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A Midweek Devotional - Motives

In his classic book, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis creatively captures what he imagines is the subtle and cunning work of the devil and his minions. It is a series of letters in which a bureaucrat in the devil's service tries to mentor an underling spirit. Screwtape writes to tell Wormwood how to guide his “patient” away from the Lord. The genius of the book is that Lewis imagines this work as almost uninteresting. Screwtape works by deception, remaining in the shadows, trying to use the most minor of issues to drive a wedge between the “patient” and the Lord. Screwtape is fictional, but the subtle danger of disunity is not. Let us be aware of the threat which oftentimes lies in our own heart. With that in mind, let’s look to Proverbs 16:2.

Wednesday, May 13th

Larger Portion of Scripture - Proverbs 16

Focused Passage for Reflection - Proverbs 16:2

Reflecting on the Text:

I’ve heard it in a variety of settings, and maybe more importantly, I’ve sensed it in my own heart. “What was he thinking?” “Why did she do that?” I will often ask it in the form of a question, but I’ll also oftentimes answer the question myself. I think to myself… “I know better. They should have done it my way.” And with that thought, two things have happened. To begin with, I’ve elevated my perception of my personal wisdom. And second, I’ve assigned a motive to the other person for the actions they’ve taken.

Is it just me? I’m guessing not. So why do we do it? What does our judging say about the way we view the Lord? What does it say about our view of ourselves? Maybe the proverbs can help answer the question, but we’ve got to be honest enough with ourselves to go where they lead.

No one proverb contains all of God’s wisdom on any given subject. But, each proverb offers a morsel of wisdom which is meant to be savored slowly. Proverbs 16:2 deals with how we view ourselves, and by implication, how we view others. It has a lot to do with how we listen. And I’ve tried to listen to Rev. Tim Keller as he has spoken on this particular proverb. In his helpful meditation on the Book of Proverbs titled God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, Keller offers two entries regarding this one proverb.

On one hand, the Lord is calling us to check our own hearts. The Word is confronting us as individuals by telling us that though we believe our motives to be pure, the Lord weighs our spirit. In other words, He knows our hearts even better than we do. He knows our motives, and He judges them with right judgment. So, we are to look down deep to examine why it is we do what we do.

On the other hand, the Lord is admonishing us to be careful in how we judge the motives of others. Though we might think we are the expert on why someone else does what they do, only the Lord knows for certain. And with that we are reminded, it is not our place to judge their motives by their actions. We just don’t know. And if we did, it wouldn’t be helpful.

This misunderstanding of hearts, ours and others, happens every day. We have many issues that we chose to let divide us, and now we seem to have another: the coronavirus. The subtle points of division coming out of this pandemic provide a great danger to our unity within the church.

“Why is this person wearing a mask?” "Why is that person not?” “Why is this group waiting so long to gather?” “Why is that group moving so fast?” “Why did this leader make that decision?” “Why did that leader do the opposite?”

As I’ve considered it, it has scared me to look closely at what is going on in my heart. There have been times when I’ve looked with condescension over decisions made on opposite ends of a point, somehow thinking I am the only one with the perfect (wise) middle ground. And then Proverbs 16:2 calls me out…or rather the Spirit of God brings conviction.

How about you? Or, am I the only one? Again, I doubt it, but that is not for me to judge. I just ask you to come along with me as we look inward. And as we deal with the conviction which the Spirit brings, let us also take comfort in the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. For by His “single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Where are you tempted to assign motives to others, without truly knowing their heart?

  • Where are you quick to ignore your own motives?

  • What might it look like for you to examine your heart, and then take what you find to the cross of Christ?

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