We have been sold a great lie. It is not a new lie, but one that goes back as far as recorded human history.
The lie is this. Fear is the best motivator.
You can trace this lie all the way back to the book of Genesis, where fear is first used as a motivator of action.
Yes, fear will motivate us, there is no doubt about that. It is powerful and effective and the old seducer, (the serpent, the devil) knows it well. And here is what else the devil knows. Once fear is succumbed to as the primary motivator, it is easy to continue appealing to it, using it and milking it to achieve one’s goals.
Fear is at the root of the motivation the serpent uses to get the first disobedience by humankind to take place. (Aren’t you afraid you are less than you could be, if only you took a little bite? Aren’t you afraid of missing out? Aren’t you afraid the woman may have something you don’t? Aren’t you afraid that God is really holding out on you? Aren’t you afraid God might find out what you’ve done?)
Fear is what motivates Cain. “His offering must be more acceptable than mine!” I’m afraid I’ll be hunted down for this! I must hide! I must deny! Am I my brother’s keeper?
Once fear is on a roll, it’s hard to stand up to it, to stop it.
But is it the “best” motivator?
Here God would quibble with the Evil One.
Fear is certainly powerful.
Fear will prompt a quick reaction, demand an immediate response, and it will be quite satisfying in the short term to those involved.
Fear however, can never give promises.
When you take the long look (at the scriptures, and perhaps at life) you discover that God most often uses a very different motivator.
“Do not be afraid” is the recurring message from God.
Promise is the best motivator, according to God. The promise of forgiveness. The promise of a new land. The promise that you can be a blessing to others. The promise of a Savior. The promise of a throne for one’s descendants. The promise that the poor will have good things and the rich will be sent away empty. There are so many promises in scripture!
God motivates with promise, but that requires a much longer view. Promise is not an immediate gratification motivator.
Promise requires the building of relationships, living into a future, walking with the other, and granting forgiveness repeatedly along the way.
Promise requires negotiating along the route from where one is right now to where one eventually wants to be, to a “preferred future.”
Motivating by promise, in other words, is hard.
Promise’s outcome however, is greatly preferred because promise is always restorative. It is never built on losses, shortcuts, or at the expense of others.
As we enter the season of Epiphany in the church year, we pay attention to the promises that God has made. We watch as Jesus grows and begins to reveal God and God’s intention for this world and for the promised Kingdom.
We take a “long view.”
It feels like ever since 9/11 we have been on the train of “fear as motivator.” We were stung by those events. We wanted immediate response to the threat we felt and fear was the motivator used at the time.
We are however, beginning to sense as a nation that the pathway of fear is leading us only further and further from the light. We make excuses for the most abhorrent of actions out of fear now. Fear now that if we don’t do more, and more and more to safeguard ourselves we may lose it all.
This is not the way of faith, and it is certainly not the way of a people who are meant to live in promise.
So as Epiphany unfolds and we hear the promises of God recounted once again and watch how Jesus motivates. It might be a good time to ask yourself if what motivates you right now is fear, or faith, trust, love or promise?
If the answer is fear, then maybe it’s time to be reminded once again of the God who takes the long view on things, and who will not let fear have the final say in things.