What motivates people to do good things? I’ve been thinking about being a good person, about motivations, about what to do with the accolades we sometimes receive when we do something good. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the Word of God “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I’ve found this to be true as the Holy Spirit has challenged my motivations repeatedly over the years as I’ve meditated on the Word of God.
My family and I have had a long and interesting history with the nation of Haiti. My husband and I met there while working as missionaries for a year, stayed connected to the nation through child sponsorship programs, and then went on many trips there to visit friends. Since I can only judge my own heart, let’s look at my motivations related to a small rural orphanage a few hours from Port au Prince, which became the focus of my travel.
When I think back to my first missions trip to Haiti in 1982, it was about doing something fun, something outside the box, being different, maybe getting some attention. I really didn’t know anything about Haiti and I didn’t have any particular affection for its people. I felt sorry for them and was easily convinced that we would make a difference by going and participating in a construction project for three weeks. By 1984, God had done a deep work in my heart and I was very serious about serving God. I left suburban Baltimore to teach the children of missionaries and business owners at a Christian school in Port au Prince. I was humbled by the people I met there, men and women who had given their lives to serve this nation, nationals that were serving the least of these, their countrymen. For years, I wouldn’t call myself a missionary. I didn’t feel like I deserved the title. It was only after getting tired of the longer explanation that I just shortened it to, “I was a missionary for a year in Haiti.”
So what was my motivation then? I’m not sure—maybe just to have a job. But I really did want to be God’s servant. Regardless, God did amazing things that year, and it was probably the year of the most rapid growth in my spiritual life. After getting married, Kirk and I sponsored a Haitian girl through Compassion International. Every month for 6 years, we sent $28 to feed, clothe, and send this young lady to school. When she grew out of the program, we started with another, and for another 12 years sent that small amount monthly. I’d say, our motivation for doing this was relatively pure: we wanted to demonstrate the love of Christ and help someone who needed it. Easy.
Fast forward to 2007. What motivated me to initiate a family trip to Haiti? I saw my teens growing up in affluent America, some with a tender heart toward God, some still seeking. I wanted to show them the other side of life, where their dad and I met and worked (It was really not a super-spiritual decision). But God was beginning something incredible. After that trip, I began to pray for a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life. We were living the American dream—home, cars, plenty of everything, fun, good relationships, great church and friends—but we were hard-pressed to find something to really step out in faith for. Kirk and I started talking about starting a non-profit and raising funds for work in Haiti. Motivation? Well, partly to do something lasting, partly to help our friend, Pastor Val, partly to feel important. But again, Jesus and His transformation of our selfish lives were at the core.
So, as plans began to unfold to go to Haiti in January of 2010, I’d had some time to think about why I wanted to be involved with Pastor Val’s little orphanage. Struggling through the American recession, much of the entanglements of affluence were slowly pared away, and the core of what I believed was exposed. I was grateful for the opportunity to help someone with no fame or great ministry, and I purposely kept it on the down-low. I didn’t want to get a large following for this work; I just wanted it to be our family and a few others if they asked. Like Hudson Taylor, I didn’t want to even ask for support. It was fun and exciting to see God work miracles and answer prayer with absolutely no manipulation from me. Pastor Val needed help, and he always said, “Let’s just see what the Lord will do.” I picked up that mantra. Let’s just see….
And then, we were sitting in the parking lot of the PAP airport late on a sunny afternoon in January 2010 and the ground shook and our lives were all changed. I saw the raw grit of true faith: when everything is hopeless and all is lost, call out to Jesus. We saw a lot of people who demonstrated true love and service to Christ, selflessly, while no one was watching. And then the whole world saw it.
My conclusion, therefore on the matter of motivations is either you do it because Jesus has invaded your life, and you have surrendered your hands, and feet, and mouth for His work and His will, or you are doing good because you want to feel better about yourself, want to leave a legacy of some kind, want to be remembered, want to impress someone, want to be important or looked up to.
Even if people genuinely want to change their world, one has to look deep and ask, “If no one ever knows it was me who did this, would that be okay?” Can we do something wonderful for the world and remain anonymous, seeking only to bring the Kingdom of God to earth? I venture to say, without the Lord, that is very hard to do. I want to keep digging deep to find those unholy motivations and weed them out.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”Hebrews 4:12 NIV