Are You Intrinsically or Extrinsically Motivated?

2 Corinthians 5:14  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

Motivation can be defined as: “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way”.  Sports psychologists believe that motivation is a combination of intrinsic factors (driven from within) and extrinsic factors (driven from the outside).  Only athletes with abnormally high motivation will reach the pinnacle of their sport.

Intrinsic factors are desires within an athlete to perform well.  They desire to overcome problems; they develop skills and habits to overcome those problems and work towards perfection.  They are motivated by the feeling of pride and enjoyment in performing the task.  They set challenging yet realistic and measurable goals; they track their progress and get increasingly motivated as they meet short-term goals on the way to their long-term goals.

Extrinsic factors are those desires that come from outside the performer.  These things usually fall into two groups: tangible rewards like medals and money, or intangible rewards like praise and recognition.

Most sport psychologists would agree that intrinsic motivation factors are absolutely critical for elite athletes to become the best.  There needs to be a burning desire within an athlete to carry on in the most difficult situations and an inexpressible joy as they meet their goals. Extrinsic factors are usually less effective, but are often critical in an athlete’s development.  A healthy pat on the back from a coach or a parent, or a long-term goal of a special medal can be an effective motivator as well.

Paul lets us into his psyche in his letter to the church in Corinth.  He makes it clear to us that he is motivated by one thing:  it is “Christ’s love” that compels him. The interesting thing about this motivating factor is that it is both intrinsic and extrinsic.  As a believer in Christ we learn that Jesus actually lives in us. John 14:20 says: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  This means that the love of Christ that Paul talks about actually lives within us.  We are further told that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come”. (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Therefore, Christ’s motivations actually become our motivations.  And we know that our Lord’s motivation is for the lost.  God’s inexpressible love for us allowed him to sacrifice his son for our salvation.

There is a measure of extrinsic motivation for us as well though.   In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the master and his servants who are given money to steward.  The faithful servant hears the words from his master “well done my good and faithful servant”.  In the same way, as believers and dedicated disciples we can look forward to those words when our life is completed on earth and we are before our Father in heaven.

What is your motivation?  There is no shame in being motivated to accomplish athletic goals and to operate with excellence.  You can be a significant light for Christ in how you conduct yourself and you can use that stage to share the reason for the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15).  Ultimately, however, to be a disciple of Christ, like Paul you must be “compelled” by the love of Christ who lives in you.  If that love is your motivation, then you will be compelled to undertake all that God has for you in this life.  You will have a deep concern for the lost and a desire to disciple the nations, and at the conclusion of your race of life you will hear those lovely words “well done my good and faithful servant”.


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