Mary, one of our Covenant-First Presbyterian congregation members, was telling me about volunteering to help children develop reading skills. She shared with me her incredulity when one of the children she worked with asked, “What do I get if I do my reading lesson?”
The question reveals something about human nature – we always have lurking in the back of our minds “what’s in it for me?” This child was looking for a reward: a sweet, a toy, a treat of some kind. Mary told the child that she didn’t have anything like that. What the child would get is the key to a world of possibility, the joy of growing and learning new things, and the wonder of accomplishment.
What Mary was talking about was intrinsic motivation. Finding joy in the doing simply because the doing is good in of itself.
As I’ve been contemplating the book of Galatians, I’ve come to believe this distinction between external motivation and intrinsic motivation is a big part of the difference between legalistic religion and a faith of the heart. Legalistic religion concerns itself with checklists and regulations, punishments, and rewards. It is a performance based sin management system. And there is no joy in it. Oh you might have the fleeting satisfaction of mastering the game better than anyone else, but there is no joy, no freedom, no grace to be found.
The faith of the heart, meanwhile, learns to love the doing simply because the doing is good. Legalistic religion prays because you’re supposed to pray. The faith of the heart prays because prayer is a joyful experience. Legalistic religion is accompanied by a lot of stress and strain and struggle. The faith of the heart moves with grace and flow.
Psalm 131 pictures the difference beautifully:
My heart is not proud, Lord,my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
How is a weaned child content? A nursing child cries for mother b/c mother is the source of food and comfort. The weaned child has learned to love mother for her own sake. The nursing child cries for what he can get; the weaned child rests in the relationship.
Therein lies all the difference. Legalistic religion, at its core, is concerned with the transaction: do certain things (or don’t do certain things) and I will get something in return (or avoid something bad).
The faith of the heart, on the other hand, is concerned with relationship. Being with the Beloved is what matters most. In the faith of the heart, you discover that the practices of faith are not about transactions – they are about drawing closer to the Beloved.
So take some time today – be still. And enjoy being with the Lord.
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About the cover photo: This painting is Norman Rockwell’s “The Saturday People” which was painted for McCalls Magazine in October 1966. It is from the Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, but I saw it on loan in the Columbia SC Art Museum in 2014. (where I took this photo) I chose this painting for this post b/c the little girl in yellow is choosing to pause in the midst of the busy crowd. All about her are people who are busily on their way, yet she pauses to gaze at the wonder of the Arabian attendants with their elephant. In a sense, she is choosing to ‘be with’ rather than to bustle and do.
For fun, take note of the celebrity cameos in the painting: Ringo Starr, Jonathan Winters, Marlon Brando, just to name a few.