Making Spiritual Progress Building Your Life with Faith Hope and LoveHave you ever asked yourself, “Why in the world did I do that?”

Everyone, at one time or another, has regretted something they said or did. A friend recently confided, “Sometimes it seems as if I am observing someone else when I do certain things. Like a mysterious inner force has taken over my body.” This sounds a lot like the ancient words of Paul as he candidly revealed his own personal struggles: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

His words, “I do not understand,” make perfect sense to us two thousand years later. The truth is that there are mysterious forces at work behind the scenes that can cause us to act out in ways that are counter to our wishes, convictions and sensibilities. These forces are called motivations, and they determine the outcome of our lives.

This is a book about understanding and managing our motivations.

The Heart Is Always Motivated

God has so constructed the human heart that it is always fully motivated. “This cannot be true!” you counter. “I see people, including myself, who struggle with a lack of motivation all the time.”

Let’s look at some examples. Take the case of the incessant dieter who struggles with obesity as he stealthily sneaks another forbidden delicacy. What about failing students who cannot bring themselves to study? Consider Christians who yearn for greater spiritual intimacy but fail to practice consistent spiritual disciplines. Think about the homeless derelict on the street corner, holding a disingenuous sign that says, “Will work for food!” Or what about the individual who won’t even get up to hold a sign? “Surely these people lack motivation!” you say.

Wrong. The people on this list are all highly motivated individuals. The problem is that they are more highly motivated to stay where they are than to change. The dieter is more motivated by the taste of the rich, creamy sweetness of a cream puff than by the ego boost of wearing a smaller pair of jeans. The student is more motivated by the joys of social discovery than by a chance to qualify for entry to a topflight college. The Christian is more motivated by the immediacy of the flesh than by the delights of spiritual discovery. A homeless man will cling to his fierce desire for independence at the expense of having a roof over his head. Motivated people, like the apostle Paul, sometimes find themselves doing the “very thing” they “hate.”

Motivations are the energies that propel us and drive the decisions we make. They are the substance of our character. All behaviors stem from an underlying motivation. Motivations are the invisible, unstoppable forces that can lift us to greatness or plunge us to utter ruin.

It is true that with enough willpower you may succeed in changing your outward conduct for a season. But if the underlying motivational condition of the heart stays the same, it will surely reassert its power. Pounds will return. Grades will lower. Spiritual vitality will wane.

Motivations are not to be confused with good intentions or willpower. Our intentions, no matter how noble or determined, lack the driving force to transform our lives. The world would be a far different place if our wishes were effective at altering our behaviors.

How can we achieve our highest aspirations? Positive change automatically happens when our hearts are captivated and energized by the right motivation. The path to changing our actions begins when we take the time to understand the powerful motivational currents that reside, in many cases, just beneath the threshold of our conscious minds.

Allen Ratta and Larry Osborne, Making Spiritual Progress: Building Your Life with Faith, Hope and Love (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).