I was thinking about motivation this week and as I was thinking about it I began to wonder what motivates us to do the things we do.
For instance, a number of years ago, whenever I was a junior in high school, I was motivated to do some pretty bizarre things… a few of you may have been in high school before, so you know how that can be.
I grew up an hour east of Pittsburgh in a town that is about half the size of Bellefonte but it had a similar feel as Bellefonte. Like many small towns, sometimes it was a challenge to find something to do that was exciting. So, in our town we had the Conemaugh River. And that river provided some fun throughout the year. Some of you may have done this in your home town, but we’d get on inner tubes and go floating down the river from one side of town to the other. When the river was high, the current got pretty fast and we always talked about swimming the whole way across, but since I’m standing here, you can guess that we never actually tried it.
One winter though, a good friend and I were trying to find something to do and as it turned out the Conemaugh was frozen over… well, it was as frozen over as a river can be since the water underneath is constantly moving.
So we thought it would be fun to walk out on the frozen river… at 7pm in the middle of January. So it’s getting pretty dark outside and we’re walking across this river, playing it safe, staying around the edges, but then we start wandering out and it’s still holding us so we’re kind of like, well, let’s make sure this is really safe so we start stomping our feet a little bit and it’s still holding us and my friend must be feeling really confident because the next thing I know, he jumps into the air and plants both feet as hard as he can onto the ice… and into the river he went.
Fortunately he caught himself on his elbows and I was able to pull him out but everytime I think about this story, I imagine in cartoons when someone’s fallen through the ice and another character walks too close and he falls in too… and so I realize we easily could have gone the whole way under and been swept away by the current. I don’t recommend trying this.
But it got me thinking, what in the world motivated us to do that? It’s easy to look at some of the things we do and say we’re motivated by money… going to work… saving up for retirement… or buying the newest tablet we want… and sometimes we’re motivated by fear like every time I mow my lawn because I don’t want to be hassled by my neighborhood.
Everything we do is motivated by something… some external circumstance… sometimes we’re motivated to do good things, like provide for our families, and other times we’re motivated to do not so good things, like walk on a river… And sometimes, we can be motivated to do outrageous things.
In Acts, we hear some of these outrageous things that people do when they’re motivated the right way. As some of you may know, the book of Acts is an account of how the early church united after the resurrection of Jesus… how they grew in community, the arguments they had, the struggles they faced… but also the joys and the celebrations they shared as people put their faith and trust in Jesus.
I was reading through this book recently and I was fascinated by some of the stories of Paul and his ministry. Before Paul met Christ, Paul was an enemy of the church. He followed Christians around, imprisoned them, supported their public execution and people were very afraid of him. But Christ got a hold of his heart and he became a follower through an encounter with Jesus on his way to persecute more Christians and in that moment his life was transformed… in that moment the old was gone and something new replaced it.
So Paul begins to follow Jesus and Acts tells us that Paul goes out right after his conversion and preaches in the Synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Now, we have to remember that Paul was on his way to persecute Christians. You can imagine the people kind of looking around and whispering… uhhh… Joshua? Isn’t that the same guy who was beating up CHristians last week? Why’s he trying to convince us to become Christians now? *Whispering* I think it’s a trap. I think we should leave.
But despite that, people were beginning to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But, we know that Paul wasn’t the only one out there who was trying to break down the church… there were many… and as you can imagine they weren’t very happy with Paul. So these guys begin to conspire to kill him… but Paul was able to escape during the night.
And then Paul goes into Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel and again… some people came up with a plot to kill him, so he takes off running.
I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I’ve had a project to do around the house or with the car… and whenever a little bump gets in the road, I’m tempted to call it quits and leave it half done. And then I have a conversation that starts with… Hey Honey, there are millions of people around the world who don’t have indoor plumbing what do you think about us giving it a try?.
Think about it, there were two attempts on Paul’s life… at this point in the story no one would’ve blamed Paul for giving up. We would’ve said something like, hey good try Paul. We appreciate all you did, but sometimes it’s too hard to go on. But surely enough, something motivated Paul to keep going… and we continue to see this play out. Paul goes into Antioch, goes into the synogogue and shares the Gospel with them and many people came to know Jesus and are transformed… but of course, some people began to encourage persecution of him and he goes on to Iconium.
And in Iconium, the same thing happened… and there was a plot to stone him. But Paul found out about it and took off to Lystra… and in Lystra, those guys from Iconium and Antioch who wanted to kill him? Finally caught up to Him… and this is where we pick up in Acts 14:19-20. What?? Paul went back? What in the world motivated Paul to go back into the city where people tried to kill him? This was his chance to pretend he was dead and start over in a new town.
What motivated Paul to be able to keep going after almost being stoned to death? How can a man who was persecuted and chased and threatened and plotted against continue fighting the fight, but for me, when it comes to relationships… it’s easy to give up after one hard time. Why is it that Paul can pick up after what many of us would call a failure and keep going when it’s easy to look at something not going exactly the way I planned and say it’s not worth my time?
Maybe you’re going through a rough time right now… maybe someone you love got a diagnosis, or marriage isn’t all you thought it would be, or you got a phone call that was full of news you never wanted to hear or the person who you considered to be your best friend doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with you and you’re wondering: is it even possible for me to continue on… but what motivated Paul to go on even though he was facing such significant hardship? What motivated him?
Maybe it’s because Paul knew how badly he needed a savior and that Jesus was willing to accept him. Paul wasn’t your ordinary run of the mill sinner, like us. Paul was like a super sinner. I mean, he was out killing Christians!
And when Jesus came to him in the middle of the road and Jesus didn’t just strike him dead, and let’s be honest, none of us would’ve blamed him for doing that… Jesus invited him into relationship, into a life that had purpose and that was full of joy… what Jesus was communicating was… Paul, I didn’t just die for the ordinary run of the mill sinners… I died for you. And you are not outside of the power of the forgiveness I poured out on the cross. And I’m not done with you yet, I’m going to make something beautiful out of the brokenness and the sin in your life.
And God’s love is the same for us whenever we see the reality of our sin and we think we’re not ordinary run of the mill sinners… Jesus still says to us, I didn’t just die for the ordinary run of the mill sinners… I died for you. And you are not outside of the power of the forgiveness I poured out on the cross. And I’m not done with you yet, I’m going to make something beautiful out of the brokenness and the sin in your life.
See, it’s made clear to me throughout this story and throughout Paul’s life that Paul wasn’t motivated by fear or by money or by fame… Paul was motivated by love.
Paul understood the love that Christ had for him and that he has for each one of us. He looked at his past, in the same way that we can, and he saw all the things he had done wrong… and he saw the reality of his sin and he knew that what he deserved was eternal separation from God, but Christ came and offered him a second chance. And after Christ gave Paul a second chance, like us, Paul continued to sin, but Christ wouldn’t stop pouring out forgiveness no matter how many chances he needed, no matter how many chances we need. Jesus never gave up on Paul and Jesus never gives up on us.
In Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul begins to explain this love to the church in Ephesus. Paul’s saying, look at the sky, and the horizon and the sea… do you see how you can look for miles but it never ends? Do you see how limitless those things are? Christ’s love is as vast as that! And the love I’m talking about isn’t “I love potato chips or I love football or the love we see all around us that loves in order to get something in return.” I’m talking about God’s unconditional, unmerited love that He has for us, regardless of what we do. The love that no one is outside the reach of. The love that made Christ be willing to accept death on a cross so our sins could be forgiven. Christ’s love is as vast and limitless as that.
And Paul knew, that if the church in Ephesus could begin to understand God’s love the way that he did, and if we could begin to understand and experience God’s love the way he did, that our lives would be transformed and we would be motivated to do outrageous things in our lives, too.
Think about how much love Christ must’ve had for Paul. He was pretty intentional about living his life in opposition to Jesus. He wasn’t like us sometimes, just apathetic about his faith… he wasn’t just “going through the motions” but didn’t really mean it… Paul was living in opposition to Christ. There’s a story in Acts 7 when one of the disciples, Stephen, was being stoned to death… and at the end of that story in Acts 8:1 it tell us – “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.” Can you even imagine being near someone who was being executed?! Paul was so far from Jesus! He knew what that life was like. But thankfully Jesus didn’t give up on him and Jesus offered him a new life. A life that was full… a life that was purposeful and a forgiveness from God that was greater than any forgiveness he had known. And seeing that love offered to him made everything different.
When Paul got a taste of what life with Christ was like, when he saw how much God loved him, he could never go back. It reminds me of the parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 13:44 when he says, “The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went out and sold all he had and bought that field.” No in his fear, not as an investment, not in disappointment… but in joy! That’s what Paul found in his encounter with Jesus… and that’s the life that each one of us is offered.
And because of that love, Paul gave up everything… he gave up his old ways, he turned his back on that life and he was willing to risk it all so that others would experience the love, the forgiveness and the life that he knew ONLY CHRIST had to offer. Christ’s love motivated him to do these outrageous things.
How would our lives look different if we more deeply understood God’s love for us… the same love that Christ had for Paul?
One of the things I believe begins to change, and we saw this pretty clearly in Paul’s life, is our willingness to share our faith. If we don’t understand God’s love, then we might be motivated to follow God out of fear or out of duty or out of tradition… and if we’re motivated by those things then there’s really no desire to invite people into it… But when we understand that Christ loves us so much that he wants to give us second chances… when we experience life connected to Jesus that’s so good that we’d be willing to sell everything to have it, when we understand that love… there’s no way we can keep it to ourselves. It begins to spread and seep into everything we do.
Think about when you learn about something that works really well… like a cleaning method… or an organizational tool, or a repair technique… and you’re like, my friends are missing out if they don’t know about this… this is going to change their lives… this is going to help them in so many ways… and you have to tell them about it.
My wife, Bethany and I work really hard on budgeting. And a few weeks ago, my sister said, I don’t know where my money goes every month. I’m surprised how much money is in my account at the end of the month, I’m not in the red, I just need to figure it out. And I was like, oh. My. Gosh. We have been budgeting and it has been so helpful for us… we put boundaries on spending categories, so we’re more likely to think about how much money we’re spending on eating out. And so we sat down and went through all of her income and expenses and I was so excited to share that with her. A few days later, I got this text message from her: “Thanks a lot for your help with my budget. I was telling my small group leader about it… and I’m actually looking at receipts now!” But I couldn’t even help but share it with her! That’s what happens when we more deeply understand God’s love.
What does that look like for us? Are we going to go into the Synogogues and teach that Jesus is the son of God like Paul did? Probably not. But can we share our story in our day to day lives? The story of how God transformed us? Can we share how we’ve been made new since God got a grip of our hearts? When someone asks how we deal with our parents or our spouses or our children or our teachers, or our friends, can we share that God extended grace to us and so we try to extend grace to others? Like we’ve been talking to about the last several weeks, maybe we share that we try to think the best of people, and encourage people because God calls us to? How do we share our faith with those around us?
Second, our priorities change as we understand God’s love for us. When we see that God loves us no matter what, we begin to desire to be where God is. Our priorities shift from the things we want… to being in the places where God is moving and being part of what God is doing. For example, when an opportunity to get involved in a ministry comes up and it catches our eye, we begin to say, yeah, I want to be part of that because God’s there. Or, When it seems like the awkwardness of that first small group gathering is holding us back… and trust me, we’ve all been there… but our desire to be with God supersedes our fears of potential social awkwardness. Because we know we want to be where God is moving and part of what God is doing.
It’s like when we’re in Middle School and this girl or this boy catches our attention… and because of that thing, which is probably physical, we want to do everything they do. Oh, she’s signing up for art class? I hate art, but sign me up too. She’s riding the bus home? My parents drive me, but now I’m going to ride the bus! Our priorities begin to be centered around that person. And when we see how much God loves us despite our failures, our priorities begin to be centered around Him. How can our priorities change?
And finally, when we understand God’s love that offers second, and third and fourth and fifth chances, and I could go on forever… and that nothing is outside the scope of his forgiveness… we know we can trust that he truly has our best interest in mind… and when we can trust him we know that the way he calls us to live our lives is way better than anything we’d have for our own lives… and so when we find ourselves sinning, God’s love and forgiveness and our trust in Him leads us to turn from our sin… and when we turn God says, I didn’t just die for the ordinary run of the mill sinners… I died for you. And you are not outside of the power of the forgiveness I poured out on the cross. And I’m not done with you yet, I’m going to make something beautiful out of the brokenness and the sin in your life. You’re not on your own, so let’s work through this stuff in your life… together.
God’s love motivated Paul to do outrageous things, and God’s love is calling us to do the same.
1. Throughout Scripture we see the reality of Christ’s love for us.
2. What in life or in scripture makes God’s love more evident to you?
3. Paul’s life was completely different when he met Christ and he wanted to share that story with everyone. How has your life changed since you became a Christian?
4. Read Romans 6:23, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8. How do these verses tell us about God’s love?
5. As we continue to grow deeper in our understanding of God’s love, we will begin to do three things:
a. Share our faith.
b. Set priorities where God is moving and what God is doing.
c. Turn from sin.
6. Why does God’s love lead us to each of these things?
7. Why does God’s love lead us to share our faith?
a. What are some practical ways that you can share your faith in your day to day life?
8. Why does God’s love lead us to set straight priorities?
a. How have your priorities shifted in the past and what are some ways God can become more of the center of your life?
9. Why does God’s love lead us to repent from sin?
10. Read these sentences but insert your name. _________, I didn’t just die for the ordinary run of the mill sinners… I died for you. And you are not outside of the power of the forgiveness I poured out on the cross. And ________, I’m not done with you yet, I’m going to make something beautiful out of the brokenness and the sin in your life. You’re not on your own, so let’s work through this stuff in your life… together.
11. Reflect on God’s love for you and pray that He would always help you grow in understanding of His ridiculous love for you.