james david low

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Manifesto – The goal theory of motivation and the circle theory of value, security, Sin and repentance

Before reading this is should be noted that I suffer a lot from trying hard to be perfect, and so these thoughts come from a journey of having to give up trying so hard to be good in order to really trust God and accept grace and then trying to reconcile the good of being disciplined without it being pleasing God or pleasing man.

Manifesto – The goal theory of motivation and the circle theory of value, security, Sin and repentance

February 21st 2010

In the shower, well brushing my teeth and then going into the shower, and I think I got it, I have so much to write down and I’m not sure if I’ll forget or it will become less clear, but God please let it remain this way. REVELATION

Was brushing my teeth and realised that I hadn’t used my mouth wash in a while. I wondered if I was slipping back into not being disciplined, and if I should force myself to use my mouth wash, or if that was unwise, because it was something else I had to “do” in order to be “perfect”, striving, etc. I then started thinking about goals, and that actually what made me feel I should brush my teeth. Started to think, I really do want to be able to enjoy food when I’m older, not gluttonously, but because its a gift and a joy that to be enjoyed in life. I also want my health too, not because a perfect person also looks after their health, but because I want to have my health for my old age, so I’m not miserable then, and so I have it for my kids. I then started to realise that these were purer ultimate goals that changed the simple act of being disciplined about brushing my teeth being into something that was right and worth it.

I then realised that even the goals that we want in the future can become “idols” and impure, if we only want health for our children so that we’re good parents, to show we’re perfect, to feel good about ourselves or to make up for lack of our own parents. We then need to make the ultimate goal and motivation, the reason why we want to be good parents, something above that to make it pure. It was glaringly obvious that this was God, that we should “chase” our desires and goals upwards to be based on something God ordained. I realised this comes in several forms, general commands in the bible (when we’re not using them as legalism to be “perfect”), specific leading by his holy spirit and desires he’s placed in our hearts, being the “you” God created you to be.

My thoughts then turned to the definition of Sin (big ‘S’), realising that both the laws we break (sins, little ‘s’) AND the reasons we try to keep laws can be Sin (big ‘S’). This was an idea I had been exploring for a while, and trying to understand, link together, and understand where grace fits in. I’ve toyed with the idea of ego preservation, that Sin is mainly the preservation of our “ego” or “false self”. We, by our own strength, try to preserve ourselves by saying we’ll be “good enough”, insinuating that we can be good enough, and engaging our pride. The other way is that we try to please the ego is through pleasurable sin, sometimes to numb pain, but sometimes for the pure selfish pleasure of it. We either try to feel good or to be perfect, and being perfect is really just feeling good by feeling good about ourselves.

This time my thoughts went to the idea of security. Janakan’s talk on Saturday was really good that identified insecurity as the key to why people are often workaholics, and it has come up a lot in counseling and with Anna, and I realised that was the key here too. Linking this I managed to come up with a definition of Sin that makes sense to me.

Sin, the inability and unwillingness to find our value, security and enjoyment in God and the choice to try and do it ourselves, leading to legalistic behavior or debauchery, and normally an odd combination of both.

It really is the God shaped hole, the desire for love, that can ultimately only be met by God. And its not a love that is earned, its a free gift, grace, Jesus stretching out his arms on a cross, so that we could know we’re loved, without doing anything.

This then is the truth of “if you want to save your life you must loose it”. That we give up our ego and find our security, value, love and life in God. We have faith, we trust, that God has taken care of everything. When we don’t have the strength to do good (one extreme), trusting God has forgiven us and ask for his strength, and when we feel like striving to earn our value, trust God that we’re valued enough already (the other extreme). Discipline and working hard then are tools and gifts from God to do and achieve our goals, and the things he wants us to do, but not forgetting we always have to admit our need for him in order to be able to achieve everything, and that like food, the earth, our talents, or even life itself, disciplined itself is a gift, and it all comes from him. Obedience and the law then are also a tool, to set us free to achieve what we want, or not to hurt others, but again a tool that goes hand in hand with a trust and an acknowledgment of our need for him. Obedience then becomes something we want to do, even if it feels hard or it goes against our ego.

Several other ideas were important in thinking about this, counseling, John Eldredge, Ravi Zacharias and of course Rob Bell. Ravi Zacharias turned me on to the quote “Intent is prior to content” (I think it was C.S. Lewis). Had a great discussion about this with Anna, expanding to be “intent is prior to action”. This was especially with regards to talents like my discipline or her people skills, that are good things, but that have been to our detriment when we’ve used them to strive to give ourselves value or feel worthy of love. We never ultimately feel loved, its just the elusive idea that we might one day be good enough to be loved.

I also love what Ravi Zacharias’ “love is the ultimate ethic”, and how it so clearly indicates ultimately what is behind all morality and theology. Sometimes this is a feeling, that as we realised we’re loved, and as we fall in love with other people, that we then have a natural motivation to do the right thing. But I was struggling with the times we don’t feel like doing the right thing, but being confused because I had had to stop disciplining myself while I sorted out my sin of striving, realising when I was trying to earn being loved, and not relying on God’s strength. But all this has made me realise that ultimate goals and motivation can be the reason for discipline and doing things when we don’t feel like it, and that this makes discipline an act of love, always remembering we rely on God’s strength.

Finally WE’RE ALL BROKEN in this way. We all either try to indulge in pleasure or strive for perfection, and don’t turn to rely on God. You can believe what you want about the doctrine of original sin, but the bible clearly states “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” so whether is from Adam, or from each of us individually, we all have it. And so even for me, thinking about and understanding all I have just written is one thing, but doing it is another, and that as I said before is turning to trust God.

Some of you may have heard of this as repenting. Usually it gets presented as turning around 180 degrees and trusting that God has taken your “Sin” (normally simplified to just the bad things you do, “sins”) and taken them on himself on the cross. But this so easily becomes promising the things we’re going to try harder to do differently, and if we do that we really haven’t turned 180. We’ve turned 180 to trust God, but passed through, not resting in that trust, turning a full 360 degrees to working really hard to be good enough to be loved.

So may you, when you’re tempted to indulge in pleasures that are either hurtful or for the motivation of feel good without God, trust that God has forgiven you, gives you the strength to do good, and loves you just the way you are. And may you, when you’re tempted to strive, earn your value and do things in your own strength, trust that God has forgiven you, gives you the strength to do good, and loves you just the way you are.

22nd February 2010

Even “for God” is not the ultimate goal or motivation. Otherwise we might be tempted to please him. But we love because he first loved us. And not because we owe him, but because as with any good relationship when we see someone for how they truly are and we see that they love us it causes us to love then back. And again not to feel guilty if you don’t feel it yet. Pray that God shows his true self to you in your heart.

I think that most and I would go as far to say that all sins are just twistings of something good. Like lust is sex out of the context of marriage. The devil isn’t very creative. Even other religions are almost true. They go as far as to say the ultimate motivation is to please God or to be good enough. But this is one short of the ultimate; that God already loved us and provides the way and the strength to love him back.

11:58pm / Feb 22nd / 10
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    11:27am / Feb 25th / 10 anna

    21st March

    The original Sin comprises all aspects of my definition of Sin:
    1) There was a specific command from God that Adam and Eve broke to eat of the apple.
    2) They saw the apple was good to eat and wanted pleasure apart from God and the ways he ordained.
    3) They wanted to strive by their own deeds to be like God, not trusting him for that value and validation.

    28th March

    Even with the story of the prodigal son. We all know the second son “worked like a slave” and got angry when the father lavished love on the prodigal son. He didn’t know his fathers heart. But even the prodigal son, his “repentence” was a 360. He turned from his debauchery but wanted to come back to striving and earning his provision and value. His father helped accept his position as a son.

    10:04am / Apr 3rd / 10 James Low

    […] been thinking a lot recently about motivation, how to balance not doing things in order to achieve, but realising we don’t always feel like […]