Motivation for Doing God’s Will

The first step after knowing God’s will is to discover our motivation for doing God’s will. Much of this outline comes from Thomas Merton’s classic, No Man is an Island, and then I have elaborated on his thoughts. *

Freedom:

  1. I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself. Living for self is really a basic natural function. In a way, living for my self is not freedom, because I am a slave to the old selfish nature.
  2. My freedom is only freedom when it is brought into the right relation with the freedom of others. This is the essence of community, all members exercising freedom of self-sacrifice on behalf of others. If one fails to be in relation to others, we are not able to exercise the freedom to choose to follow a cause higher than our own natural instincts.
  3. I don’t find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. There is joy in being in relationship with others and seeking to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
  4. To give my freedom blindly to an equal or inferior is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom, I can only become perfectly free by serving the will of God. God calls us to a higher purpose, which adds meaning to our existence. Serving ourselves is not freedom because it is evidence that we are slaves to instinct.
  5. Obedience to man has no meaning unless it is primarily obedience to God. As believers, we do all as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:31). As we understand the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) we are to first love God and then love others.
  6. Conscience is the soul of freedom.
    1. A rational being who does not know what to do with himself finds the tedium of life unbearable. He is literally bored to death. Life outside of a relationship with Christ brings no purpose of higher meaning. Life is hard, and if there is no call toward a higher life, there is hopelessness and despair.
    2. I cannot make good choices unless I develop a mature conscience that gives me an accurate account of my motives, my intentions and my moral acts. It is not enough to just do the right stuff or believe the right stuff; the motivation behind our actions is of great interest to God and our true selves.
    3. We must have right purposes: conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.

Pure Intention:

  1. Our happiness consists in doing the will of God. It makes sense that if we resists the will of God and we know it, we find ourselves feeling guilty that we knowingly disobeyed God’s will.
    1. The essence of this happiness does not lie in the agreement of wills, it consists in union with God.
    2. The union of wills which makes us happy in God must ultimately be something deeper than just an agreement. We must develop conviction.
  2. God’s will is more than a concept–it is a reality, a secret power which is given to us, from moment to moment to be the life of our life.
    1. It is not an abstraction.
    2. It is not a static center drawing our souls blindly to it
    3. We find ourselves in relationship with the Creator and His purpose and desire transcends our being.
  3. The will of God is the movement of His love and wisdom ordering and governing all free and necessary agents.
  4. Ponder this: Shall I be content to do God’s will for my own advantage? This is the essence of being obedient because of what I get out of it.
    1. Our intentions are pure when we identify our advantage with God’s glory. Receiving a blessing for obedience is different from doing something expecting a blessing.
    2. In order to make our intentions pure, we do not give up the idea of seeking our own good, we simply seek it where it can be found–in a good that is beyond ourselves.
  5. Question: what is an impure intention?
    1. One that yields to the will of God while retaining a preference for my own will. I still do this out of selfishness.
    2. This drives my will from His will, since I am not losing myself in the pure intention of following God alone because He deserves it and it is the right thing to do.
    3. It doubts in theory that God wills that which is generally best for me. Do we really believe that all God asks and wills is for my best interest? If we doubt it, we are not able to act on God’s will without reservation.
    4. To this man, the will of God becomes rich when it is pleasing to him, poorer when it offers less immediate satisfaction.
  6. Question: who is this man of impure intentions?
    1. Is hesitant and blind.
    2. Is always caught between two conflicting wills.
    3. Cannot make simple and clear-cut decisions.
    4. Has twice as much to think about: worrying about God’s will and his own at the same time.
    5. Is deceiving himself.
      1. Blinded by his own selfishness.
      2. Plunged into a confusion of doubtful choices, endless possibilities.
  7. Sanctity consists not in merely doing God’s will, but in willing God’s will. Obedience without pure intention is not attractive.
    1. It is not always necessary to find out what God’s will is in order to do it. Often times we know what His will is, the question is whether we embrace His will over our own.
    2. But if we are to will what He wills, we must begin to know something about what He wills. Study of God’s Word is helpful.
  8. How can I find out what is the will of God for my life?
    1. Before He wills me to do anything, He first wills me to be. This is a key concept in having a dynamic relationship with Christ. We are to be with him (Mark 3:14) before we are to do things for Him.
    2. What I do depends upon what I am (gifts of the Spirit).
    3. It is His will that we not only live as rational beings, but as new men regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
    4. Seek Him where He is to be found: His Church, His Word (john 14:26).
  9. When we speak of God’s will, usually we are speaking of some recognizable sign of His will.
    1. It is one thing to see a sign, it is another to interpret it correctly.
    2. The vision of the prophets: being alive to the divine light concealed in things and events, they saw glimpses of the light where other men saw nothing but ordinary happenings.
    3. Signs show us the road, but only a few paces, as a lamp lights only the steps in front of our feet.
    4. If I am to know God’s will, I must have the right attitude toward life, to know what my life is and to know the purpose for my existence. Many people are simply clueless about the purpose of life and the mission of God in the world.
    5. His will for me points to one thing: the realization, discovery and fulfillment of my true self in Christ (in order to save my life I must lose it, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).
  10. I cannot work out God’s will for my life unless I am consciously helping other men find God’s will in theirs. Here again is the idea of community.
    1. His will is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), our transformation in Christ (Romans 12:2), our deeper integration with other men (Hebrews 10:25).
    2. The book is called, No Man is an Island: we need others that God has also regenerated.
  11. Remember: we must will the will of God, not simply do it. This is a lot of work, it is easier to just do something than it is to make such an effort to be something or to will something.
    1. So, we must know what it is that He wills.
    2. We must will His will because we love it.
    3. It is better to say “no” and then go, than to say “yes” and not obey (Matthew 21:28-31, which did the will of his father?).
  12. Right vs. simple intention.
    1. Right intention is pure: attention is placed upon the work to be done, then we rest in the accomplishment and hope in reward.
    2. Simple intention: we are less occupied with the thing to be done, we are more aware of the One who works in us.
    3. The man of simple intention works in the atmosphere of prayer.
  13. Simple intention is a rare gift from God.
    1. Rare because it is poor.
    2. It seeks nothing but the supreme poverty of having nothing but God.
      1. With right intention, you risk losing the fruit of your work.
      2. With simple intention, you renounce the fruit before you begin and you don’t expect it.

* Thomas Merton was a contemplative monk, who on December 10th, 1941 entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order. While on a trip to a monastic East-West dialogue conference in Thailand, Merton died in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani. The monastery is located near Bardstown Kentucky, not far from Louisville, where I went to seminary.

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