What does the Bible say about motivation?

People are motivated, or moved to action, by many different things—to provide for their family, to make someone close to them proud, or to accomplish a difficult goal. If our pursuit seems to us noble enough, our motivation seems justified. However, at the root of what motivates us is often self-centeredness. Unlike our neighbors or our friends who often only see our outward actions, God is the one who examines our hearts, our motivation (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 16:2; Jeremiah 12:3; 17:10). The Bible tells us that our motivation should not be selfish gain or seeking approval based on our own merits; rather, our motivation should come from God and a desire to obey and honor Him.

Our first priority should be our relationship with God. Aside from Jesus, the life of Paul is one of the best examples we have of someone prioritizing their relationship with God. Paul endured beatings, betrayal, shipwrecks, and prison for the sake of the gospel. While he was imprisoned he wrote, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). He knew that what was in heaven was worth so much more than what was on earth. Because his priorities were right, he was motivated to sacrifice his life so that more people could come to know the saving love of Christ. Similarly, King David wrote, "One thing I have asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).

Our human nature tells us that our physical needs for food, water, and shelter, and our emotional need for acceptance, are most important. These basic needs motivate much of what we do. Christ taught that we should not be anxious about our need for food and clothing because He promises to supply what we need if we are seeking Him first (Matthew 6:33). We need not worry about being accepted by the world when we are secure in Christ (John 15:18–19; 16:33). Our first calling is to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:35–40)—these should be what drive our actions, what motivates us.

Our motivation for supporting our families, serving the people in our lives, and pursuing the things we are passionate about should not be personal advancement or pride; rather we should be motivated by love for God and others. Ultimately, our motivation is to do all that we do for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). When seeking God is our first priority, our motivations will fall in place (Philippians 2:12–13).

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