What motivated you to get out of bed this morning? Was it the feeling of dread in trying to explain to your boss why you are late for work? For me, it was the sound of my children engaging their perpetual drive for anything short of a well-balanced breakfast. Perhaps your motivation was simply to stay in bed. One of the founding fathers of Psychology, Abraham Maslow, theorized that whatever motivation we feel throughout the day can be categorized within a hierarchy of five basic needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, or self-actualization.
In Effective Biblical Counseling, Larry Crabb (1977) describes the 4 lower needs on the hierarchy as “deficit motivation” (p. 82), meaning motivation is prompted by a sense of lack in order to obtain what is missing. Deficit motivation is responsible for many manipulative tendencies we grow to despise in others or in ourselves. Happiness is based solely on what can be obtained from other people or things. At the top of the hierarchy, we find self-actualization characterized by intrinsic motivation which is prompted by a sense of fullness. Intrinsic motivation can be described as a consistent source of joy from within which grants a person the ability to pour out onto others from its excess. Crabb suggests that only promises found in scripture are sufficient in overcoming deficit motivation to become truly self-actualized and intrinsically motivated. It stands to reason that these scriptures should be a priority in Bible study.
In Matthew 6, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the misguided pursuit of self-righteousness, money, and daily needs (Weber, 2000): all of which can be characterized as the deficit motivational needs of physiology, safety, and esteem (Crabb, 1977). Jesus reassures us that our physiological and safety needs are not only known and understood but also met through our Heavenly Father. Unencumbered by worldly pursuits, Jesus’ followers are to be motivated by the Father’s promise to provide their basic physiological and safety needs so they may be free to fully seek His Kingdom:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:33-34, ESV).
Instinctively, we perceive afflictions as a threat to these needs and this perception makes us susceptible to worry and anxiety. In Philippians 4, Paul points to afflictions as a valuable means to further the gospel and exalt the Lord (Anders, 1999). Verse 6 encourages us to trade worries and anxiety for peace through prayer so that we are able to live exemplary lives even in the face of our afflictions:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6, ESV).
Paul goes further by adding that the needs of the believers of Philippi would be met as they tend to the needs of others. Tending to the needs of others without requiring something from them in return requires intrinsic motivation substantiated through this promise:
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19, ESV).
In order for us to move beyond damaging and deadly carnal behaviors driven by the need for love, it is paramount we fully realize that, through Jesus, we can never lose love in its purest form. His love is consistent even when all worldly sources of love fail. In the book of Romans, Paul addresses this love as just one benefit of finding peace with a sovereign God (Boa & Kruidenier, 2000):
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, ESV).
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Rom. 8:35, ESV)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39, ESV).
It is only through a redeemed identity in Christ that we obtain infinite meaning, purpose, and status: all of which meet the basic human need for esteem. Often said to be the most important verse in the entire book, Paul demonstrates in Philippians 1:21 that Christ is the source of meaning in life (Anders, 1999):
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21, ESV).
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul describes believers as workmanship, entailing artistic skill and craftsmanship, with salvation completed through faith before works (Anders, 1999). This means that we cannot bring about our own salvation, a vital need not directly mentioned within the hierarchy. However, by allowing Him to do good works through us He meets our need for esteem with purpose:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV).
David describes the deliverance from death through Jesus and the new status given or “crowned” as a beneficiary to the Kingdom:
“Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps. 103:4, ESV).
These verses tell us that God not only knows and understands our basic human needs, He sufficiently meets the needs of all who seek Him. In learning these verses, we are able to overcome our carnal deficit motivations so that, as self-actualized beings, we can truly walk out Romans 12:1-2. Non-believers are hard-pressed to conquer the hierarchy of needs without them. It is by God’s grace and mercy that we can be intrinsically motivated to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, as spiritual worship. Rather than conforming to the deficit motivations driven by basic human need, we can be intrinsically transformed by the renewal of our minds with these verses. By applying these verses to our motivations each day, we may discern what is the will of God for us in the present, what is good and acceptable and perfect. What better reason is there to get out of bed each morning?
Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Crabb, L. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ISBN: 978031225706.
Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.