“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1

Has anyone ever challenged your motives?  Sometimes it is annoying. At other times, it is helpful for us to consider why we are doing something.  If left to our own, we usually think we act altruistically.  That’s a big word which describes a motivation which appears good for others and is applauded by our culture.

Altruism is the unselfish devoted attention to the welfare of others.  It is the opposite of egoism, which refers to the motivation to increase one’s own welfare.  There have been lengthy philosophical discussions on whether anyone can be truly altruistic.  Some argue that any action, even if primarily purposed to help others, gives one back an intangible benefit.  It makes us feel good.

Everything we do or say is motivated by something.  Motives for our actions can be good, bad, or, in many cases, mixed.  By that I mean that actions which were motivated with good intentions can also have other selfish motivations.

Jesus had a lot to say about motivations. It was his primary objection to the Pharisees and Scribes of his day. They did all the “right” things outwardly, but their motives were for self-gratification and self-aggrandizement. He called them hypocrites.

Lots of examples come to mind if how a well-motivated action, when examined closely, satisfies a subtle personal and perhaps not so good motivation.  We have an innate drive to have a sense of purpose in life.  We want our lives to matter. Often our actions are motivated by an altruistic motive to help others, yet the same action satisfies our own need to feel like we are making a difference.

In the church, we often see selfish motives being superimposed on kingdom motives. While it is a worthwhile purpose to build God’s kingdom by building their church, often we see pastors more focused on building their kingdom.

Pastors pay attention to the number of their members because it gives them satisfaction that their ministry matters. Most denominations measure church growth by those kinds of metrics – how many members you have, how many baptisms, how many confessions of faith, etc.

They even unconsciously compete – often seeing the size of their church as the proper yardstick of how “successful” they are.  There is a level of pride that can sink in, seeing that a large membership means they are more successful than a small church down the road.

In the mentoring arena, two things about motives strikes me.  First, the mentors’ motive should always be on helping the mentee succeed.  The mentee’s growth and success is paramount.

From the mentee’s standpoint, a mentor should always probe at the motivation of a mentee when he or she is facing a challenge.  Challenging your mentee’s reason for a decision often aids them at arriving at the correct path.

Recently, I have been meeting with a young man who is part of Generation Y, also known as the millennials.  One of the characteristics of the next generation is that they tend to procrastinate in making decisions about careers and life decisions. As a result, the typical Gen Y person often has extended adolescence until their late 20’s or even early 30’s.

This young man was between jobs, and searching for a meaningful career.  We spent time considering his different options.  He wrote me an email that a friend had invited him to hike the Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail extends from Georgia all the way to Maine and is a wilderness trek that takes months to complete by foot. He said he always wanted to do this, and asked for my input.

I didn’t challenge his desire of wanting to hike the trail. In fact, I affirmed it since it was obvious that he was at a point where he had freedom to take time off.  But, I did challenge his motive.  I asked him the question as to whether he was using the hike to postpone deciding about a career. I challenged his motivation but in a kind way.

He opted for hiking the trail. Ironically, after he had been on the Trail for over a month, he found a computer along the way and sent me an email.  He said that he was not “loving” the hiking, and was going to end his walk early.  He said he had spent a lot of time reflecting about his next step in life.

A challenge for all is to consider your motives when making a decision. As mentors, our role is to ask probing questions.  Challenge your mentee’s thinking process, and make sure he is clear in his real motivation for an action or making a decision.

Left alone, a mentee might not challenge his own thinking and would tend to “go with the flow.”  Input from someone who has wisdom can be the guiding force that keeps him on the path.

 MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  One of the roles of a mentor is to challenge your mentee both as to his reasoning behind a decision and his motivations. An action might appear to be well motivated, yet really is based on something else.

FURTHER STUDY:  For a study on altruism which reviews published articles over the past 30 years:

 WORSHIP: Listen to Matt Redman sing “Help From Heaven”


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