Reflections and Blog

Just Going through the Motions

I used to be an avid American football fan, but there was one football game each year that I could not bring myself to watch: the Pro Bowl. In the Pro Bowl, the top players of each of the NFL teams are brought together onto two different teams to play against each other in a kind of all-star match. In theory, the Pro Bowl ought to be one of the most exciting games of the year; after all, the best of the best are all playing with and against each other!

But in practice, the Pro Bowl usually inspires nothing more than a long yawn. The players are not used to playing with each other, they don’t want to injure themselves as they prepare for their real team’s next season, and they have no reason to exert themselves since the outcome of the Pro Bowl does not matter. So the players mostly just goof around and go through the motions. Many football fans as well as players routinely complain about the boring, pointless Pro Bowl.

We can understand why NFL players might not try hard in the Pro Bowl, but imagine if they took the same attitude into a regular NFL game or even the Super Bowl: skipping practice, putting bare minimum effort in the game, and above all trying to avoid anything painful or risky. Would we not be dismayed and outraged if such a player were playing for our team? And rightly so. After all, how can someone just go through the motions when a game really does matter and when your fans, your fellow players, and your coach are all counting on you? People would rightly question the love of such a player: his love for the sport, his love for those relying on him, and his love for victory.

There is, of course, a parallel in the Christian life, as Pastor Babij showed us on Sunday from the book of Malachi. It is totally possible for Christians to go through the motions of the Christian life without any real love or passion. Activities meant to cultivate a love for God and others—the spiritual disciplines of the Bible, prayer, and church—can become boring activities which the Christian neglects or just shuffles through. Even ministry and evangelism can become more about checking off boxes of obligation than about seeing souls saved or God’s glorious name magnified.

Therefore, as Pastor Babij preached Sunday, it is important for Christians to routinely examine themselves before God in the Scriptures and ask themselves, “Why am I doing this? What is my life all about? Is what I’m doing going to be worth it in the end?” If love for God and others is not at the center of our being (Dt 6:5; 1 Cor 13:1-3; 1 Jn 4:8), and if the joyful expectation of eternally satisfying reward in God is not our core motivation (Ps 17:15; Jn 17:3; Heb 11:6), then we will end up hypocritically just going through the motions like Israel frequently did. We will seem to get little out of our spiritual disciplines, and our obedience and service to the Lord will be noticeably incomplete (Mal 1:12-13; Rev 2:4-5). Not to mention, we will be unhappy (Jer 2:13). However, if we are driven by love for God and others to cultivate our love and seek God’s reward, then not only will we be found pleasing to God, but we will also find what we are seeking and be satisfied (Ps 63:1-5; Mt 5:3-12).

The book of Malachi closes with these poignant words to move us to remember what we and our lives ought to be all about in the first place:

Malachi 3:16-18, Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

Questions to Consider:
1. Is love at the center of your spiritual disciplines, obedience, and ministry?
2. If you have moved away from love for God and others, what do you need to remember about the Lord to return to love?
3. How can you ensure that your efforts at cultivating love for God do not simply become a matter of going through the motions?