Emotion and Motive
Walk the Walk
We interpret and live life by what we believe experientially and not necessarily by what we know intellectually. It is easy to quote the Bible verse that we have memorized (intellectual belief) that declares that “God will supply all your needs…” (Phil. 4:19) and yet be filled with worry and anxiety over our finances (experiential belief). The old adage, “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” gives some insight into this issue. When we know a truth intellectually we can ‘talk the talk” and give the right answers, advise others, and preach it with confidence from the pulpit. But when it comes to living out this same truth, walking it out can prove difficult. People can intellectually believe that the Word of God is true; but at the same time encounter internal conflict when attempting to apply it. The default solution is typically, “Try harder.” Unfortunately its success rate is poor at best.
Have you also noticed that in the areas where we struggle to live out the truth, there is usually an emotional element present. We want to believe that God is our provider and yet we worry over our finances. We want to believe that God is near to us and yet we feel alone. We want to believe that God loves us and forgives us, but we feel afraid that we cannot merit His acceptance. The fact is, we are feeling what we believe experientially. It just so happens that this belief runs contrary to what we believe intellectually.
To the degree that we struggle with living out what is true, indicates how much (or how little) we actually believe it. Have you ever wondered why it seems easier to live out the very thing we say we do not want to do, than it does to live out the truth we say we want to obey? It may seem much easier at times to live contrary to the truth of the Bible than to obey it. The Apostle Paul declared, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15) Regardless of your theological position on this verse, I want to suggest that the more that we really believe the truth (experientially as opposed to intellectually), the easier it becomes to live it out. When I say “believe,” I am not talking about knowing it with our minds. I am talking about faith; knowing the truth with absolute certainty. This is heart or experiential belief that only the Holy Spirit provides.
So what does any of this have to do with motives? Why we do what we do is directly related to what we feel and believe. Not all that we do is driven by the best motive, but it is driven. The question is by what?
What we believe not only dictates what we feel, but also much of what we do
What we feel in any given situation is directly flowing from what we believe. What we feel in that moment has great bearing on what we do (decide and choose) because of the influence our emotions wield over us. Some people would disagree with this posture and contend that they are not controlled by their feelings, and in fact, are controlling their emotions. This is noble, but probably not so.
The very fact that they need to invest such energy in controlling what they do not want to feel, indicates otherwise. Their effort in controlling their emotions reveals that they themselves are being controlled. If our emotions did not influence –control– what we do, then there would be no need to try to control what we feel. The fact that we are compelled to control what we feel indicates that the very emotion that we try to control is dictating our controlling behavior. If we feel something (either consciously or unconsciously) then these emotions are impacting us whether we admit it or not. The truth is, much of what we do is either an avoidance of what we feel or an expression thereof. So whether we allow ourselves to feel what we feel or not, our emotions are a great motivator for what we do.
We might say, “I do not let my fear control me. I push through what I feel and do the right thing.” Or, “I never allow myself to feel anxious over my finances, I just work hard and overtime to make sure my bills are all paid.” Or, “I do not allow my depression to creep in, I only think happy thoughts.” The fact that we have to “push through” and “work hard and overtime” and “think happy thoughts” suggests a problem. There is a struggle and battle present. It could be argued that we are winning the battle by keeping our feelings suppressed. But the fact that we have to exert such effort and energy suggests otherwise. The emotions we are “controlling” are controlling us by making us have to fight against them. The suppressed emotions are an inner storm that is ever raging. However, when we hear he Lord to say, “Peace, be still” the storm is calmed. This is knowing the truth experientially.
The fact is, our emotion drives (motive) much of what most of us do, whether good or bad. At times even what appears to be good things, can be driven or motivated by the need to mollify lie-based pain. This is where motive comes into play; why we do much of what we do. For example, a person may serve on a number of church committees to quiet their feeling of worthlessness, or give large amounts of love to those around them in hopes of no longer feeling unloved. One may volunteer because he feels left out, or serve others to assuage a sense of guilt over past sins.
Check Your Motives
If this is so, (and I am convinced that it is) emotions are a powerful force that motivates much of what we do. I am also convinced that very little of the good things that most of us do are totally driven by pure motives. Most of what we do has an emotional component behind it; either an expression of what we feel or an attempt to pacify the bad feelings we do not want to feel. This is why it is important to look inward and be honest with what is going on.
I would encourage you to see for yourself if this is not so. The next time that you are about to do something good, (help someone, serve on a committee, share something, go to church, etc.) slow things down and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Your first answer is probably the least honest one, so lay the first answer aside and ask yourself again, “Why am I REALLY doing this?” Allow yourself to feel what is really there. You might be surprised to discover that there may be an underlying negative emotion behind the service you are about to perform. Another way to get to the motive of our behavior is to invert the same question and ask yourself, “What would I feel if I did not do what I am doing?” Do not be surprised if you discover that there is some manner of negative emotion right behind your behavior.
Of course these questions are not to be asked in an actual ministry session, but only as a way of checking ourselves in real time while living life. However, if by asking these questions we discover a negative emotional influence in what we are doing, we can use these same emotions during a ministry session to help us to identify the lie-based core belief of which they are related.
Too often we do the good things that we do in order to be loved, appreciated, noticed, accepted, applauded, affirmed, and more. Our good deeds are often a vain attempt at solving the presence of lie-based painful emotion we harbor. Again, in order to identify this reality, we must choose to be very honest with ourselves. Too often the person we lie to the most is ourselves.
Our beliefs determine how we interpret life
Our experiential beliefs dictate our perception and perspective of the world around us, our view of others, our self-image, etc. We may want to believe the biblical truth that we have learned and thus view life from its perspective, but a lie-based core belief will hold more power and influence. That is why we sometimes say, “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do.” In other words, “I know the truth, but I feel something else.” Or “I know that God loves me (intellectual knowing), but I feel as if He has abandoned me, is mad at me, doesn’t listen to me, doesn’t care, etc.” (experiential knowing from a lie-based belief). “I know (intellectually) that God will supply my needs but I worry over how I will pay my bills” (experiential lie-based belief).
We may try hard to believe biblical truth, “take every thought captive”, choose to do the right thing (obedience), and yet the lies we believe feel more true. The problem is, what feels true (heart belief) will eventually win out over what we may know in our heads. The answer is not to deny what we feel or try to disregard the beliefs we harbor, but rather to embrace and acknowledge them. The Lord will give us His truth, but we must first bring into the light what lies hidden within.
God Uses the Imperfect to Accomplish the Perfect
In spite of ourselves, God continually uses our less than pure motives to accomplish His perfect will. If God was only able to use the pure motives of people to accomplish His will in this world, not much would have been accomplished. This is an example of the omnipotence of God. God has always taken the imperfect to accomplish His perfect will. Nevertheless, we are called to live from a pure heart/motive and to the degree that God refines our faith/belief we can do this naturally and spontaneously as Christ lives His life in and through us.
What we do in the Christian life should be driven by pure motives or by a purified faith. When this happens we will experience the outflow of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If we are having to try to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled, then something is amiss. The fruit of His Spirit is not a “To-Do” list that we have to go out and perform. The fruit is not something that we try to do, but an outcome of who we are and because of who dwells within us. When we find ourselves performing to try to be like Jesus then our motive is in question. Because Christ lives in the believer, living like Jesus is not a task to the believer to accomplish, but an outcome of faith.
Nevertheless, God uses the imperfect to accomplish His perfection. The Apostle Paul understood how God was using the imperfect to accomplish the perfect when he commented on people preaching the Gospel with impure motives, “… some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill… But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:15-18)
Emotions were created by God for an important purpose
Emotions play a very important role in life. Living life without emotion would be like eating without a sense of taste. You can survive without tasting your food, but the pleasure is dramatically reduced. Emotions bring meaning and flavor to life. When we know a truth experientially as a core belief, we will feel joyful, peaceful, confident, hopeful, excited, assured, contented, etc. These emotions energize, motivate, and reward us. Some of what we do is because of the positive feelings associated with it. The Psalmist declared the importance of healthy emotion when he said, “…Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.” (Ps. 100:2) When we walk in the truth, good feelings follow. If there is an absence of joy, peace, hope, etc. in our lives, then we know that there is a belief problem.
When we believe a lie, we will feel what the lie feels like. It is the same mental process whether we believe lies or the truth. This is a God created process that is working exactly as it should. Our lie-based beliefs are the origins of negative emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear, doubting, discouragement, depression, hopelessness, powerlessness, and abandonment. We feel whatever we believe, positively when it’s true, and negatively when it’s a lie. The Lord designed for emotion to flow from our beliefs, and the design is not broken when we believe lies.
Our minds are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. The problem is the belief. So rather than trying to suppress, deny or block out what we feel, we need to choose to embrace our negative emotions and choose to discover what we believe that is causing us to feel what we feel. We also need to let go of the idea that we are not controlled by what we feel and realize that controlling emotion is not beneficial anyway. We do not need to control what we feel, we simply need to know the truth. When we experientially know the truth we will feel what the truth feels like. As long as we believe lies, we will feel bad. This is simply how it works.
Tell Yourself the Truth
Finally, we need to tell ourselves the truth about why we do what we do. Without question, some of the good things we do are pure and motivated by the truth. However, where there are also negative emotions present driving some of the “good things” that we do. These negative emotions flow from lies we believe and are not from the truth. When we love in order to be loved, help out so we may be included and acknowledged, serve so that we are applauded, then something is amiss. Unless you slow everything down and choose to tell yourself the truth as to why you do what you do, your motive will go unchecked.
Another way to determine our motive is to check to see how we feel after the fact. If we are offended because the “good” thing that we did was not acknowledged, was overlooked or credit was misplaced and given to someone else, then something is wrong. The Scripture is clear when it says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Col. 3:17) and “… whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). As long as our motive is this, we will never feel let down, overlooked, left out, after doing the “good” things that we do.
Again, it is important that we learn to tell ourselves the truth about why we do what we do. You will probably discover that doing this is much harder than it might seem. It is important that when you ask yourself, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” that you discard your first answer and ask the question again. You may have to ask many times before you get to your true motive. However, it is the truth that we desire. It is the truth that sets us free. God is not concerned about the good things that we do, but rather He is concerned with why we do what we do. “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
www.transformationprayer.org – New Creation Publishing 2016