Outwardly, people’s adherence to Church teachings may look very similar, but their motives may be at different points across the spectrum. And that can change over the course of life for any one person. We may even go back and forth on a given day, making individual choices based on different motives. It’s important to not judge others’ motives; at the same time, it’s at least as important to understand our own and if we need to change them.
It’s probably the analyst in me that’s looking at this as a spectrum. But as our progress in life is often gradual, and our closeness to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ increases or decreases frequently by small amounts, I think a spectrum is fitting. So I hope you’ll bear with me for a moment.
I see one end of the spectrum as keeping commandments to satisfy social expectations or culture without internal desire (I’m leaving out coercion here because I think that’s a different consideration). Perhaps independent of these pressures or in connection with them, a person may obey out of a “fear of the Lord” and an avoidance of the consequences of disobedience rather than the healthy reverence and respect for Deity that is suggested by this phrase in the scriptures. It’s good to look around us and learn from others’ poor choices. But better reasons exist for doing good.
Moving along the spectrum from there takes us to a sense of obligation—an inner drive that compels me because I’m enlisted in the army, so to speak, so I do what that requires of me. After that, the next stage is a sense of ethics, or doing what’s right because I know it’s the right thing to do, and my conscience feels better when I’ve listened to it. I’ve probably done my share of good things for either of these reasons.
Next would be a motivation that has probably driven me for much of my life, which I have called, tongue in cheek, “a mercenary attitude”—obeying God out of a desire for the blessings. The scriptures are full of His promises of blessings that are conditional on our obedience. “Mercenary” sounds negative, which is why I say it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference. I don’t think this motivation is necessarily a bad one; it’s based in a faith that Heavenly Father blesses us when we keep His commandments, a truth that is reinforced throughout the scriptures. It’s based in a trust in His perfect attributes.
In the beginning of the Parable of the Day Laborer, Georg works out of this type of motivation. He’s interested in getting a day’s pay for a day’s work. But a change occurs in him as he works day after day in the service of Mr. Roth, who of course represents Heavenly Father, and whose employment represents work in God’s kingdom on earth. Georg’s motivation shifts over time.
Jesus told a group of Jews, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:28–29).
It’s probably the dream of any parents—and their true delight when it happens—for a child to obey out of a love and a genuine desire to please them. I’m sure Heavenly Father feels much the same way about us.
As Georg worked for him, Mr. Roth treated him well and always paid him fairly. He cared about Georg and his family. In return, Georg took an interest in the work itself. And then his mindset changed so that he wanted to work for Mr. Roth, even if it was doing something completely new. In the end, it was doing what Mr. Roth wanted him to do that mattered.
In a talk just a few weeks ago, Elder Eduardo Gavarret of the Seventy listed ways we can know we’re undergoing a change of heart. The first: “When we want to please God in all things” (“A Mighty Change of Heart: I Have Nothing More to Give You”).
Jesus modeled that for us, and therefore I would say that this is the noblest reason to serve God and the most pleasing to Him. Yes—our wanting to please Him is in itself pleasing to Him.
Georg’s story formed as I thought about my motives for doing what Heavenly Father wants me to do, and I’m trying to make the shift from just wanting the blessings to wanting to please Him.
I believe that shift becomes easier when we recognize what He has done for us, we care what He thinks about us more than what others think, and we spend time developing a relationship with Him and learning to love Him. When we make that shift, when we do what we do because we love Heavenly Father and want to please Him, I can see Him saying in effect to us, “From now on, you won’t have to worry about your future.”
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Amen to all you have written, and I would add that we also serve and obey our Master, Jesus Christ, to please Him as well. I would also add that I have heard Elder Jeffrey R. Holland say that God is hard to satisfy but easy to please.
Yes, I remember that quote from one of the recent general conferences. Elder Holland makes an important distinction, and that suggests that we should probably adopt the same kind of mindset—pleased with our own progress more than we typically are and at the same time avoiding becoming content with where we are with that progress at any given time.