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Motives are a tricky topic. I remember one of my darkest times in Papua New Guinea. We were approaching the end of seven months of teaching our way from Creation to Christ. Things were going well, I was sure that many Iteri folks were understanding the message they were hearing each day. I was excited to see a harvest of souls in the coming weeks. Each day, before I went to work preparing lessons, I would devote myself to prayer, begging the Lord to guide my thinking and how I would lay out the coming lesson. And then one day as I was praying, the idea came out of nowhere into my head: “Brad, you’re only praying for guidance so that the Iteris will respond to the gospel, and then you’ll look like a successful missionary.” It hit me like a hammer blow. “Really, is THAT why I’m working so hard on making the message understandable? Is it truly for my personal benefit that I’m struggling to make this eternal message crystal clear to the Iteri people?” For the next few days I was pummeled with that idea each time I went to pray. After much soul searching, I finally came to the point where I could confess, “YES, Lord, part of me does want to look like a success. I’m a deeply sick person inside, and my motivations are a tangled web. But Lord, you know that underneath all these tangled layers I truly do want to see your name honored among the Iteri people.” Calling a halt to the task of untangling my motivations proved to be a deeply freeing experience. Paul expresses a similar freedom in I Corinthians 4:3-5. He had learned not to put his thoughts and motives under too bright a light, but to leave that job to the Lord who judges perfectly. His task as a gospel worker was to WALK in the light he was given.

At this point in my life I’m pretty convinced that for many individuals who want to honor the Lord with their lives, ‘overthinking’ may be the biggest hurdle they must overcome. The search for the perfect motivation is incessant for some, a convenient distraction for others. What motivates a person to do a host of things they do is hardly an exact science; it is subjective by nature. Mostly, people are an amalgam of motivations.

In II Corinthians 5:14, Paul speaks of Christ’s love compelling him to no longer live for himself but for Christ alone. I know of no higher motivation than being compelled by His love to do what we do. Yet Paul also freely confesses in I Corinthians 9:19 how compelled he was to preach the gospel. In fact, he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Paul had been given a trust, and as a faithful man he embraced that responsibility. Even when he may have had times where the emotions and feelings didn’t line up or he knew an outcome would be negative (see II Corinthians 11:24-28), he carried out his duty.

Any honest married man I know will confess that his motives for staying faithful to his wife may vary at certain times—but faithful he will stay. For the naïve young groom who thinks that his wife’s stunning beauty on their wedding day will suffice, he will soon learn that he had best develop other, deeper reasons to stay faithful. The desire to cleanse ourselves of all but the noblest of motivations will freeze many folks into overthinking.

I’ve talked with countless folks who really get tangled up trying to unravel their motivations. Folks who clearly understand the words of Jesus and desire to live them out, yet in their humanness they stop short of moving forward because other motivations also exist in their heart. “I’m afraid I’d become a missionary only out of pride or guilt. I’d want others to think I’m spiritual. Because I love adventure, I love to travel, I don’t want to live in this place anymore, I really don’t like my job.” I’ve heard every one of those concerns, and it is true that to pursue a future as a gospel ambassador based solely off of those motivations would be shallow and quickly extinguish gospel fire.

How do motivations change? It’s always fun to hear the stories of our new Radius students. What initially got them thinking about missions? What hurdles, external, and internal, did they have to overcome? At first some might speak of a call, a vision, a burden, or some other reason for being here. And that’s fine and good. But after a few weeks of teaching from Gods Word, and instructors being honest with students about what got them into missions, many then begin to be able to verbalize, “I didn’t want to do this, but I was compelled to step forward as I read (or was taught) God’s Word.”

Obedience is an honorable motive! It’s one that is strongly endorsed by our Father. In I Samuel 15, God wanted absolute obedience to what He commanded Saul to do, yet Saul made some minor adjustments such as sparing King Agag and the choice animals of the Amalekites. It made sense to Saul—after all, every conquering king brought back conquered kings. And the animals? Saul made a subjective judgment call to bring them back and sacrifice them to God later! But God wasn’t having any of it. Through the prophet Nathan, He thundered back to Saul, “To OBEY is better than sacrifice, to heed my word is better than your ‘I’m sorry’!”

Yet today the rule of the subjective can easily go unquestioned. “What am I passionate about? How am I personally being led? What am I personally burdened for?” Submission to the truth of Scripture and walking it out obediently has, for many, been subjugated to their personal view. After seeing missionaries come and go for four decades, I’d rather have an obedient, ‘committed’ person over a ‘called’ person every time. Too often, when the pressure increases, the called begin to doubt their call. For an age that is suckled on the subjective, it is a wonderful transition when simple obedience to His Word finally becomes a valid reason to lay down their life for their Savior. Simple obedience is one of the unique attributes that binds Radius students together. It’s why they have stepped away from the lives they were living. When a person is overwhelmingly motivated by his/her desire to live in obedience to Jesus’ words in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, is a basis that is solid. We all long for the purest of motivations, and that is truly part of our sanctification process. But only in His presence will such single-hearted praise and worship come from our lives. We still occupy these very complex, fallen bodies and minds.

Motives are important. But the desire to live a life of obedience to the words of Jesus is an absolutely valid reason for stepping forward. What a privilege it is to teach students with that deep, abiding conviction.

Brad Buser

Brad Buser

Founder of Radius International

Brad and his wife Beth planted a church among the Iterri people in Papua New Guinea. Now he is a sought-after speaker for Perspectives classes around the nation, and the instructor of Church Planting at Radius.