Science Confirms the Power of a Biblical Source of Motivation

Science Confirms the Power of a Biblical Source of Motivation

In the scriptures, we find many motivations to flee sin and to do good.

We can be driven, for instance, by a desire to avoid eternal wrath, to pursue heavenly reward, to steer clear of the earthly consequences of our sin, or to express our love of Christ.

All of these are great motivators, and it’s an act of mercy from God to give us reason upon reason to live holy lives.

But psychological research has shown that perhaps one scriptural basis for righteousness may be particularly powerful – especially as it relates to mundane, every day tasks.

Testing Willpower

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg mentions a psychological experiment designed to measure and analyze willpower.

Subjects were instructed to refrain from eating some fresh-baked cookies, and then their concentration was tested with a boring but intense computer task – a common way to test willpower. But one group of participants was treated politely, thanked for their efforts, and informed of the purpose of the test. The other group was treated rudely.

The group that received rude treatment had a much lower willpower score.

Autonomy Motivates

This phenomenon was seen time and time again. The researcher explains:

When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for personal reasons – if they feel like it’s a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else – it’s much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster.

This falls in line with what others have found, such as Dan Pink in Drive, who lists autonomy and purpose as two of the three fundamental elements of motivation.

Our Autonomy Found in Scripture

And this model – this most motivating set of conditions – is what we see in scripture.

We don’t have a God who micromanages everything we do and outlines specific directions for how we are to live each second of the day.

After all, we are not cogs in a wheel. We are his image-bearers, his ambassadors.

He does not order us around; he enlists us in his cause. He partners with us, in a sense. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says we are “God’s fellow workers.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 tells us we are “working together with him.”

In the garden, Adam was granted the task of naming the animals. And one day, we will rule with Christ and even judge the angels.

And in the present, God allows us a great deal of creative autonomy in deciding how to live, how to bring him glory, how to spend our time, how to make disciples, how to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So perhaps spend some time today meditating on how even the small tasks of your life – even the seemingly small habits you want to start – are a chance for you to be a co-worker with God.

You may find a renewed sense of willpower and motivation.

Photo Credit: FutUndBeitl (Creative Commons)

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