If God genuinely exists and if God is committed to our highest good (this book presumes both to be true on the basis of the Scriptures), it only makes sense that he would be in the motivational business. God knows we need all the positive motivation we can get! No motivational speaker you have ever heard has the ability to motivate you as positively or powerfully as God.
What is his unique approach to motivation? How does God move us toward our highest potential? What power does he use to shape our character?
God’s motivational effectiveness is based on his intimate knowledge of how we were made to function. He has designed the human heart to be captivated by, filled with and transformed by three positive energies—Faith, Hope and Love. God has established these motivational forces for our welfare. These are the currents by which God picks us up, carries us along and helps us to arrive at our desired locations in life.
Our motivations are the shaping forces behind our character and, as we have learned, our character determines our behavior. Our motivations explain, on an even deeper level, why we end up doing what we do.
A strong case can be made from the Bible that Faith, Hope and Love are the only positive forces that have this kind of motivational power to shape our character. Early church leaders called them the Cardinal Virtues, embracing their special role. “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
If it is true that there are only three “positive motivational forces” in the world (we shall establish this as a matter of fact in the current and subsequent chapter), then the ability to improve our “self” becomes a greatly simplified matter. Instead of trying to achieve lots of desirable behavioral traits, my focus becomes much more limited. I get to concentrate on just three things that have the power to really change my life. My personal progress can be measured with one simple question: How am I growing in Faith, in Hope and in Love?
The wonderful simplicity of the spiritual life. Tom was new to our church. Not long after his arrival, he made an appointment and arrived at my office with a faded yellow notepad clutched tightly in his hand. I could not help but notice the disturbed look on his face as I invited him to sit down on the brown overstuffed chair across from my desk. I had learned from some earlier conversations that Tom was an intensely dedicated Christian.
“Pastor,” he sighed, with tears gathering in his eyes, “Christianity is just not working for me anymore.” He held up the tattered notebook to reveal that the first page was completely filled with a long list of words. His story tumbled out as if compressed in a deep oil well. He had accumulated two huge personal growth lists from several years of listening to sermons, reading the Bible and observing people. One list recorded the eighty-seven desirable behavioral traits that he wanted in his life. The other list comprised fifty-four negative traits that he wanted to avoid. At the end of every day he would review his lists to see how well he was doing.
“Tom,” I interjected with compassion filling my heart, “that kind of Christianity would not work for me either.” I took a deep breath and continued, “Just looking at your first page makes me weary. This is not the way Jesus intended for you or anybody to live.”
I started the process that day of introducing Tom to the wonderful simplicity of the spiritual life. Much of what I shared with him is written in these pages. I am happy to report that Tom learned to embrace a spiritual path that has transformed his life and filled him with joy on the journey.
Motivational power. Faith, Hope and Love are the three motivational fountainheads from which a multitude of good and positive behaviors naturally flow. Trying to change our behaviors in a direction that runs counter to our motivations is a failed strategy. The ways that we act are merely symptomatic of our underlying motivations. Sadly, I see many Toms out there who spend vast energies addressing their surface issues while ignoring the root causes behind their actions. Treating our symptoms may make us feel better for a short while, but we need a soul cure that goes much deeper.
Our behaviors are predetermined by our character. How can this insight help us? What do I need to know about my character to change my behaviors? We can learn three primary lessons from observing the created nature of fruit trees—effortlessness, consistency and tree changing.
A Faith-filled, Hope-filled and Love-filled heart will always produce noticeably positive behaviors. They push us in specific directions and motivate us to act in highly predictable ways: Faith trusts; Hope endures; Love gives.
The opposite pattern can be observed in those who are very low in Faith, Hope and Love. A person’s behavior can always be associated with one of these primary underlying motivations. With some biblical insight and a little practice, anyone can gain the ability to discern many of the underlying motivations of those around them. Knowing why people do what they do will significantly improve your interpersonal and people-management skills.
Before we rush ahead to investigate the motivational power of Faith, Hope and Love, let’s take an important pause to look at the remaining three rules of personal motivation.
Faith, Hope and Love are the most highly charged motivational conditions of the human spirit. I call them the Motivational Virtues. They encompass the entirety and the beautiful simplicity of the spiritual life. A person needs to look no further to understand why they do what they do.
Allen Ratta and Larry Osborne, Making Spiritual Progress: Building Your Life with Faith, Hope and Love (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).