“What do I really want?” a friend asked himself as if speaking the language of epiphany. He found himself initiating new interests in things, filling his time with pastimes—pining after that new thing that would change everything—when suddenly he realized that there was probably a search behind all of his searching. Why am I doing all of these things? What am I really looking for? The questions were something of an awakening.
Someone once told me that all behavior is goal-oriented. It is simple, but for me was an incredibly rich thought. Walking through my week with the idea in mind was as striking as it was enlightening. Looking at my words, my actions, even my prayers in light of my goal, inquiring as to the motive, I realized how easy it is to be unaware of my own heart. “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus replied to the sons of Zebedee. Sometimes we just don’t see.
As singer/songwriter Rich Mullins writes, “Everybody I know says they need just one thing/And what they really mean is that they need just one thing more.” Like my friend who found himself reacting behaviorally before examining the motivation, quite often we are unaware of what we really want, and outright startled by the invitation to see more. “What do you want?” Jesus asked the blind man calling out for him.
How do we know what we really mean, what we really want? How do we learn to see the search behind our searching? And is it always as simple as seeing? Can we always get past the layers of self to unveil our motives?
For potential followers, Jesus seems to suggest that now is a good time to try, even as it may serve as a reminder that we sometimes cannot discern our motives, and often our own hearts deceive us. Writes C.S. Lewis, “Humans are very seldom either totally sincere or totally hypocritical. Their moods change, their motives are mixed, and they are often themselves quite mistaken as to what their motives are.”(1)
While Jesus was walking one day in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they demanded. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
Jesus replied with a question. “I will ask you one thing. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?”
The leaders discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ the people will react for they believe that John really was a prophet.
So they answered, ‘We don’t know.’ And Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”(2)
The exchange is a telling look at human behavior. Did they see their own motives as clearly as Jesus presented them? They certainly had the capacity to reason with a goal in mind. Did they think they had out maneuvered the one before them? Or did they concede in their minds as they did in their words that Jesus was at least one step ahead of them? John reports of the one ahead of us: “[M]any believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.”
Christianity may not be completely unique in its invitation to prepare our hearts and minds, to examine the hidden clutter of our souls, and to see the grime and cobwebs that have accumulated. But it is unique in the way heart and clutter are seen. Christ’s is not an invitation to ever-see our need to see more, a clarion call to try harder; rather, it is an invitation to see our dire need for the one who sees. For though there are days when I cannot even see my own motives, I can entrust myself to the one who sees me, knowing that by his grace God grants his children ears to hear and eyes to see.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) C.S. Lewis, Yours, Jack (New York: Harper One, 2008), 343.
(2) See Mark 11:27-33.