We might not always be aware of what they are, but we certainly do have motivations for the things we choose to do with our time. You might be in your chosen career because you have a strong motivation to help people. You might be training for a race because you have a motivation to run for your health and you enjoy competition.
Whatever you do for whatever reason, there is usually, well, a reason.
Unfortunately, our reasons are not always altruistic, healthy or positive, or maybe they don’t align with the life God calls us to live.
We’re born sinners but we receive salvation because of the grace and love of God (Romans chapter 5, verse 8). However, we aren’t perfect and so on some occasion, we might do things for selfish reasons, this side of eternity.
In those situations, we can be tempted to justify ourselves. Perhaps we give so much money to church and charity, or we give so much time to serving and helping others, that we think we can get away with …. (fill in the blank!)
What does justification actually look like?
There are probably some obvious problematic tendencies that come to mind when we think about what we tend to excuse. But I would argue that the most common behaviour we tend to justify unreasonably is complaining.
We complain a lot. We complain because our expectations of others or of an activity aren’t met. We complain because we feel let down by people. We complain because our hard work doesn’t receive enough praise. We complain because other people make our lives a little difficult or add a touch of inconvenience.
We often complain because we hold a sense of entitlement about what we deserve and when other people’s decisions don’t line up with that, we get annoyed and offended.
We express ourselves by complaining (and not usually to the person whose decision-making directly affects us; we often tend to go to other people first—which can be wise in some situations but ultimately, is not effective, constructive or based in integrity).
So how does complaining relate to our motivation to do things?
Well in church communities, we donate our time. We donate our time to the church by serving, because we typically believe in the mission of the church to share the Gospel and to help others. Serving, in any capacity, is a significant part of many people’s experience with a church community and can amount to a large donation of time.
More than time, people also invest energy, prayer, and their hearts into what they serve. Typically, people serve in an area where they have a gift or interest: if you play an instrument, you might join the worship team; if you love children, you might serve in kids ministry.
You might find yourself spending more time and energy than the rostered hours on a Sunday morning as you think about and pray for the kids you serve during the week or spend time practising outside of a team practice.
Entitled to complain?
We genuinely invest a lot of time and heart into where we serve. However, for some of us, we can develop a sense of entitlement in our serving roles. In this situation, entitlement can lead us as servants and volunteers to want to serve on our terms, to put our needs ahead of those we serve and to then complain when things aren’t as we desire.
A sense of entitlement can arise when we aren’t serving for the right reasons or out of good motivations. In a world that encourages us to put ourselves first and do what is best for us, we can modify how we serve and alter expectations to suit ourselves.
This can create entitlement and when we are asked or expected to do something that doesn’t really suit us, we then complain and in doing so feel justified.
Now, I think we can hold both a good motivation in our heart to serve as well as a sense of entitlement. We often start off with good intentions but through time, this can change.
It isn’t always as simple as just having either good motivations or selfish motivations, but it is about reducing or minimising to the extent possible or removing completely the sense of entitlement in ourselves.
I say this because most people do have good motivations most of the time, however, it is when the selfish reasons cause us to complain and needlessly put our needs ahead of those we serve, that a small sense of entitlement perhaps grows unreasonably.
But it is not so terrible! Serving can be and is a beautiful thing to do. And serving doesn’t have to be draining, it doesn’t need to leave you frustrated and it doesn’t need to result in complaining. We all started serving for good reasons—let’s come back to those!
So, let me ask - why do you serve? What is your reason or motivation to serve?
At a youth camp that I went to last year, we talked about the theme of “We Over Me” and recently one of my friends reminded me of this as we talked about serving.
“We Over Me” sums up perfectly how and why we should serve—putting others before ourselves just as Christ did (Mark chapter 10, verse 45), not expecting anything in return and not feeling entitled to dictate the terms of our service.
When we come back to why the Bible encourages us to serve and to the reasons why we started a particular serving role, I think we’ll find that we are refreshed and encouraged to keep on serving.
Grounding yourself in an others-focussed reason to serve means that it might not be so tiresome. Removing the expectation that you’ll get something out of it may make serving more enjoyable and sustainable.
So, I encourage you to consider: what is your motivation? Ponder this, come up with an answer. and you might just feel a bit freer and more positive.
Rebecca Hoverd studies law and geography at The University of Auckland and loves writing as a way to communicate with God and to unpack her thoughts. She loves coffee, conversations, and would love to hear your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.