Don’t Aim at the Wrong Target with Scripture and Prayer

Walking down the wrong roadI haven’t really shared this anywhere, but my wife and I are just getting out of a difficult season in our marriage. We weren’t in major trouble or on the brink of divorce, but we were going through one of those valleys in our relationship where we both needed to step up and work on our marriage.

So for the last year or so, I’ve put a lot of effort into trying to be a good husband – the husband that God calls me to be.

What a great and holy desire, right?

But it wasn’t, in my case.

I went about it the wrong way. And the mistake I made is a great illustration for how we can get off-course in attempting to be good stewards of our time.

What I Really Wanted

I poured over the scriptures on marriage. I read book upon book. I listened to podcasts and sermons. I thought long and hard. My prayer again and again was for God to change me into the type of husband he wanted me to be.

But deep down in my heart, I wanted God to change me into the husband he wanted me to be… so that my wife would respond to that and change. I wanted to change me, yes – but with the end result that she would then change.

I wanted to follow God’s commands concerning marriage, but my main motivation was that I wanted to be happy. I had effectively turned God into my servant, trying to enlist the scriptures and godly wisdom to enable me to chase my idols even harder.

I didn’t want Christ. I wanted to use Christ’s power to fulfill my idolatrous desires.

Our Aim is Wrong in Many Areas

We do the same with so many other areas of our life.

Help me to be the parent you want me to be… so that I can avoid hardship and can be a proud parent.

Help me to honor my physical body… so that I can be really attractive and feel better about myself.

Help me to be a good steward of my finances… so that I don’t have to worry about money and can have a nice lifestyle.

Help me to be productive. Help me to be a good steward of my time. Help me to fight procrastination. Help me to wake up early. Help me to prioritize. Help me to get organized.

But why do we ask those things? What are we seeking?

Are we seeking Christ or are we seeking a relaxing lifestyle?
Are we seeking Christ or are we seeking more accomplishment at work?
Are we seeking Christ or are we seeking approval from others and ourselves?

The End Destination

It is a great thing to want to be productive – obviously that’s a major thrust of this site. It’s wonderful to want to be a good steward of our time.

But that motivation has to stem from the deeper motivation of wanting God. Wanting to bring glory to him. Wanting to have a closer walk. Wanting to honor him with obedience.

Christ himself has to be our end destination.

I’ll say that again: Christ himself has to be our end destination.

Not money, romance, power, status, or approval. Not a clean house, a finished to-do list, or guilt-free relaxation.

Don’t make the mistake that I did. Don’t deceive yourself and think you’re serving Christ when you’re really hoping God will serve you.

Photo Credit: Vinoth Chandar

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  • David Rupert

    Provocative thinking here. Our motives might sound pure, but if we have some sort of ‘reward’ at the end, are they really that honorable? I don’t know. I think if the reward is a motivator, then maybe it’s not such a bad thing. But the reward shouldnt be the entire reason for our change. I think you are trying to remind us to do things because they are right — and that’s all we need.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Well, I think it’s OK to be motivated by spiritual rewards – after all, Christ told us to seek treasures in heaven. I think that the problem comes in when we seek an earthly reward for godly living. Then we can make God merely a servant of our idols.

  • TCAvey

    Powerful post!
    There are times I’ve thought I was seeking God and growth in Him only to have Him reveal to me my true motives. God knows our hearts but we often deceive ourselves. I’m so thankful that if we ask Him He will reveal our hearts to us.
    I need that revelation. Often I find that I’m really seeking my own comfort instead of whatever it is I think I’m praying.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Yes, I’m the exact same way. I fool myself into thinking my motives are pure. But God helps me peel back the layers and see my selfishness.

      • TCAvey

        I often feel like an onion being peeled back layer by layer.

  • BlessingCounter – Deb Wolf

    Good stuff here Loren. I think this is what Martin Luther means when he says, “sin boldly.” It’s so hard to do things from pure motives. His response . . . do it anyway. Pray for God to help your motives change but meanwhile do the right thing.

    “Christ Himself has to be our end destination.” So true. More of Him and less of me. Thanks for giving me lots to think about today. Blessings!

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think that we can sin because we understand that Christ’s grace covers the imperfections of our motives. We should strive to be as holy as possible but we can’t let our sin nature cause us to freeze up and be inactive.

  • Ceil

    Hi Loren! What an honest and insightful post. And one that hits home with me. What are my motives for doing God’s will? Do they end in him?

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. And what wisdom you can your own after this year of discernment! Thank you for being a good steward and passing it on to us.

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s a startling and humbling thing to realize, for sure.

  • Barb Raveling

    Great post, Loren – I’m thinking Hebrews 12:1-2 as I read it – keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. I constantly have to check my motives for writing. During my own difficult period of marriage 14 years ago, I not only wanted my husband to change for my own interests, but it didn’t even cross my mind to try to change myself first. I didn’t think I was the one who needed to change. 🙂 So thankful God did NOT change him first as He has created layers and layers of change in me through our difficult season – and now i am very much enjoying him and also loving the empty nest – even though i also loved kid life and thoroughly enjoyed our kids. Great to hear your insights.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Marriage is certainly a sanctifying tool in his hands!

  • Jon Stallings

    Great post Loren – our good intentions can be so deceptive and quickly get us off track without noticing. We should all pray that the Holy Spirit makes sure that “Christ himself has to be our end destination.”

    • Loren Pinilis

      Our good intentions can sometimes deceive us!

  • floyd

    I appreciate your honesty and I have to say that you’re on a wisdom wave, my friend. You have wisdom beyond your years and that voice is the sound and calling of our Father. I needed to hear this today… it’s not about us winning… Thanks, Loren.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Glad to be helpful, Floyd. Sometimes the wisdom comes when I take a look at the ugliness inside of me – which isn’t pleasant but it’s ultimately profitable.

  • Lisa notes…

    Ouch. Anyone who doesn’t feel convicted here isn’t being honest with themselves. I appreciate your vulnerability, Loren. We often do have selfish motives at our root. But wanting to bring glory to God is the greatest motive–thanks for the wake-up call to challenge my motives.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think it’s a good thing to examine our motives often – or at least our true motives. After all, the Pharisees had good external behavior.

  • Caleb

    Loren, it’s amazing how our motives can be so slippery even in “good” things. Ultimately bad motives to do a good thing will eventually fail us. However, I think the truth is that when we get our heart in the right place and allow our actions to flow from the truth of God’s Word, eventually we will also see fruit from that, although it doesn’t guarantee that the road will be in any way easy!

    I’m saying a prayer for your family today and I’d really appreciate it if you could do the same for mine, missionaries aren’t immune from valleys either!

    • Loren Pinilis

      Yes, I don’t think anyone’s immune, Caleb. Will be praying!

  • Kari Scare

    “The worst lie we can tell is the one we tell ourselves.” When I heard that quote a while back, I realized the devastating truth in it. We can so easily create a reality around what we want to be true, but it’s really based on selfish motives when we do. Only by keeping our thoughts fixed on Christ can we be honest with ourselves first and then with others. The though times my husband and I have gone through in our 27 years together has not only helped me realize the need to be honest with myself but also that God has so much to show me through my marriage in this and other areas. As my husband and I work on our relationship, putting each other in 2nd place with Christ in 1st, we learn more about honesty and love both in a marriage and in our relationships with Christ. It’s an amazing journey.

    • Loren Pinilis

      The amazing thing is that our self deception often isn’t intentional – or at least consciously intentional. We only realize the deception when we take a good hard look at ourselves and the Spirit reveals wisdom.

  • Betty Draper

    Great post brother. My self and a few ladies discussed this very thing last night concerning prayer. Prayer is never to be about us but about Him…and we all agreed that our prayers often show our motivation. Example, every week we pray for our health, our kids, our finances, a lot of “our” prayers. When we got to Col. 1:9-12 where Paul prayer was so different. We ladies have chosen this week to pray Col. 1:9-12 for each other and ourselves. Excited about the work God will do in our hearts even though all those other “our prayers” may not get answered this week. I am working on a post on this comment. Thanks for the honest words.

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s so convicting reading the prayers of scripture – how different they often are from ours.

  • Ngina Otiende

    A LOT of food for thought, Loren. Very convicting. Thanks for sharing so honestly.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Glad you enjoyed it, Ngina. You as much as anyone are aware of how marriage can grow us spiritually!

  • Steve

    Interesting thoughts. It’s a little change of what we normally would look at it, but it’s one that I think people would find useful. It’s so easy to get off track that it’s important to keep reminding yourself of what you should be focusing on.

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s so easy for us to deceives ourselves – absolutely, Steve!

  • Dave Arnold

    Thanks for sharing so deeply and honestly, Loren. Those lurking, corrupted motives are so easily entangle us. I have been reading about (and attempting to learn) what it means to deny myself and – to use the old word – mortify my flesh. No easy thing. But it’s the way of Christ and the way of the kingdom of heaven.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think that whole process is one which will continue until we draw our last breath.

  • Dan Black

    Powerful post, Loren. I’ve learned when we first draw closer to God everything in life seems to be or get better. Getting closer to Christ should be our goal not the results it brings in our life.

    • Loren Pinilis

      And it’s funny how even our drawing near to Christ can sometimes have such tainted motives – or at least that’s what I’ve sometimes seen in my heart.

  • Melanie Wilson

    Wow. I’m impressed by your vulnerability here. You’re so right that we can be self-seeking in any area, when we should be Christ seeking. The thing is, there’s nothing better than knowing Christ. When we make Him first, we have all our other needs met, too, but I’ve found that when that happens, we don’t care much about all those other needs.

    • Loren Pinilis

      That’s a great way of putting it, Melanie. When Christ is our all-in-all, those other things fade away.

  • Chris Peek

    Loren, just catching up on my blog reading. Excellent thoughts that really have me considering my own motivations in marriage and life in general. We often allow the “me centered” motivations creep into simple life changes, such as the goal to be a better husband or father, and we don’t even realize it. Most days, I’m honestly just seeking a bit of peace and reprieve from the world.