A Better Motivator for Christian Service than Gratitude

It’s the season of Advent, and I’m enjoying wonderful songs about the birth of our Savior; this season it’s ones like Lauren Daigle’s “The Light of the World” and Francesca Battistelli’s “You’re Here.” These songs increase my deep joy and gratitude for our Lord Jesus Christ’s willingness to descend to earth and accomplish our great salvation for us, freeing us from sin and death and calling us to Himself. I sometimes stand stunned with gratitude at the outpouring of His grace.

But this gratitude is not my motivator to serve Him.

Swimming upstream from a common teaching, I know. But I tend to push against teachings that feel to me like they’re leaning toward guilt manipulators to work in the strength of the flesh. A friend expressed it well to me recently:

The tendency of those espousing this teaching is to focus on how bad we are, to drum up more gratitude. Congregation not exhibiting enough good works? Talk more about how bad they are. “See how bad you are? See what He did for you? Don’t you see how thankful you should be?” Ugh.

(I’ve talked about the guilt manipulation before, the “He’s-done-so-much-for-you-so-you-should-do-more-for-Him” phenomenon, in “A song I love to hate,” and I’ve addressed the push for flesh-works in many posts, one of which is “Is church attendance pleasing to God?”)

Instead of energizing us for those desired good works, efforts to motivate us to good works through gratitude can actually end up creating a very heavy burden.

So let’s say the Gratitude Motivator walks up to the Branches of the Vine.

Gratitude Motivator: What flourishing branches!

Branches of the Vine: Thank you so much. It’s because of the Vine. See those strong roots?

GM: You must be so grateful for that Vine.

BotV: I am. I often lift up my branches in awe and wonder.

GM: That sure does motivate you to bring forth some awesome fruit, doesn’t it?

BotV: Huh?

GM: Awesome fruit. Right there, I see it.

BotV: This fruit doesn’t come out because I’m grateful. It comes out because I’m connected to the Vine. The sap of the Vine flows through to me. The life of the Vine lives in me.

GM: But just think about if you were cut off from the Vine. You’d be a dead, dry, shriveled heap. Surely the fact that you’re not in that condition inspires gratitude.

BotV: Well, sure, of course. But my bringing forth of fruit doesn’t happen because I’m inspired with gratitude. It happens because I’m connected to the Vine in a vital way, experiencing the life of the Vine. Why don’t we talk about that.

GM: Huh?


About 31 years after that Advent Baby lay in a manger, He stood up at the Feast of Tabernacles and called out, “Whoever comes to me, out of His innermost being will flow rivers of living water!”

Sounds like the kind of productive life the gratitude motivators—and every true Christian—would love to see.

But the very next part of John 7 is vitally important, because it tells us . . .

And this He spoke of the Spirit, who hadn’t come yet.

But now He has.

What’s the “motivator” for that river of living water flowing out of my soul for thirsty souls to drink? It is none other than the Holy Spirit, Christ in me.

So, when I listen to my Christmas music, or at any time I’m rejoicing in what our Savior has done and is doing and will do, I’ll often get alone, lift my hands, put my head back, shed some tears . . . and my heart will swell with gratitude. Often when I close my eyes to pray, my first words are Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

But when I go out to do what God has called me to do, to pray, to write, to encourage people in the Lord, to give the gospel to those who are longing, I am “motivated,” energized (as the apostle Paul spoke of being energized) by the power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Christ in me, Christ with His people, the Empowerer He has given us to do the work He has called us to do.  

This is a life lived by faith, not the static faith that believed once for salvation years ago, but the active faith that continues to be connected to the Vine by believing in Him today, continuing to look to Him for that outpouring of living water every day, and moment by moment.

We have so much to be grateful for. And we can add one more thing:

We can be grateful that we don’t have to depend on gratitude as our motivator to live the Christian life. We have something far better.

He has come!

Merry Christmas to you. And Blessed Advent.

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4 years ago

Excellent illustration!!!
Any teaching that wields guilt as a weapon or motivator, is not healthy.

cindy burrell
4 years ago

Excellent post, Rebecca.

Many years ago I was blessed to attend a church taught by a diminutive, soft-spoken pastor who clearly knew and loved God. Every time he preached, he revealed the gracious heart of God in a way that made me fall in love with God and made me want to know Him more. I never once heard that pastor preach about how we should feel or what we should do. Not once.

I have never been the same since.

That amazing pastor has since passed away. I can’t wait to get to heaven to tell him how his profound teaching gift and his relationship with the living God changed my life.

Now I consider it lazy teaching when pastors focus on what we’re supposed to be doing, which takes our eyes off of God and puts them back on ourselves, which tends to be the problem to begin with, as we try to do this “Christian” thing in our own strength. Conversely, when we come face-to-face with Jesus, see clearly what He has done for us and how deeply He longs for relationship with us, then it is His Spirit who draws us, leads us and motivates us. Not guilt. Not a sense of obligation. Not a checklist or a program. Just the wonder and blessing of a one-on-one relationship with God.

Personally, I don’t think we should settle for anything less.

As always, thanks Rebecca, for providing us with a powerful reminder of what really matters.

Merry Christmas!

3 years ago

THIS ❤️❤️❤️ After just listening to a Deeper walk lecture on the connection between the vine and fruit bearing…. perhaps a step in the right direction for me… it is starting to become clear how this was so different from what i was taught


[…] He compares us to other plants, too. The people of God are compared to trees that bring forth good fruit (Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:8), wheat that multiplies (Matthew 13), and branches of a vine that draw their life from the vine (John 15), which I talked more about here. […]

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