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Common sense from Proverbs: Impetus

Common sense from Proverbs: Impetus

A Scripture study from Caring, part four of four.

Read part three here.

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”—Thomas Jefferson

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives (Prov. 16:2 NLT).

Author Alix Harrow tells the story of how she attempted to motivate and change her 4-year-old son’s approach to mealtime. She told her son she no longer wanted to hear him say that dinner is “gross.” He was quick to find ways to creatively express his continued dislike of dinner: “This tastes…unlucky to me.” “Cauliflower is (while pinching his fingers together) this much delicious.”

Though the word gross was removed from this young boy’s vocabulary, he found other words to share his dislike for the food. It may or may not have worked to get the boy to eat what his body needed without fuss or fanfare, but he did find a way to be a tad more positive.

Life has an interesting way of throwing a lot of opportunities our way, both good and bad. We may not like having to do something that we must do, either to keep ourselves healthy or stay employed. What we do with the situation depends upon our approach and our attitude. We can get on with our own set of outward optics that everything is fine but the places inside of us no one sees can be a perfect mess. The job we hate or the boss we cannot stand but we still smile and appear to others as if nothing is wrong.

At the conclusion of a concert, two ushers were applauding harder than anybody else. People seated nearby smiled appreciatively at the two music lovers until one of them stopped applauding. The other one was overheard saying, “Keep clapping, you dope. One more encore and we’re on overtime.” On the outside these two ushers appeared to be sincere in their appreciation for the music. But at least for one of them, their motivation for the praise was solely for the extra cash they would earn.

We can easily become satisfied with the accomplishments we have made along the journey. I find myself at this point in my life looking back on where I have been. I feel God has placed me in some unique settings with gifted and creative people who were able, as a team, to accomplish some truly significant things for the betterment of humanity. Their skill sets, ingenuity, vision and resolve were moving. God gave me the means of inspiration by the people I worked with or in my own quiet time alone with him. When I look back, I recall that it wasn’t easy and certainly none of the tasks I was given were completed in a vacuum or by my own personal abilities. It was truly a miracle things happened and came into creation. I often reflect with a great deal of gratitude, humility and satisfaction of those collective and team accomplishments.

Holy impetus, or motivation, if left unchecked and unguarded, can quickly turn into a selfish, sin-filled adventure. When our identify gets stuck on our accomplishments, we can easily forget to give God the glory for what he has done in our midst.

As the writer of this proverb suggests, we may be tempted to lead ourselves to believe that our ways are “innocent.” But self-deception and a biased sense of rationalization can make our point of view tainted and unreliable. The word innocent here is used to describe “pure oils, undiluted liquids; here it signifies unmixed actions. The person may be far from pure when the Lord weighs the motives,” according to the Expositors Bible Commentary.

This theme continues on in the book of Proverbs: People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart (Prov. 16:2 NLT). Checking our motives before taking action is a crucial step. It’s easy to force something and cloak it in verbiage that makes it seem that it’s “a God thing.” Stopping to ask yourself the question, “Would this decision (or action) really bring pleasure to God or is it for my own self pleasure and popularity?”

Another Proverb in a similar vein calls us to sit up and take notice: Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.” For God understands all hearts and sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve (Prov. 24:12 NLT).

We all know the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.” Appearances can be deceptive. Our culture, with its emphasis on optics, lacks substance or sustainability. In a day and age where one can rule the world and impress upcoming generations by knowing and working all the angles of social media, aesthetics can submerge substance. “The Look” changes as swift as the wind direction in a hurricane.

The classic tale in the Old Testament of Samuel anointing Saul as his successor comes to mind. Saul would have been the cover boy of all the magazines of his time (if they had them of course!). He was tall, good looking and fit—all the qualities we would consider a “GQ” man today.

But God was quick to remind Samuel of this stone-cold fact: Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7 NLT).

Outward appearances do not reveal what’s hidden in the heart.

How one looks on the outside does not confirm the qualities of their character.

We may choose to give another person our attention simply by the way they speak, or what clothes they wear or how they arrange their hair. We can also think we know a person by the way they write and express themselves with confidence in a public setting. And yet God is truly interested in our faith and our character. He already knows what we struggle with. He knows our doubting. He is well aware of our flaws and our insecurities. We spend a lifetime attempting to cover them up from others but the truth of the matter is God sees right through our facades. God sees what’s going on in the deep recesses of our soul—with all its gore, glory and glitz.

If you spend more time on your outward appearance in a given day than on things that build character inside of you, something is out of balance. Again, outward appearance isn’t only tied to how we physically look. It can be as shallow as how we want others to think of us. The impression or the optics, while not altogether bad, can deceive others and ourselves into thinking we are something we are not.

The good and scary thing is God can clearly see through the veneer of our heart. The Scriptures attest to that over and over. God accepts us as he finds us—but he does call us to do better. To keep our motivation and attitude in check, daily. We certainly can’t do anything in our lives to merit God’s favor or grace—whatever the words we use to try and describe it. His grace is extended to us as a free gift by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

A time to reflect

  • Meditate on Proverbs 16:2 and 24:12.
  • How much time do you spend in your week doing things that develop your character?
  • What motivates you (your impetus) to do the things you do?
  • What are some things about yourself you need to consider either letting or or changing?

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Lt. Colonel Tim Foley, Dr.

Lt. Colonel Dr. Tim Foley is the Divisional Leader for Officer Development in The Salvation Army Northwest Division.