As we study the language of Bahasa Malaysia, we have come to the lessons about nouns that can be turned into verbs. For example, “jalan” means road (we live on Jalan Pinggir), and adding a form of “me-“ turns it into menjalankan – to drive. Similarly, “makan” (to eat) becomes makanan – the word used in the Lord’s Prayer for daily bread.
There are also many great words in English that are built on other words, and we are so used to them that we don’t even think about their roots. It wasn’t until I saw “cooperate” written/translated from Chinese that I saw its root: co-operate. Literally, to operate together. Operate might mean surgery, or operating a machine, or other actions that are pretty serious. Co-operating means that we work together so seriously that the goal of the action has all of our attention, rather than thinking about our own purposes or desires.
So too, with motivation: you can’t have “motivate” without “motive.” You will move in a direction if you have an internal pull to get you there. A noun gives you a verb! So the question is, what are your motives? In daily living, in the span of your whole life? These are questions that are not easily answered.
The opposite is also true: if you have no motivation, it may be because your motives are unclear. For me, it is hard to get myself moving if I either don’t know why I want to do something, or if I’m uncomfortable with the process or the desired outcome. Sometimes the importance of the outcome doesn’t outweigh my confusion about what steps to take.
These are true with the tasks of life – I have spent weeks procrastinating on PTA e-mails and expense reporting. I find that when I can explain clearly to myself why these matter (to the other PTA members who are giving of their time, or to my family’s food budget), then I’m quick to step to at least trying to get one step closer to completion.
They are also true in the spiritual life. It is difficult to commit to Christian practices (or those of other faiths) unless your commitment is motivated by something strong and lasting. And what could be more strong and lasting than God? The love of God – from God to you and to all creation – is without limit and with end. But in our life there are limits, and sadly, limits to our love for God. There is also the challenge of inertia – the less one does, the less one experiences the motivation that comes from experiencing a faith practice, so it can be hard to get started if your “motive-tank” is on empty. But a hunger for something (like God’s love, justice, presence) may be the motivation to help open a Bible, sign up at a soup kitchen, talk to a pastor, or sing in a choir. Hunger is a motive, and it is a blessed state to be motivated into meaningful action.
At this point in the blog, I could ask you: what are your motives? But I know from being a pastor that sometimes asking the question puts people too much on the spot. Nothing gets silence quicker than a deep question. So here’s an easier one: think of Jesus. What were his motives? What was he hungering for in his days walking this earth? And, when you think of what you hunger for, you may be surprised to find some of Jesus’ words in your heart. He knew our deepest desires, our most positive and negative motives, and he knew that ultimately, his motives would clash with the goals of this world and its powers. Yet he kept his practices, kept in touch with the Father God who was the foundation for all of Jesus’ motives. We are not Jesus, but what we know of his motives can motivate us. Our blog is called Flung Forth Anew and it has felt like Jesus spring-boarded us into this new life, defining our motives and giving us a hunger to serve here. Though we have been Flung Forth by Jesus, he continues to meet us in the places we land, and that gives us the foundation we need to understand our motives and live them out.