There are evil people who mean to hurt others, but I’m convinced that most all people, most all of the time, mean well. Most all people, most all of the time mean no harm to others, including me. No matter how hurtful they may be, I believe they mean well. No matter how wrong they may be, I assume their good intentions. Compassion and grace call me to stop demonizing and give people the benefit of the doubt, that they mean well.
“Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” 2 Corinthians 11:11
Paul’s critics might question his love for the people of the church in Corinth, but Paul loved them none the less. And it seems clear that Paul took great delight in his awareness that God knows what is in his heart.
Sunday as I preached on this passage of scripture I shared The Merton Prayer in which Thomas Merton acknowledged God’s awareness of the desires of his heart. Several have asked me to share that prayer. Here it is.
“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
If you would like to know more about Merton, check out The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.
Sometimes I need to just sit, read, and re-read these words from David. As I read I pray, asking God to clean up my heart, including any improper motives I may have. I find it especially meaningful to read from these three translations.
Over the years I have found that it is a serious matter to ask God to identify problems in your heart and clean them up. Why? Because He always seems to answer those prayers and sometimes the results can be painful for a while. Painful, but in the long-run, well worth it.
Psalm 139:23-24 NIV
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24 NLT
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.Psalm 139:23-24 MSG
Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.
Galatians 1:10 NLT
“Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.”
An obsession with people-pleasing can be a problem no matter what your line of work. As a preaching minister I constantly pray that I will seek God’s approval over that of people.
Sometimes it gets tricky.
Forgive me for the times when I have sought to please people.
You and You alone, O God, are worthy of my desire to please.
Give me the strength to live in order to please You.
In Jesus’ name,
Today I am reading Matthew 6 as if it were a personal conversation with Jesus. And in this conversation He’s probing my heart, helping me sort through my motives. He reminds me that whatever I do needs to be done for Him rather than to impress the watching eyes of those around me.
My giving to the poor should be done to honor Him rather than efforts to call attention to myself. My prayers should be for Him rather than efforts to impress those who might hear. My fasts ought to be for Him rather than efforts to make myself look better.
Jesus asks me, who is your audience, who are you playing to? Are you doing what you do for yourself or for Me? Who applauds when you finish giving your gifts, saying your prayers, breaking your fasts? Do you hear the applause of the people you have managed to impress? Do you hear the applause of heaven?
As the conversation comes to an end, Jesus reminds me there are treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. In doing so He asks me the same question in a different way — what are you living for?
Jesus tells me that the way I answer this question, however it is posed, can be seen in whether or not I am worrying. Worry indicates I am not living for or trusting in Him who is unseen. Worry indicates I am all about the here and now. But when I am trusting Him who is unseen, I am living by faith. The here and now matters little. The applause and approval of men loses its appeal.
And it becomes about me living for God and to God.
The Office portrays the goings on in the Scranton branch office of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. The characters are all like normal people, but since it’s television, their personality traits,while real, are exaggerated. So when I watch the show I see people who remind me of people I know.
What sets apart The Office from other shows that feature the personality quirks of the characters (like Seinfeld, for example), is the whole idea that the employees of Dunder-Mifflin are constantly being filmed documentary-style. So not only are they quirky, they are being filmed, and they are aware they are being filmed.
What becomes apparent as you watch the show more than a couple of times is this awareness that all the characters have that they are on camera. Frequently they will say or do something good and then quickly glance at the camera as if to make sure their shining moment was caught on tape. Or, they will forget momentarily that they are being recorded and say or do something that makes them look bad. Then you see them nervously look at the camera as if to say, “Oh yeah, I am being filmed and people are going to think I am a jerk.” They then begin saying and doing things in damage control mode, to make themselves look better.
Everything these Dunder-Mifflin employees do or say becomes a performance in front of the cameras. Rarely do you see their genuine personality come through. They are keenly aware of appearances. They are constantly worried how they look. They are always mindful of what people will think about them. Because the cameras are rolling, they live to impress people.
As I was reading Acts 5 this week the thought occurred to me that Ananias and Sapphira would have been great characters on The Office. After all, when they saw people selling their land and making donations to the church they realized those people were respected for their generosity. Since they wanted people to think highly of them, they “played to the camera,” selling their property and giving the proceeds of the sale to the church.
The only problem was, they lied, claiming they had given all the money to the church when actually they kept back some for themselves. They wanted respect, but for them the way to get respect was not to be worthy of respect by being generous, but to have the appearance of generosity without really making the sacrifice needed to be generous. If you have ever known someone who lived his life this way, you know what a tortured existence it can be. The person can never truly be himself, he is constantly playing to the camera, as it were.
This brings me back to the question I have wrestling with this week — why do I do what I do? Am I always playing to the camera? Do I decide what to do based on what will get me the most attention or admiration? Am I obsessed with my how my actions look to others?
Or is there a deeper, purer motive behind my actions?
Why do I do what I do?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT
“If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.”
Motives matter to God, and they ought to matter to me.
Why do I do what I do?
Frequently I ask God to examine my heart. As I go through my daily routine as a minister of God, I want to know, what motivates me? What motivates my study? What motivates my prayer? What motivates my service? What motivates any encouraging words I might speak? What motivates any visits I make? What motivates any outreach I might be involved with?
Why do I do what I do?
Help me to never do ministry because it is just a job.
Help me to never do what I do in the course of a day simply because
it is what someone expects of me or it is written on a job description.
Help me to do what I do because of love.
Love for You. Love for people.
Purify my heart, God.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.