become pleasing in God’s sight.
If we aim to please God, we can find assurance in I Corinthians 3:13, “His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”
With Christ as our foundation, God will reward us in heaven not for what we do, but for our right motives. The Corinthian church was filled with those whose work was “wood, hay, and straw” (3:12). Its members were immature, insensitive to one another, and vulnerable to wrong doctrine (3:1-4), and their motives were improper.
As Christ-centered people, we are each rooted to and committed to sound Christian doctrine, and to genuine motive. The church that is not consumer-driven is built upon Jesus Christ. Its members are mature believers, spiritually sensitive, and doctrinally sound.
We must ask: “How can motives be changed?”
First, we must have clean motives in our hearts when beseeching God in prayer, asking, “Why am I asking God for this? Is it to meet my needs when I should be praying for those of others? Am I asking God for personal happiness, when I should be seeking to make Him happy?”
We must also search and clean our hearts to learn if we are willing to lay aside our will (as Christ did in the Garden), so that His will can be done.
Our goal in prayer should be, “God let it be done, only if it will please you.”
We must finally purify our motives when we commit to God our plans and actions as He would want them to be. We must aim to ensure that God receives the glory in our prayers and acts.
In Psalm 37:4, David said, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
This spring, for His sake, take time to check, and to clean up your motives.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at email@example.com.