Religious Motivation

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 7.8-10
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Reflection: Religious Motivation
By Erin Newton

When I was younger, I would often volunteer at church in areas where I knew I would be seen. The cliché in my mind would repeat: Better a low motive than no motive. It was meant to compliment someone for doing a good thing even if their motive was tainted.

Honestly, that’s not really a good compliment. Maybe it would be better to say, “Better no motive than a false motive,” when it comes to the spiritual disciplines and religious acts we perform in the name of Jesus.

After the series of night visions, the book of Zechariah pivots as the word of the Lord comes to answer a question posed to the priests. For 70 years, the people had fasted and mourned in remembrance of the fifth month when Jerusalem was burned and the seventh month when Gedaliah was assassinated. Should they keep up that practice?

The reply was like a double-edged sword that cut to the core of their motives. “…was it really for me that you fasted?” They had been performing with a low motive all along.

God’s people are always at risk of turning their worship or ministry into religious tokens and mere lip service. On paper, everything looks right. We pray. We read our Bibles. We attend church once a week. We tithe exactly 10.00%. We avoid stealing, adultery, or murder (you know, the “big” ones). If we tested our Christianity with a grading rubric, we might arrogantly check all the boxes and mark ourselves, “Passed.”

In Zechariah, God redirects their hearts. As C. Hassell Bullock said, “Rather than well-ordered ritual, he urges the practice of justice and compassion and the care of the widow, orphan, and alien.”

Everything seems to abide by a rule book. We have laws that govern our cities. Application processes for jobs or classes. Even tax forms have some instructions to help us. We want our Christian lives to be equally regulated.

It is no easy task to live the Christian life properly. Upholding justice while granting compassion can be difficult. We are supposed to liberate widows and orphans, not oppress them. We are called to bring advantage and favor to the poor and the foreigner, not ensure their separation from us.
There are general ways to ensure we fulfill some of this call. But the heart must lead the way. What motives lead your heart? Are they of God?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. — Psalm 25.7

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 7 (Listen – 1:57)
Matthew 4 (Listen – 3:09)

Read more about Choices and Hard Hearts
Softening your heart is something that occurs not in one single moment, but rather through a lifelong process.

Read more about Hope for Hypocrites
When I examine my own heart, I am confronted with the reality that my motivations are often wrong.

Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent

John 10.10
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Reflection: Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

It is tempting to scramble all the scriptural sheep similes and parables into a mutton metaphor stew. But they don’t necessarily all apply to each other or mean the same thing. In today’s reading of the good shepherd parable we see signs of Christ’s advent and the gifts that he brings as the good shepherd.

Christ tells us that his advent as the good shepherd has a purpose—life to the full. Some translations say “abundant life” and some a “full and satisfying life.” Our problem is that our culture yawns at satisfying. Satisfactory is next to failing. But the secret to joy is in being satisfied, living “to the full.”

This isn’t to say the abundant life Christ promises is going to shortchange us. As we said at the beginning of Advent, we don’t need to lower our expectations, we need to raise our expectations above material things.

Christ the good shepherd comes with the abundant satisfaction that his sheep need. Rest. Food. Protection. Guidance. The gifts of the good shepherd are associated with recognizing the presence of the shepherd and Christ gives us two ways to recognize him.

The first is the manner of his coming. He comes in through the door. He IS the door. He enters our lives in a way that no one else can with a power no one else has and a purpose no one else can fulfill. When he comes in through the gate, it is his purpose for us to go in and out the gate with him.

This is not a reference to death or Heaven, but to companionship, and to being led to pasture in the scripture. When we walk through the scriptures together as a community, it is not our writers we follow. It is the Holy Spirit, our good shepherd.

The second is by his voice. In Advent and throughout our lives, we walk by scripture and prayer. The scriptures tune our ears to recognize Christ’s voice. Prayer teaches how to listen for it.

What are we waiting for?
In Advent we wait as sheep in the darkness. We have only one task. Know the shepherd’s voice. Follow it. Listen for the one who comes in the door, leading us with his tender voice into the Word and into the world.

Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.  — Psalm 85:9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 7 (Listen – 1:57)
John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

Additional Reading
Read More about Expectation Affects Anticipation :: Hope of Advent
When it comes to our expectations of Advent, we don’t need to manage them by lowering them. We need to raise them above temporal, earthly, material matters. We already know that what we receive will be beyond what we can ask for or imagine.

Read More about One Thing Needed
These female disciples each are immature in their own way when we first meet them. But in their final appearances in scripture, they abandon all for Christ, risking financial security, risking reputation, risking their lives to honor him. They show us, perhaps more clearly than other disciples, what it means to find in Christ, our “one thing.”

Support our Work
At The Park Forum, we produce over 100,000 words of free devotional content every year.
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who fund our ministry.
End of Year giving and monthly giving each play a large part in keeping The Park Forum ad-free and helping us to be able to continue producing fresh content.
Support the spiritual development of thousands of readers by making a donation today or joining our monthly donors.