What motivates you as you make your daily life decisions? What inner compulsions nudge you to choose this action and not that one? Sometimes the motivators in our lives come from outside. For instance, your boss says that you need to have a report on his desk by 4:00 pm – or you drop a hammer on your toe – or a tire goes flat on the car. Yes, there are externals that form bumpers for our decision-making. But there are also internal factors, stuff buried deep within our hearts and souls that cause of us make the choices we do. Let us take a moment to evaluate two factors that are often in opposition to one another: guilt and convictions.
When I say guilt I am not talking about the fact of having committed some crime or act. The second definition on Dictionary.com catches my meaning – “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.” Certainly each of us has some real guilt for things done or undone, said or unsaid; but we may also carry with us feelings of guilt, and these guilty feelings affect us as we respond to the circumstances confronting us each day.
Our lives can be shaped by the guilt we feel inside. This guilt may be something we carry from childhood. You see, a little guilt can go a long way. The guilt may be something placed upon us by our parents, children, teachers, friends, or even pastors. And guilt, by the way, can be a powerful motivator. It causes us to work hard, to stress ourselves out, to move mountains – and all to get relief from the weight of guilt that presses upon us – whether that guilt is deserved or not.
Jesus calls us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). To those who are in Christ the burden has been lifted. The price has been paid. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. (John 8:36)
Perhaps there is a weight of guilt that bears upon you – perhaps you are working hard to chip away at that burden so as to lighten your load a bit – if so today can be a day of release. Acknowledge to the Lord that you carry a burden of guilt. Let him know your desire to lay it down. Ask Him, also, to show you what event(s) in your life heaped that weight upon you. As God reveals the truth to you, you will then face decisions about forgiveness or restoration. Talk to a trusted Christian friend, mentor or pastor about this – as well as talking to God.
The second motivating factor I’d like to mention is convictions. Each of us has an internal code of ethics that help us make the big and small decisions we face each day. Even people who have no specific faith are still likely to have some unwritten moral code that goes with them. For those who follow Jesus Christ, our ethical code shaped by our faith, God’s Word, and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.
Psalm 119:9-11 offers this guidance: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Our belief system is shaped by God’s revelation as recorded in the Bible. The beliefs provide the firm convictions that guide our decision-making. It is, therefore, imperative for every professing believer to read, meditate upon and memorize God’s Word.
But what about those times when I have to make decisions and there is not direct biblical text I can point to for guidance. Here is where we need to live by what is often called “The Golden Rule.” It can be found in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10. It can be summed up as “love God and love others.” Jesus said that the rest of the law hangs on these two greatest commandments.
Even so, determining what is the most loving response is not always cut and dried. We must always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s speaking into our hearts and minds. To take even a moment and ask the Lord to give you His wisdom is our safest and surest course of action. God knows we lack wisdom, and He stands ready to guide us. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
So what motivates your decision-making? Guilt or convictions?