Gratitude is the Motivator

Sep 5, 2019

I'm going to challenge you to be a full-time, on-purpose Christ follower at work, at home, at your kid's soccer game, even in rush-hour traffic when the maniac in the sports car cuts you off.

But you have to be motivated. You have to want to. What makes us want to do things, particularly a thing as scary as being an active, public Christian at work?

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I was taught early in my career that there are two motivators of human behavior: fear and desire.

There are two motivators of human behavior: fear and desire.

If we are motivated by fear, we will do whatever it takes to relieve the fear. For example, if someone becomes seriously afraid of dying, he may disinfect everything in his house, take flu shots, load up on vitamins, and avoid flying on airplanes. Assuming that he is sane, he will come to a point where the fear subsides enough that he can carry on with life.

Desire is also a powerful motivator. A lot of people are motivated by their desire to please others. Most of us seem to evolve from our childhood with low self-esteem, holding on to a deep desire to gain the approval of our parents and of other people. We will work hard to gain titles, status, and the economic success that symbolize that we are good enough. And some of us make that a lifelong pursuit, committing our lives to a never-ending search to have more and more. We spend our lives stating our worthiness to an unknown audience.

The desire for success is the most visible motivator in the work culture today. We all drive to achieve, to be successful. We want to provide well for our families, no doubt, and we enjoy the recognition that comes from winning. From our bounty, we will be generous with those who are less fortunate. But the drive for success is pretty selfish at its heart. It's about me, me, me.

The forefathers of modem psychology line up behind these two powerful motivators. And while fear and desire are undeniable motivators for selfish survival and self-actualization, they provide no motivation to do anything selfless, which is what Christianity is all about.

Guilt is also a powerful motivator. We feel bad about something we've done, so we do something good for another person to make ourselves feel better. Or we feel guilty because we are so much better off than someone else. When we see pictures of poor kids in some third world country, we feel guilty about our abundance. We write a check and put it in the mail. We feel better about ourselves as the guilt eases off. As soon as we have done enough good to bring our emotions back to equilibrium, we continue our lives as before.

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Compassion is another one. We hurt for the hurting, so we take some action. We write a card, visit the hospital, or send some flowers – all good things. But once we have done enough to make us feel okay about ourselves, we go back to our normal routines. It's human nature.

Generosity will sometimes overtake us. When we are blessed with sudden abundance, we just have to share it with others. When we sold our first company, nothing could prevent me from buying my dad a new car. He hadn't had a new car since he retired, and I knew how much he loved that new-car smell. He loved the big red bow; I loved the giddy feeling I had giving him such a great gift. But as soon as the car got banged up in a rear-ender and he had his first mechanical problem, those feelings were over. I went back to work. He was now driving a newer used car.

So what is the long-term motivator with staying power?

I believe that the only sustainable motivation for selfless behavior is gratitude.

Let me say that again a different way. Only gratitude motivates us to care about others over the long term. Other emotions will motivate us for a little while, but they won't motivate us for the long pull. And making disciples is a long-term process that requires selfless action over a long period of time.

Only gratitude motivates us to care about others over the long term.

So if gratitude is it, then let's explore three major sources of gratitude. There may be others, but let's talk about the big three that are central to the Christian.

1. Gratitude for forgiveness

For those of us who either came to faith later in life or who drifted away from God for a while, there is a tremendous gratitude for God's forgiveness. We remember the things we did, the lies we told, the selfishness we demonstrated. We remember ourselves as people that we wouldn't like very much today. When we reflect on the fact that God forgave us for all that, that He wiped the slate clean, that He "will remember [our] sins no more" (Hebrews 8:12), we are overcome with gratitude. It's a reference point that we go back to over and over again. In His book, He wiped it clean and it's as if it never happened. He let me start over. That is an amazing, sustaining source of gratitude.

Imagine that you had lived a financially reckless life, running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, making horrible decision after horrible decision. Then one day, you are forced to go to the banker with your hat in your hand, broke and broken, out of options. The banker, to your complete surprise, says, "Your debts are forgiven. I want you to have a great life. Start over, and don't make the same mistakes next time." How grateful would you be to that banker? How often would you remember his incredible kindness to you?

2. Gratitude for blessings and protection

We have so, so much to be thankful for. In America, our prosperity is incredible. The standard of living for people considered poor in the U.S. is far better than the middle class in many parts of the world. And as I have visited with Christians in third world countries, I have been consistently amazed at how grateful these people can be for so little.

I can't get over the blessings that God has given me, and I hope I never do. I have a beautiful, forgiving wife, two great kids who chose great spouses, and good health. It could have been so different if I had gotten what I deserved. But for some reason, known only to my heavenly Father, He chose to bless me.

In 1998, my son Ross was driving home from school for a short weekend. Suddenly, his SUV blew a tire. It swerved and flipped several times, landing wheels down facing the opposite direction on the interstate. Ross was unconscious.

The ambulance attendants apparently used drugs to restart his heart. He was airlifted to a trauma center in downtown Atlanta. He had a closed head injury and was in a coma. His life hung in the balance. The neurosurgeons contemplated doing brain surgery to relieve the pressure inside his skull. That surgery would have unknown but permanent consequences. We prayed. We waited.

About eighteen hours later, following the prayers of literally thousands of people in our church and others, the swelling miraculously stopped and started to abate. My son was saved; his functioning returned to normal, and three months later he was back in medical school. Every day, I remember how God protected my son … how He gave him back to us … how it could have turned out so differently.

I can never pay God back for that blessing. I couldn't even begin to try. But every day, I feel gratitude for His blessings. And that gratitude motivates me to thank Him, to worship Him, to try and please Him with my behavior, and to do everything I know to get other people in on the life He has to offer.

3. Gratitude for the Cross

Some people just seem to get it when it comes to understanding God's love for them. It has to be a supernatural thing.

I have a friend who is one of those people. He pastors one of the largest, most successful churches in metro Atlanta. He was raised in a great home by great Christian parents. He fell in love with God as a teenager. I don't think he has ever strayed five degrees from true north. I am convinced that the biggest sin he ever committed was a speeding ticket. His life has been a truly blessed existence – a great family, a great church life, and a great business career before being led to seminary and full-time ministry

And now he's making a huge impact for God leading a successful megachurch. The guy just gets it.

I have heard my friend speak to thousands of people about the way God loves us, and he chokes up. It didn't take forgiveness from onerous sin or incredible blessings or protection from disaster for him. God just had a plan to use him in a powerful way, so He gave him a clear understanding of His love from an early age.

Are you ready to turn it up a notch? Do you have a clear understanding of the Good News? Are you ready to start exporting your faith and making disciples?

If you are motivated to take your faith to work by anything other than gratitude, spend some time reflecting on the blessings God has given you. Your salvation, your life, the years you've been given, the relationships He has put in your life … there is plenty of evidence of His love in your life. And I know that there is also pain, death, tragedy, and loss in your life. Everyone has some of that as well. But you will have to focus on the blessings and give God the credit if you are to begin living a life filled with and motivated by gratitude.

Spend some time reflecting on the blessings God has given you.

Do this right now. Make a list of the things you are grateful for — special people, special experiences, material blessings, unique protections that He has provided, forgiveness for your failures, your salvation, your adoption into His family, His volunteering to be your perfect Father. Keep adding to the list as long as it keeps coming.

Now put that list where you will remember to look at it from time to time … in your day planner, in your Bible, in your journal, or even make it your screen saver.

I believe that the grateful heart is the inexhaustible fuel cell for becoming a workplace minister.

We've got our message; we have our motivation.

Written by Regi Campbell, excerpted from About My Father’s Business (Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.)   Used by permission. Content distributed by > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.