What Kind of Motivation Is Better—External or Internal?

I usually don’t respond well to external motivation. Anytime I sense someone trying to get me to do something, I resist. I know, not much of a team player. However, if they tap into something that wells up inside me, then look out!

In the world of physics, when external pressure is greater than internal pressure, what happens? The object implodes. But when internal pressure is greater than external pressure, kinetic energy explodes. I know a little geeky for this blog.

So ok, let’s look at it through a human relational lens.

A person’s internal pressure results from what they tend to place on themselves, such as, perfection, intensity, self-criticism. These pressures motivate a person to action many times with damaging side-effects.

Whereas, external pressure on a person might include financial goals, a certain result in mind, or the expectations of another person. These pressures can also cause unwanted effects while driving a person toward a goal.

So which one is better?

I need to attribute my recent pondering on this topic to a blog written by Jason Johnson—The Power of the Gospel in Orphan Care Recruitment.

Jason explores the question about how to recruit or motivate people to get on board with a ministry, specifically Orphan Care. His point in the blog that our efforts to motivate people to get involved with an orphan care ministry, or any other ministry or cause, is backwards.

He contends that we begin first with what is within us—that is where our internal motivation lies.

Rather than beginning with something that is external and foreign, the Church has the incredible opportunity to lean into that which is already internal andfamiliar – namely, the Gospel. By and large the call of the Christian life is to externalize in real, vivid and tangible ways that which is already true and real and alive internally through Jesus. It’s to ultimately bring to bear in the world around us that which Jesus has already accomplished in us…The bottom line is this – you simply cannot celebrate the Gospel in you without demonstrating the Gospel through you, and vice versa. Jason Johnson

A Christian’s motivation involves so much more

A person filled with the Holy Spirit has a different internal motivation than striving for perfection or a self-criticism.

What God places in us is both an external and an internal motivation. The God of the Universe who is separate and beyond His creation draws us to serve Him as a Holy God. Then He places His own Spirit in us giving us that compels us to, as Jason puts it, demonstrate the Gospel.

What God is doing in me through His Spirit continually changes me from the inside out. Out of this, I care for orphans, share a meal with a homeless friend, help a widow fix things around her home, live life with a neighbor, invest in parts of the world that have little or no access to the Gospel all in hopes that they will also, if they don’t already, get to meet God through the love of Jesus Christ.

What happens when Christians embrace what God has placed in them?

I can’t say this any better than Jason and it applies to any “movement” in our communities and churches that we seek participation in:

I am convinced, if we want to see a movement thrive and sustain long term, orphan care recruitment must begin with a deep celebration of the Gospel in us that then works its way out through us into the lives of the marginalized, neglected, abused and orphaned around us. We must be willing to do the hard, slow and sometimes tedious work of getting the Gospel deeply into the hearts of people and help them see in very vivid, tangible ways that our care of orphans is rooted in God’s care of us through Jesus – it begins not with the orphan “out there” who needs a family but with the orphan in us that has been given one in Jesus.Jason Johnson

Amen and Amen.

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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2 thoughts on “What Kind of Motivation Is Better—External or Internal?

  1. This is the best blog ever! Truth… Just to let me know when you started talking about physics is where you caught my eye and could not stop reading. My Dad, a Nuclear Physicist, First a man of God and always. Memories of what we have learned and are still learning are very important and his best lesson was to teach us where we came from and about our salvation at a very young age. We always should help others. No matter what we do or who we are we are all God’s children.