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Can you know?

Can you know your own heart? Your own motives?

My husband and I are starting a study of Luke 15 and using Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, as a discussion guide. We were talking today about which “brother” we most relate to. That sparked a conversation about knowing our own hearts, our own motives.

The Bible says quite a lot about our motives.

Our discussion today prompted a search for this concept in scripture:

  • Proverbs 16:2 (NLT): People may be pure in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their motives.
  • Jeremiah 17:9-10a (NLT): The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives.
  • Hebrews 4:12 (NLT): For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
  • James 4:2b-3 (NLT): Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
  • Philippians 1:15a, 17 (NLT): It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. … [They] do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT): For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.
  • Proverbs 4:23 (NLT): Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

How to check the motives of our hearts

First, ask God to search your heart and reveal your motives. “God, see what is in my heart. Know what is there. Test me. Know what I’m thinking” (Psalm 139:23 NIRV).

Second, spend time inspecting your motives with a few key questions:

  • Am I acting to draw attention to myself, to gain recognition?
  • Do I look to see who is noticing my service?
  • Am I being manipulative?
  • Is my focus constantly on “me” or “I”? Do I participate only when something benefits me?
  • Would I keep doing the things I do if no one thanked me or gave me something in return?
  • Will I stop if I face criticism and attacks for what I’m doing?
  • Am I willing to do small, menial tasks for God even without visible reward?

Last, ask the Spirit of God to forgive any areas of sin that He has revealed and to help you walk by His power in transparency and honesty.

What about that “brother” question?

Maybe you are wondering about the question that prompted this post today. In the parable of the two sons in Luke 15, Jesus tells us that the younger son insulted his father by asking for his inheritance while his dad was still living. Then he left home and squandered the inheritance in wild living. When the younger son came to his senses, he realized his dad’s servants were better off than he was. He went home to apologize and ask his father for a servant’s position. The father, of course, met him on the road, overjoyed that he had returned home! And he threw a party. The older son was angry, arguing with his dad about killing a fattened calf for his wayward brother. And the story ends without tying up the loose ends. The older brother apparently doesn’t join the festivities and remains angry.

In this story, the younger son represents the sinners and outcasts that often followed Jesus – the ones he feasted with. The older son represents the religious leaders offended by Jesus’ behavior. They couldn’t understand why Jesus would associate with such sinful people. In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller suggests that we all relate to one son or the other – maybe over time, even both of the sons.

Jesus includes the lowest of the low as his friends -

I wonder – are you a younger son who has sowed wild oats and come home to Jesus in repentance, ready to serve Him? Or are you an older son, one who looks with a measure of disdain on others, seeking to please Jesus with your self-righteousness?

What are the motives of your heart in your relationship to God?


Father, You alone know the deep recesses of my heart –
You know what’s behind the closed doors –
Hidden in dark corners –
Today I ask You to shine Your light in my heart,
Search me, and know me today –
Reveal to me unholy motives,
Manipulation, secret desires for recognition,
Or personal benefit –
Forgive me for holding on to my self-righteousness,
Cleanse and purify me –
And may I join You at the table with the outcasts –
Teach me to celebrate with You – the one sheep, the lost coin,
And especially the wayward son!

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