Have you ever put a lot of effort into something, only to find out it was a waste? Maybe you made a nice dinner for your husband, but he had to work late. Or you expended a lot of effort to be somewhere, only to be stood up. In those moments we can’t help but say to ourselves, “What a waste!” While there’s intrinsic value in working to serve people, it would be a lot better if our intrinsically good serving benefitted someone.
But those are mere moments that feel wasted. Wouldn’t it be a massive bummer if we looked back on our lives and found that many of our efforts to serve God were wasted? In essence that is what 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 warns against:
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
This passage is speaking of those who will spend eternity with God, but will have regret. Though they could have received rewards for how they served God, they will not. They did good things, but with “material” that doesn’t pass the test. One commentator explains it this way, “Any work that exalts men or that arises out of a self-serving motive will perish on the Day of the Lord.”
Have you ever filled your schedule with good godly things only to realize you cared more about how people received you than you did about serving God? Have you ever done the right thing for selfish reasons? I’m sure I have. And to that I say, “What a waste!”
Lord willing, those regrets can be a thing of the past. Starting today, we can give our best efforts to not just doing godly things, but doing them in such a way that they “survive” the testing of fire.
Are Pure Motives Even Possible?
When we start to examine our motives, we can get discouraged. In fact, the more godly we become, the more we see our our selfish hearts.
Unfortunately, this side of heaven perfect motives are hard to come by. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work out the selfishness as best we can. Similar to how we know we can’t be 100% physically in-shape (at least most of us think that), doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say “oh well, pass me a dozen donuts!” If we care about our physical health, we make strides towards healthy habits. Much more importantly, if we care about being godly, we will strive towards godly motives.
Here are 3 ways we can weed out self-serving motives:
#1 Start with prayer
It’s obvious, but if we want to ensure we don’t end with regret, we start with prayer. Pray often that God will purify your heart. Ask him to help you not just do the right thing, but do it for the right reason.
God wants your purity of heart more than you do; he will help you with this fight. But beware, it’s not always comfortable getting the depths of your heart refined — But the pain will hurt less than the feeling of regret at the end of your life.We need God to help us not just do the right things, but do them for the right reasons. Click To Tweet
#2 Pinpoint your weaknesses
It’s helpful to do an internal inventory of your motivations. We all have different categories of sinfulness that could drive us to do the good things we do. As you go about your serving, when do you notice thoughts of self start creeping up? When do you especially desire attention, credit, or a thank you? Become aware of when your motives might be more about yourself, and then…
#3 Capture your selfish thoughts
As you pinpoint when bad motives tend to creep up, you can be on the lookout as you enter similar situations. When you notice those selfish tendencies, take a moment to recognize it as the sin that it is. Admit that you could keep thinking along those lines, but you would be building with “wood, hay, and straw.” Remind yourself that these efforts aren’t worth it if they are not about God’s glory and the good of the people you are serving.
Which will lead you right back to #1 – praying that godly motives will override any selfish motives.
Victory Will Come
At first, it might seem like you will never be able to get a handle on your motives. Building with “gold, silver, or precious stones” may seem like a longshot. But it is possible. God doesn’t include 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 in the Bible to taunt us – but to urge us to finish this life well, and with less regret.
As you pinpoint your weaknesses and pray that God will help you purify your motives, your heart will become trained. Soon those areas you pinpointed will no longer be “your areas.” Likely, you will find new selfish motives to weed out. But the weeding will be worth it. It will keep you from wasting your godliness.