Being a peer leader in my church youth group is a meaningful, special learning experience. Even though I’m technically leading, I learn so much with and from the girls with whom I share discussions. This week my small group discussed hypocrisy, and we eventually turned our focus to motivation.
“What motivates you to practice righteousness?” I asked. “When you read your Bible or are kind to people, why do you do it?”
As the discussion went on, I felt an deep sense of thankfulness to God as I heard answers like, “I always feel amazing when I can make someone’s day” and “It feels so good to just read your Bible”. I was immensely happy to hear of the passion that the girls in my group were expressing.
Most people can attest to feeling at some point a deep contentment when serving others, a sense of communion with God in Bible reading, and an overall peace in the course of practicing righteousness. The more I think about this, the more I realize what a blessing this is. I don’t thank God often enough for the amazing forethought and kindness he has shown in gradually aligning our emotions with his commands.
“It’s great that we have positive feelings and feel good when we practice righteousness,” I agreed. But I had to follow up my celebration with a dash of hard reality. “We don’t always feel good. So what is our motivation then?”
In my own life, there are definitely things that make me feel great. Serving people with my time and showing love to others are acts of righteousness that 9 times out of 10 leave me feeling happy and satisfied. On the other hand, reading my Bible every day…choosing humility in an argument…letting go of anger…these things are harder.
Bible reading in particular has always been an area of struggle and more recently an area of conviction for me. To be honest, if I only read my Bible when I truly felt like it, I might never make it past Genesis.
So how do we handle it when we know the right thing to do but don’t feel like it?
- I need to repent and ask for God’s help. I think it’s okay to admit that we fail and that we’re certainly not alone in this. But our feelings ranging from apathetic to rebellious are absolutely not okay. They’re still sinful and I need to repent rather than attempt to brush them off or deal with them in my own strength.
- I need to do what is right, regardless of how I feel. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17). When I wake up in the morning and would rather check my e-mail than read my Bible, I need to repent for my apathy…and then I need to actually open my Bible and read it.
- I need to trust God’s wisdom more than my feelings. God has provided commands for my good, and he has every right — the only right — to do so. Sometimes I find that when I obey in faith, God reveals to me later the reason for what I didn’t feel was convenient or necessary. Reading the Bible consistently may always be a struggle for me, but I have every confidence that God uses his words in my life when I am obedient and read them. Every one of his commands has a purpose.
I’m very thankful for all the beautiful experiences and positive emotions God does provide when we follow his commands and live in the way he has set before us. But I’m also acutely aware that I can neither count on feelings to guide or reward my actions. God’s word is my guide, and God himself will reward in his way and time.