Not too long ago I realized that fear was a terrible motivator for change. If you used fear as a motivator to lose weight, your fear usually ended up making you seek the very things that you didn’t need. You’d be afraid of diabetes or cancer but instead of using healthy coping mechanisms like exercise or meditation, you’d go back to smoking cigarettes or eating “comfort food” which is sadly never healthy. And then you’d be stuck in that ugly cycle again.
Love is a better motivator. You love how you feel after you eat a well-balanced meal. You love how you feel after you have a good night’s sleep. You love how you feel after you’ve had a walk around the block. Or you love your granddaughter, and you want to live long enough to see her get married and graduate from college. Or you love the book you are working on, and you want to finish writing it.
If you are working towards something, rather than running away from something, you are more likely to have good results.
I think the same thing is true with following Jesus. So many people try to sell the idea of Jesus as the boogeyman. They use him as a guilt trip, and try to drag you along for the ride.
They will say that you are going to burn in hell if you don’t follow Jesus. Or they will say that you can’t go to their church if you don’t follow him the way that they follow him. Or they say that you will be condemned by God. They are motivated out of fear. They will do what their pastor says, they won’t question anything, and they will stay within the lines of whatever proscription their church has set up for them.
I don’t know about you, but that kind of motivation never worked well for me. I’m a questioner. I’m a person who likes to ask “why”. In fact, I need to know the reason why I have to do something in order to know how to do it. It isn’t that I’m being difficult. I’m not trying to get out of whatever task I’ve been assigned. I just need to understand the “why” so I can understand the “how” and the “what”. Fortunately I had teachers who translated this as “gifted” instead of “obstinate”.
I never wanted the Jesus these fear-lead people were selling. The mean, overlord, high-school principle Jesus. The micromanaging boss Jesus. But sadly, these were the loudest people. This version of Jesus wasn’t what fit with what I read in the Gospels either. I needed a Jesus who was about love and service. I needed a Jesus who taught me how to humble myself, but not in a way that was belittling. I mean humble in a way that lets the light of God shine through, but using me as the lens. This way, I’m still there, but I’m not in the way. I become a vehicle, rather than a driver.
Consider two dogs. One is a service dog. He’s been trained to help a blind person with their daily life. He resists his own inner nature to chase the squirrel when he is crossing the street with his companion. This keeps his companion safe and headed in the right direction.
Or, alternately, there is a stray dog that got yelled at all the time by her owners. She was never trained how to behave properly, and she just gets yelled at every time she does wrong. All she hears is yelling. So this dog ran away from home and now cowers in fear all the time, never knowing when she is going to get yelled at.
The service dog has been humbled, but it is out of service and out of love. He resists his own inner nature that causes him to stray and act without thinking of the consequences. He serves another person, helping that person throughout the day. He is a guide in the truest sense. And it all started with proper training. The trainer taught the dog how to be the best dog it could be, with positive commands and encouraging desired behavior and ignoring unwanted behavior.
The other dog has been humbled, but not out of love. There is no direction or goal in that humbling. It is a scattered and destructive kind of humbling. That kind of humbling is a lessening. Sadly, that kind of humbling is what many churches want to do. They want to focus on sin rather than redemption.
If you yell at someone for doing something bad, then that is all they will be able to think about. It ends up becoming pathological. We all desire attention. But if we don’t get attention for what we do that is good, and we only get attention for what we do that is bad, even if it is negative attention, then that is what we will continue to do.
Jesus took away all the “don’ts” in the commandments. He gave us what to do. We are to love. We are to love God and our neighbors with all our heart and soul and strength and mind.
Now, personally, I’m the kind of person that needs a little more instruction than that, so I supplement my Christianity with Buddhism and Judaism, with a little bit of Hinduism and Sufism thrown in for flavor. Some Christians would cringe at that, but I hope to change their minds. We are told to love our neighbors. How can we show them love if we don’t understand anything about them? The more I learn about other faith traditions, the closer I get to God. It is all motivated out of love. God made all of us different because he needs us that way. God doesn’t want us to all be the same. That would be as boring as garden full of the same kind of flower or an orchestra with just one kind of instrument. I like daylilies and piccolos, but I also like roses and kettledrums. I think God does too.
I love the fact that I can take a yoga class (Hindu) in a YMCA (Christian), while listening to music that has Caribbean steel drums and Tibetan throat singing and Chinese hammered dulcimer. I love that I can go to a Chinese buffet and get Japanese and American food too. I love that we are waking up to the beauty of each other and celebrating our differences. I think this is part of what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.