The word motive can be understood to mean the reason someone does something, or the driving force behind an action.
- producing physical or mechanical motion.
- causing or being the reason for something.
When it comes to who we are in Christ, having good intentions is not always a reliable motive. Rather, what moves us should be God himself. He is to be the one who not only supplies our motive principle but also our motive power.
I saw a great example of motive power and principle in a video mash-up of 20th Century movie clips set to 21st Century music. The films’ dancers remind me of people praising God, but there will be more on that in a bit. First, enjoy the show because whether you like Bruno Mars or classic movies, this is a mash-up that you’ll wind up watching more than once.*
None of the film clips were sped up or slowed down. It took careful editing to accomplish this, but it happened under the experienced hand of the video’s creator.
The Bible repeatedly – from Psalms to Revelation – calls upon God’s people to sing a new song to the Lord. The newness is not in the subject of our praise, though. It’s always a song about God. It’s our experience of him that seems new to us, and this is what gets expressed in these “new” songs we sing. That is why a hymn written centuries ago can seem fresh to one who has never heard God’s praise expressed quite that way before. It’s also why new songs of praise are being written and introduced in church services every week.
It’s also why words written long ago can be reintroduced when put to newly crafted melodies. The words expressing our praise are not dependent on a music style but on the One we praise. Also, in a very real sense, our ability to praise is not dependent on us but on the One who created us.
What moves us to praise, after all, is not ourselves but the Spirit of Christ who lives within us. Jesus himself praised his Father in heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit:
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.“ (Luke 10:21.)
The Holy Spirit filled Jesus with joy that showed itself in praise of the Father. The motivation was joy, and it resulted in a divine movement of praise.
To get back to the film clips for a moment, you notice that each of those dancers seemed to be in perfect sync with a song not even written during their lifetimes. What motivated them? Their love of dance is my best guess. The video’s creator took their dancing and crafted it into a new way of seeing it. We do not see a changed motive, but merely a new way of experiencing it.
This is how it is with praise music, both ancient and modern. Our motive is to praise God and it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to do so. How we express it may look or sound different than it did in centuries past but it is the same motive power within us.
Isaac Watts captured the timelessness of God’s praise in these words:
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone
Past, present and future come together in the One who moves us to praise him eternally.
Now there’s a motive for you.
*When you watch the video a second time, put on the closed captioning (the cc button at the bottom of the video’s screen) and it will list the movies as they come along.