“Ughh, I’ve got to get motivated.”
The whole world is struggling with motivation. As a health coach, most people justify an unhealthy lifestyle by saying, “I know what to do, I just don’t do it.” In the past, I’ve been judgmental towards those folks, but now I relate to their struggle. With all my education and experience in exercise and healthy eating, I’ve struggled to find motivation as well. It seems as if motivation is the scarcest natural resource on the planet. Why do most of us struggle so desperately to find motivation?
If you’re like most people, you’ve been motivated before. You’ve lost weight, stuck to a diet, quit smoking, exercised, or worked on some other bad habit. The question isn’t about getting motivated but staying motivated. Here’s my thesis statement: we can’t stay motivated because our motivation is founded upon shadows, and as shadows do, they move or fade away. You may be surprised, but this idea is actually in the Bible.
In the book of Colossians, written by the Apostle Paul, he describes food, drink, festivals, and religious observances as “a shadow of the things to come.” (2:17) In Ephesians 5 and 6, Paul goes into a lengthy explanation of how marriage, family relationships, and even our interactions with employees and employers (referred to as bondservants and masters back then) all reflect Jesus Christ’s relationship to his church and his people. In Romans 1:19-20, Paul says God is showing his attributes and nature through every created thing – like a shadow.
If Paul, the greatest theologian of the New Testament doesn’t convince you, what about Jesus? Would he convince you? Jesus often spoke in parables, using God’s physical creation to explain spiritual realities. Just in Matthew 13, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a sower spreading seed (vv. 3-8), a mustard seed (v. 31), leaven hidden in bread (v. 33), treasure hidden in a field (v. 44), a merchant in search of pearls (v. 45), and a fishing net (v. 47). Please note that Jesus’ use of parables wasn’t accidental, but he fulfilled prophecy by doing so: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Psalm 78:2) The Son of God viewed all creation as a shadow pointing to the Father.
How does seeing all creation as a shadow pointing to God help us with the motivation to eat better, exercise more often, or make any other change? Shadows themselves contain no substance, power, hope, or stability; a shadow will come and go as the sun rises and sets, as clouds appear and disappear. Despite that, many of us rely upon creation to motivate us. What do I mean? We start a fitness program to gain the approval of another; we eat healthy to reach a certain look; we even quit smoking to save money. These motivations sound good, and they do help us change for awhile, but we all know they come and go – as shadows always do.
When we look to God’s creations for motivation – and we must admit this is a problem – it’s like anchoring yourself to a shadow. Some days, especially on overcast days, you can’t find your shadow-anchor at all. Does this sound familiar? “Where did my motivation go? It was here yesterday.” When we anchor our dreams to anything created – people, achievements, or emotions – we will always have a motivation that’s here one day and gone the next. People move in and out of our lives, achievements always leave us wanting more, and emotions ebb and flow with the tide. We can certainly enjoy God’s creation, but just as we weren’t meant to worship His creation, it’s not meant to motivate us, either. Only God Himself can empower us.
Consider what motivated Abraham to obey God and sacrifice Issac in Genesis 22; there was no creation, emotion, or accomplishment on earth powerful enough to compel Abraham to give up his first born. With motivation to please God in his heart, Abraham could do such a difficult thing – and God met him along the way, didn’t He? Motivation to please God makes us capable of doing incredible things. Surely Abraham held his son closer than you and I hold brownies, pizza, or even cigarettes!
Do you feel there’s no fire beneath your desire to change? Bear in mind that Hebrews 12:29 declares “our God is a consuming fire,” and when you offer up idols, addictions, and habits to Him, He’s more than capable of bringing change into your life. The alternative is a life chasing shadows, baffled as to why we can’t persevere and conquer our weaknesses. Right now, in the very moment you’re reading this, if you feel Him speaking, do as the hymn says and pray, “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.” Will God not honor that prayer and begin to move in your hopes, dreams, and goals?
Health Coach Note
I’ve discovered a test to determine if our motivation is coming from God’s creation or God Himself. Would you eat healthy, exercise, and respect your body even if the reflection in the mirror never changed? Would you put cigarettes down if your coughing never improved and you didn’t save any money? Essentially, do you want to live for God, no matter the consequences?
To my shame, I’m often motivated by what God can do for me, not by pleasing God. Each time I feel motivation running low, without fail, I see that my reasons have become hitched to His creation, not Him. He is always kind to redirect me.