Bat staring me down at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God can use impure motives

Have you ever been unhappy because of the way other people act? Have you ever let other people’s actions affect you or their motivation irritate you?

It’s easy for me to stress out about the condition of the world. We have to live in the world, so a lot of the time I get stuck in mourning how things used to be. Or how they were intended to be, and I forget to focus on the things that matter. And I’ve had such a negative experience with so many churches, it’s easy for me to get pretty unhappy and angry at Christians too.

But I found something in Philippians today that made me stop and think.

Bat staring me down at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Bat staring me down at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:15-19.

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.

Paul was writing this at a time when Christianity was new (sort of), and it was spreading like wildfire throughout the world. Jesus’ disciples had stepped up to the plate big time, on a level that even they could never have imagined before Christ had died and rose again. And because of them, many people had come to believe in Christ and went to spread the Word even farther. So the early Church was off to a great start.

But even then there were people intent on the spotlight.

People don’t change, remember? The same kinds of people will always exist as long as the world is broken. Just as we have “preachers” and “ministers” in our culture now who really only care about the way they look and how many people attend their Sunday services, Paul seems to have encountered the same folks in the first century. But Paul isn’t letting their motivation bother him. He doesn’t care why they’re telling others about Christ. He’s just happy that they’re doing it.

I think that’s crazy. I mean it’s awesome, but how can you rejoice when someone’s motivation is to cause you pain? How can you be happy when people are doing things for the wrong reasons (even if they’re doing the right things)? Well I think I already have the answer. I blogged about it last Friday. We have to know what matters and what doesn’t. It all comes down to understanding what is important to God and what isn’t.

And, yes, motivation matters to God. God cares about why we do things. But only God knows why we do things. Do we grasp that? Only God can see into someone else’s heart. Only God can see my own heart. Only God knows my real motivation and my real intentions. I can tell others what I’m thinking, but only God knows if I’m telling the truth.

God cares about motivation, but that’s something only He can judge.

So if someone is doing the right thing but you suspect they’re doing it for the wrong reasons–don’t worry about it.

This is hard for me because heart and motivation and being genuine is high on my list of character qualities I require from people. And I’m not saying we should just let it go if we have irrefutable evidence that someone’s heart is in the wrong place, especially if you’re in a position to say something about it or if you know that person is going to cause trouble in a family or in a church.

But here’s my problem: I focus on the means rather than the end. And in focusing on the means many times I get discouraged because I start to compare others to myself, and I think that God surely can’t use someone with impure motives.

Guess what? He can. And I am evidence of that fact. Because my motives aren’t always pure.

I’m not saying that the end justifies the means. Not at all. But focusing on someone else’s motivation just usually leads me to compare myself and consider myself better than others, and that’s not true. If someone is telling others about Christ with impure motives, maybe it’s not the best situation; but they’re telling others about Christ. What’s true is true no matter who says it or how it is said, and God can always use truth. God is truth, and that’s not something an impure motive can change.

So don’t stress. Don’t be unhappy because you suspect others don’t have pure motives for the things they’re doing that are right on the outside.

Rejoice for the things you can see that are good, and pray about the things you can’t see. God knows their hearts. God knows their intentions. And He’s big enough to make everything work out.

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Katie taking football photos in Hutchinson, KS

Tears are okay

Yesterday afternoon, I watched my best friend board an airplane that is taking her to Europe for a year. I plan to visit, but I won’t be able to get there until the last part of June, assuming my workload even allows me to go. So it will be upward of five months before I get to hug her again. This is a major change considering she has spend nearly every other weekend at my house or with me in some form or another for the better part of two years.

If you’ve never had a friend who can finish your sentences, read your mind, or understand everything you haven’t said out loud, I don’t know if you can understand how empty the prospect of life without them close is. But God is good and has given me so many wonderful, awesome, incredible other friends–and we’re all friends with each other, so we can commiserate her leaving en masse!

I was marveling this morning because the entire event of her going out there is such a mixed bag of emotions. I miss her. Intensely. I was joking with her last night over Skype that I sort of randomly burst into tears at every other inanimate object that reminds me of her. I was in the store and saw flowers and thought of her and cried. Still in the store, I was in the produce area and saw vegetables and remembered she hates them and cried. I think I teared up in seven different sections of the grocery store, and I’m sure everyone around me was wondering what on earth was so sad about biscuits!

But at the same time, even though I’m torn up about her not being here, I’m so excited for her that I can hardly contain it. She gets to travel all over Europe, one of the most empty countries, so many people with no hope and no life, and the thought of all the joy that God has used her to bring in my life being implemented in such a hopeless field makes me so eager for her to get over there.

And I thought about how strange it is that in the blink of an eye, because of God, something that is heart-wrenchingly sad can become something immensely joyful.

Katie taking football photos in Hutchinson, KS

Katie taking football photos in Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is John 16:20.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.

This is Jesus talking to the disciples, His “unlearned and ignorant” followers. If you read the whole passage, it’s kind of entertaining. The disciples are all so much like us, it’s really not even funny. But in this verse, Jesus is talking about what is going to happen to Him. He’s talking about how He will be crucified, how He will be tortured, how He will be killed.

But He was trying to prepare them, not just for the fact that He would be killed, but that His death wasn’t the end. Yes, they were going to grieve when He died, but He wasn’t going to stay dead. And after He rose again under His own power, there would be cause for great rejoicing.

Only God can take something so sad and turn it into something worth rejoicing over.

We can’t do that. That’s not an ability we possess. We aren’t strong enough to take a terrible situation and find hope in it without the influence of God in our lives. Maybe we can guess that it might work out okay. Or maybe we can pick some random ethereal feel-good concept out of the air and hope it will happen. But only God allows us to know that things will be all right.

So whatever is changing in your life, if you follow Christ, whether you’re moving jobs or moving friends or moving countries, you can know that God is working things out. And you can know it because He’s told us. And even the sad things in life aren’t going to stay sad, because God is a God who can turn sorrow into happiness.

It’s not wrong to mourn. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian to be sad, especially when someone you love isn’t around as much. For me it’s like losing my left hand. I’m a righty, so I can still function but life won’t be as easy for a little while until I adapt. But if you trust God, if you believe what He said, no matter what situation or circumstance you find yourself in this morning, He’s going to use it to help you and to help others around you and to bring glory to Himself. That’s what being a Christian is.

So it’s okay to be sad because God’s got lots of tissues, and one of these days, He’s going to wipe the tears away and they won’t come back. But until then, tears are okay. But don’t let them take over because you’ll need some tears left for when the sorrow turns to joy.

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Choosing to rejoice

Christians are called to rejoice. Did you know that? We’re supposed to rejoice. It’s all over Scripture. Over and over again. Rejoice in good times. Rejoice in bad times. Rejoice when we get what we want and when we don’t. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice … and again I say, rejoice!

It’s even in today’s verse!

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:12.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

But what is rejoicing? It’s not exactly one of those words we use a lot in our culture. For me, it usually only comes up when somebody is making fun of old-fashioned ways of speaking.

So, grammar and language nerd that I am, I decided to look it up on Dictionary.com. And this is what it had to say: 

Rejoice (verb used without object): 1. to be glad; take delight (often followed by in ): to rejoice in another’s happiness. (verb used with object) 2. to make joyful; gladden: a song to rejoice the heart.
 
Again, I love words. So this caught my eye. That rejoice can be both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb, meaning that it can be used with or without an object. Not all verbs are like that. Let me rephrase for the non-grammarians who I know are rolling my eyes at me right now:  
 
It means you rejoice because of something or it means that something makes you rejoice.
 
Maybe that sounds the same, but if you think about it, the context is completely different.
 
If something makes you rejoice, you don’t really choose it. It’s something so wonderful you just can’t help but be glad. But if you rejoice because of something, that doesn’t generally mean it’s something wonderful. That just means you choose to rejoice, and it can mean you choose to rejoice in spite of what has happened.
 
The verse says rejoice in our confident hope. I’ve blogged on this verse before and on the phrase confident hope, especially because there are other instances throughout Scripture where confident hope plays a big role in our walk. But at this point in my week of Mondays, I think I need to focus on rejoicing.
 
When I hear the phrase, “Rejoice in our confident hope,” my first reaction isn’t to think about hope. My first thought is an exclamation of how am I going to rejoice at all? In anything?
 
I’m exhausted. I’m stressed out. I’m worn down with waiting, and even though I’ve gotten some answers, they weren’t the answers I wanted. So how can I rejoice about all of that? Any rejoicing I do for any of that is likely to come off as half-hearted or sarcastic, and I don’t think God would appreciate that.
 
Remember the confusing discussion of transitive and intransitive verbs above? This use of rejoice is intransitive, meaning it doesn’t need an object. In my meager definition, it means you rejoice because of something. You choose it.
 
We can choose to rejoice in our confident hope, no matter what our circumstances are. Why? Because it’s confident hope.
 
So if you’ve had a great week and everything is going right in your life, that’s something that will make you rejoice.
 
But if you’re like me and have had a frustrating string of days where nothing goes as planned and you don’t get what you want and all you really want to do is stay in bed, choose to rejoice anyway.
 
If your hope is in Christ, it’s confident. Even if you don’t feel like it’s confident, it is. Because Christ is trustworthy. And He knows what you need. And He’s working everything out. And He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises. Your hope is confident, even if you don’t feel like it is. And that means, you can choose to rejoice.
 
Try it. It makes all the difference in the world. And after a few days of choosing to rejoice, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to rejoice without thinking about it.