“Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted?’”
What is my motivation? The question is a cliché, almost a joke bandied about in connection with actors, but it is an entirely valid question for me to ask myself as a believer. Unlike the actor, who is trying to ascertain why the character they are portraying would do a thing, I must ask with the intent to change myself if the reason why I am doing something is wrong.
In context, the people and the priests of Bethel had sent a delegation to ask if they should continue to fast and mourn as they had for years. While there is nothing wrong with fasting — it is an excellent practice, if done for the right reasons — and mourning is the correct response to conviction of our wrongdoing, the people who were asking had let the fasting and mourning transition from legitimate act of penitence and seeking of God to tradition. Their fasting and mourning had such awesome potential, but letting it become tradition had robbed it of any efficacy.
A great example of something with awesome potential becoming tradition is the practice of Lent. I grew up in a branch of the Protestant church that did not practice Lent, but I knew many people who did. If the practice were actually used by the many as it is by the few — viz., as an identification with Christ’s self-denial in the wilderness and as a time of resetting one’s focus on God in preparation for the remembrance of His death, burial, and resurrection — then I suspect that there would be far deeper relationship between those many and our God. But it has become tradition, almost a byword in and of itself. Worse, the Carnival season added an element of debauchery immediately preceding a time of fasting and self-abnegation, as if we intended to let our sins abound that grace might abound still more.
This transition from actual meaning to mere ritual is a case of lost motivation. If I examine myself and realize that I am not joining in the celebration of Lent with the right heart and for the right reasons, then I am far better off not celebrating Lent until I get my heart right. If I give to charities only for the tax deductions, then I have my reward in full come tax time (a sadder statement has seldom been committed to text). Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth that whatever they did should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Am I going to eat? Let me do it with thanks to God for His provision. Am I going to fast? Let me do it so as to draw nearer my God. Am I praying? Let me do it to pour out my heart to God. Am I singing (a charitable choice of words for what I do, but it will suffice) praises? Let me do it so that God hears my adoration of Him. If I sing to be heard by men or pray so that I am perceived as holy or fast so that others notice, then I am fully recompensed by the accolades of men. If I do all of these things with my eyes set on God and His glory, then my approval comes from Him.
As I prepare to step out into the day, the question bears consideration. What is my motivation? Am I motivated by the glory of God or by something else?