“For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” — Philippians 2:21
On Tuesday, I will be 39 years old. It will be the only year that I can say “I’m 39” and it actually be true. Honestly, I haven’t cared at all about getting older, though others tell me that day is coming. I wish I knew the exact date of my spiritual birth. I know it was in June of 1991, I just don’t remember the day. Anyway, that means that sometime this month I will have been a Christian for 23 years.
Probably the most recurring spiritual conversation my wife and I have concerns motive. Why do we do what we do? Why do we pray? Why do we read the Bible? It is amazing that something as simple as reading the Word could be wrong. The Pharisees had it memorized, yet Jesus called them a “brood of vipers.” Their motive for every religious thing they did was self-exaltation. The most important factor in doing anything for God is the motive behind it. Everything must be done out of love.
In 23 years, my motives have been all over the place. I have gone to church because I knew a certain girl would be there. I have gone because of what was on the menu. I have gone because I knew there would be games and it would be fun. My motive for accepting Christ was Hell avoidance. I had no real intention of learning His Word and following it to the best of my abilities . . . I just didn’t want to go to Hell.
After living life my way for several years, I didn’t like where I ended up. I began to understand that my choices were roads that sometimes led to destinations I didn’t like. God began to speak to my heart about actually reading and learning His Word. My motive was simply to be obedient to that call. I spent the next 15 months reading the entire Bible. I don’t know how it happened, but I was different. God had changed my heart. It was wonderful!
Not too long after this, I became a Pharisee. I saw myself as better than other people because I had read the whole Bible. I was very quick to judge others of their sin while justifying my own. My motive was self-exaltation. The contrite and broken spirit that accompanies humility was nowhere to be found inside of my heart.
After a few years of this, everything came crashing down on me. I was plagued with guilt. All of a sudden, I realized that I had been using God. I began to go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I took notes religiously. I studied the Word, read Christian books, and all I listened to was Christian music. My motive: to get God to like me. I knew I had done him absolutely wrong for years. I had used God, and I just didn’t know if I was forgivable.
Things never got better until I met my wife, Tonya. I confessed some things to her absolutely knowing that she was going to leave me after I did. Her forgiveness was instantaneous. In my heart, I realized that there was no way that she was more forgiving than God. So for the first time, I received God’s forgiveness. Why in the world had I carried all that guilt, sin, and condemnation around for all those years? I realized very quickly that I had been viewing Him wrong . . . Really wrong.
Ever since that day, I have loved God. This in no way means that I have done everything right or that I have never had any doubts. But, just as my heart fills up when one of my two kids jump on my lap, hug me, and say “I love you,” I realize that I have this same effect on My Heavenly Father. When I get up to spend time with Him, it isn’t so much to just read the Bible and pray . . . It is to be alone with Him. It is to jump up in His lap and say “I love you! Thank you so much for not leaving me like you found me!”
I hope I have another 39 years to love and serve Him. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Just like everyone else, I have an appointment with death and afterwards I will face judgment. On that day, my motives will be revealed. Until then, I choose to love Him and allow Him to love me back today. After all, today is a gift . . . That is why it is called the present.