Monday, February 27, 2012

Compulsion vs. Motivation

I wrote a little about this on today's devotional, but there is more I wanted to say.  This whole idea came about from a discussion with my best friend, who was reading in her Bible Study text about competition vs. compassion.  The gist of it was that when we compete with others, or compare ourselves to others, we don't leave room to think of their needs.  When we are truly compassionate, than we can truly serve.

For instance, if I took a meal to a family with a newborn for strokes or to look good in the group, I'm twisting what service is to meet my own selfish needs.  But if my desire to serve them is borne out of a desire to make their life easier during a trying time - then I'm being truly compassionate and the blessings can flow through me.

In short: the right kind of service comes from the right kind of heart.

As we continued to talk, we discussed what it really means to live by the Spirit and not just by the flesh.  That's a mysterious proposition, it is hard to apply living and walking by the Spirit into every day life.  Or so I thought because when I looked up Galatians 5:16-18 in the Message, it became pretty clear:
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
It's this whole idea of compulsion that has me stirred up.  The definition of compulsion is this:

An irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act.

The synonyms make an important case: arm-twisting, coercion, force, constraint, duress, pressure.

Compulsion doesn't sound pleasant, nor is it seemingly ever satisfied with what you give it.  It always needs more and more and more.  The example the dictionary gave was excessive hand washing, but the feeling I get is like being made to walk the plank because someone is jabbing you in the back with a red-hot poker. Being compelled to do anything is not good.  And that is the point Paul was making to the Corinthians.  Why were they letting themselves be compelled to follow the law when they were no longer under it?  Furthermore, why were they letting people tell them they had to be circumcised to be saved, when Christ had already died for their sins?

You can't earn grace, you just have to receive it.

We cannot be perfect, but we sure do like to try.  We make up rules, regulations and have expectations as to what makes a "good" person.  We try so hard to create boundaries for ourselves, but those boundaries don't keep bad things out, they just hold us back.  I have recently come under some conviction about this.  I don't know exactly why this thought process got started in my brain, but the result of is, I've been trying to be perfect.  I've set up expectations of the way I spend my time, money, energy and based on how well I do makes me feel good or bad about any given day.

Instead of being motivated by the Holy Spirit on the right way to run my life, I've made myself a prisoner to my own expectations of how my life should look.  I have been erratically living according to a self-made law dominated existence and it has been slowly sucking the joy out of life.  I can't eat this, I can't drink that, I have to do this, I can't do that.  It is a vicious cycle that leave me feeling drained because it feels like it is never going to get any better. 

In the last few weeks, though, through some intense therapeutic work, I've been shown this negative thought pattern.  Compulsion is negative whereas motivation is positive.  Instead of freeing the Holy Spirit to work in me and in my life, I'm seeking to do things my way.  I'm being selfish because I think being on lock-down in my personal lifestyle will get me to where God wants me to be faster.


The relief that came when I realized I no longer had to burden myself with expectation was immediate.

Paul says to the Cornithians in his first letter (twice actually) that while everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial.  So, while living by a strict diet, exercise program or schedule is certainly acceptable, I have taken it and twisted it to measure my "goodness" by.  It leaves me feeling incomplete and unproductive.  (Not to mention exhausted).  My freedom has come from living not under condemnation but under Christ.

Seeking the Spirit's motivation rather than self-defeating compulsion is a skill to be mastered for sure.  What I'm realizing now though is that if there is something I need to change in my life, He isn't in the business of making me feel bad about it.  He will point it out but in order for me to respond to His positive suggestions for change.  If there is an area that my behavior, thought-pattern or lifestyle is not part of God's plan, He is going to show me and I don't have to beat myself up for not doing it all right, right now.  My job, according to Micah 6:8, is to be listening for the ways God is prompting me to change and take Him - not myself - seriously.  He is a positive force in my life, not a negative.  He doesn't make me feel guilty, only desires more freedom.  There is always room for improvement but that improvement takes time to take shape.

It's about time I figured out how to cut myself some slack. 

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