“A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2
The Message Bible puts it this way: “We justify our actions by appearances; God examines our motives.”
I have a friend who created a new workplace procedure which was quite complex. When a colleague asked about it, my friend realised that she had made it complicated because she didn’t want anyone to change it. Her motive was her dislike of change.
Someone might believe their motives are pure when they help their neighbour, yet their real motive might be to feel wanted and appreciated. Others feel virtuous because of their hard-working and conscientious attitude, but it might be a cover for their perfectionism. Another might believe they’re friendly and easy-going, but their genuine reason might be avoiding conflict. Some pride themselves on being creative and constantly having new ideas, but their motive might be to avoid following through on previous ideas. Some whitewash over failures because they unconsciously want to appear successful. Others want to avoid appearing weak or ordinary or foolish and so their motives revolve around appearing strong, special or wise.
It’s easy for us to justify ourselves and think we’re acting out of good intentions. As this verse in Proverbs says, we consider our actions based on appearance and don’t reflect on our motives. It takes considerable self-awareness to recognise our motivation. It requires slowing down and thinking about why we react the way we do, particularly when our reactions are out of proportion to the stimulus.
However, God is always aware of what’s going on in our hearts. It’s a comfort to know that God understands, but also a challenge as he seeks to purify our motives.