Good Intentions

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.

God Knows I Do

“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.

Cleaning Up My Motives

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.

People Pleasing?

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.

God,
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,
Amen.

Playing to Heaven

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 welcomes Ananias and Sapphira

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?

Motives Matter

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?

Loving God,
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.

Assigning Motives

Do you find it easy to assign a motive to someone? To think you know why a person is doing whatever it is she is doing? To think you understand what makes her tick?

To those who said, yes, let me ask another question: when you assign a motive to someone, do you usually assign a good motive or a bad motive? Do you usually conclude that a person is doing something because he really means well and has the interests of others and the will of God as his motive? Or do you usually conclude that a person is being motivated by self-will and self-interest?

Truth is, we do not know another’s heart. We cannot know what is deep within the heart of another, motivating her to do what she does. God knows, but we don’t. And assigning motives is just another way we try to wrest control from God. Another way we try to play God rather than living out our humanity.

I need to, we all need to, embrace our humanity with its limitations, let God be God, and accept that we cannot know what motivates another. Further, I am blessed when I give a person “the benefit of the doubt,” as we say. That is, when faced with the fact that I am human and therefore do not know what drives another person, I assume the best when it comes to his motive.

But there is an even bigger problem as I see it. We do know God’s motives. God has revealed His heart to us. We know what motivates God. Has He not told us of His love? And yet we sometimes assign a different motive to God. We sometimes interpret what God has intended to be a gift of His love as something meant to harm.

We do not know the hearts of people, yet we assign motives to them. We do know the heart of God and we sometimes assign a motive different from what He has revealed to us.

For example, in Deuteronomy the people of God intepreted God’s loving and gracious act of delivering them from Egypt as something intended to hurt them. Did God bring us out of Egypt so we would starve and die in the wilderness? It sounds silly, but when I am honest, I have to admit I have done the very same thing — interpreted a gift of God’s love and grace as something very different.

God, help me to accept the fact that I cannot read the heart of another human. Help me to give them the benefit of the doubt. And at the same time, help me to realize You have revealed Your heart to us. And help me to interpret everything in light of what I know about You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

God Knows the Heart

There was this time when Jesus was preaching to a house overflowing with people (in Mark 2). A group of guys showed up, with four of them carrying a paralyzed friend. They were trying to get in to see Jesus, apparently because they had heard of his healing the sick. After they tried to get in the house through the doors, they decided to do whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.

They go to the roof, probably by climbing exterior stairs and began digging a hole in the roof. Imagine these guys tearing through the tiles on the roof while Jesus is preaching below. Imagine Jesus preaching while this group of determined guys opens up a hole above him.

When they get the opening large enough, they lower their friend down, right in front of Jesus. Jesus commends their faith and forgives the sins of the paralyzed guy. This incites the religious leaders who were present. They knew blasphemy when they heard it. Since only God can forgive sins, telling someone their sins are forgiven is tantamount to blasphemy. While the leaders had not yet spoken out, they were all thinking the same thing – Jesus is blaspheming!

The text tells us that Jesus knew exactly what the teachers of the law were thinking. They had said nothing. They didn’t have to say anything. Jesus knew “in his spirit” exactly what was on their hearts. In order to demonstrate that he had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the paralyzed man.

Think about it for a moment – God knows our hearts. Is that frightening to you? Intimidating? Comforting? Some of each? Here are some other passages that remind us our wonderful God knows our hearts. Our God is wonderful, there is none like Him.

1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Chronicles 28:9

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

Psalm 139:1-2
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

Jeremiah 17:9-10
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

Mark 2:8
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

Mark 8:17
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?

Mark 12:15
Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”

Luke 16:15
He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

Acts 1:24
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen

Acts 15:8
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.

Romans 8:27
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

1 Thessalonians 2:4

On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

Revelation 2:23
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Schrute on Loyalty

“Would I ever leave this company? Look, I’m all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I’m being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly, I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.” Dwight Schrute on The Office

Sometimes our self-centeredness warps our virtues to the point they are but offerings made on the altar of our own self-worship.

God, help us sort out our motives.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 ).

“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).