I listened to a sermon last week, based on our text for today, that really challenged my motives. Paul had suffered more than most of us can imagine for his commitment to the work God called him to, not least through imprisonment and a terrible Roman flogging. Yet here he was, pressing on, completely undeterred. It’s clear from both his words and actions, that his motive was only to please God, and to look to Him for praise, and not to human beings.
As I looked up this passage in my Bible afterwards, I read a footnote, explaining how the Holy Spirit would want to bring the lessons we draw from Paul’s example alive in us. As we allow Him to do His work in our lives, we are also to be ‘unmoved by flattery or praise from humankind … and only seek praise from God’ in our own service to Him. Perhaps at the beginning of this new year, the Lord is laying this challenge and inspiration before us. What motivates you?
I heard a story years ago of someone coming up to a speaker at the end of a service and saying, “What you said was really good.” Soaking up the praise, and in a rather super-spiritual way, the speaker looked heavenward and said, “It wasn’t me. It was God!” Taken aback, the person promptly replied, “It wasn’t that good.”
It’s a funny story, but it makes the point. Do we cater to human beings, looking for their praise and affirmation, or to God?
When I was working through some deep issues in my life, I had such an unrealistic expectation of healing. It was an agenda to work through: read the Bible, pray the right prayers, forgive, and repent. I longed to get to the end of it, so I would be ‘fixed’ and equipped to minister to others. Then one day, the Lord challenged me, asking, “What if the ministry I call you to, is simply to be at home and intercede for others?” I was cut to the quick. I didn’t want that. The Lord, because of His great love, grace and mercy, was exposing my hidden, impure motive. He knew that, at that time, from a secret place inside, I was planning to solve the problem of my deep, lifelong hunger for love by working to get other people’s affirmation and praise. Not only was I deceiving myself with what I thought was a godly motive, but I was locked in pride and arrogance (thinking I had a better way than just allowing Him to meet my need).
God’s the only one who can ever meet and satisfy such deep unmet needs. He wants our service to be motivated by a heart response of love to Him, the One who, through Jesus, ‘sought and rescued’ us. He wants us to seek to please Him, not people.
As the Lord has challenged me afresh with this, I realised just how much I’m still a work in progress, as, of course, we all are. But let’s be inspired and encouraged by Paul’s example. Let’s make a fresh commitment to yield to the Holy Spirit, who’s alive in us and at work in our hearts, transforming and changing us day by day.
Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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