Going Through The Motions
2000 by Arlo E. Moehlenpah


In our teaching training class, Jeff Marchand brought a pen without ink for an object lesson. For several seconds he "wrote" on a piece of paper but nothing appeared. He likened the pen to us and the ink to prayer. Trying to write without ink was merely "going through the motions:. Likewise, trying to live a Christian life without prayer is just "going through the motions."

Judges 16:20-21 reveals that when Samson heard the words, "The Philistines be upon thee", he " awoke out of his sleep and said, I will go out as at other times before and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him. But the Philistines took him and put out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with fetters of brass: and he did grind in the prison house." Previous to this incident Samson performed many mighty feats including slaying a lion with his bare hands, catching three hundred foxes, slaying one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and carrying the doors of the gate of the city of Gaza and the two posts to the top of a hill. I don't know whether shaking himself occurred in each of these times or just in the house of Delilah where he broke the seven green withes and the new ropes which bound him. This time, however, after he had lost the symbol of his consecration by allowing his hair to be cut, when he shook himself as before, he was merely "going through the motions" for the spirit of the Lord had departed from him and he was weak like any other man.

I Samuel 3:1 mentions "that the word of the Lord was precious in those days and there was no open vision." Eli the priest could not discern the difference between sincere prayer and drunkenness as evidenced by his reaction to Hannah when she prayed in bitterness of soul and wept sore for she spoke in her heart and moved her lips but she didn't pray aloud. His two sons, Hophni and Phineas were so immoral that they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle. Eli failed to restrain his sons and to discipline himself for they made themselves fat with the chiefest of the offerings. In an attempt to achieve victory over the Philistines when the Israelites had already lost 4000 men, the people of Israel, along with Hophni and Phineas, brought out the ark of the covenant and all Israel shouted with a great shout so that the earth rang. The Philistines at first did not understand the meaning of the noise of the great shout but decided to fight. There was a great slaughter and 30,000 men of Israel fell, the ark of God was taken, and Eli's two sons were slain. When the news reached Eli he fell off his chair backwards, broke his neck and died. The same day his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phineas, gave birth to a child and called him Ichabod to memorialize the fact that the glory was departed from Israel because the ark of God was taken. Israel was merely "going through the motions" in bringing out the ark. They apparently did not realize that the God of the ark was more important than the ark of God.

When Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession of land but decided to keep back a part of the price it seems apparent that they wanted to be honored for their generosity as was Barnabas who had sold his land and brought the money to the apostles. Ananias and Sapphira did not have to sell the land and they did not have to give, but their mistake was in bringing only a part of the price under the pretense of giving all. When Ananias presented his offering he was "going through the motions" and he immediately died when Peter revealed the he was lying to the Holy Ghost.

Acts 19 records the story of the seven sons of Sceva who were exorcists. They apparently recognized that Paul had more success in casting out evil spirits than they did. It's possible that they used various incantations in their exorcisms, and, after hearing Paul, decided to use the name of Jesus as just another magical phrase. They attempted to cast an evil spirit out of a man by saying "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." But they were surprised when the evil spirit answered and said, "Jesus I know and Paul I know but who are ye?" The sons of Sceva were just "going through the motions" and were powerless. The man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them and beat them up and they fled naked and wounded. They probably left the scene with black eyes, cut lips, broken noses and collarbones as well as other injuries.

I am deeply concerned about the need to guard against just "going through the motions." or as Brother David Fuller mentioned at the General Conference, "Having a show but no Shekinah." Without prayer and direction from the Lord some of our preaching techniques such as microphone flipping, saying "Hello?", and getting everybody to clap their hands could be just "going through the motions". Preaching someone else's message might be just be a weak echo rather than a powerful voice from God. Evangelists who preach the same messages week after week to different congregations must guard against attempting to put it across without prayer and devotion. Missionaries on deputation would also have to guard against this while making the same presentation night after night. We must guard our singing that it not be just "going through the motions" or choreographed gestures. We can't rely on the beat or the speed; we must have the touch of God. We must guard against our church services becoming a time of just "going through the motions". Without care we can develop a form of godliness and deny the power. I remember a youth rally once where the leader started the chorus "Won't we have a time when we get over yonder?". This chorus was truly blessed and there was a great spirit of praise. At the next month's youth rally the leader again started the same chorus perhaps expecting the same results, but he didn't receive the same response. He may have been trying to bring out the ark of God or shake himself as at other times, but we were just "going through the motions". In our services we must guard against just saying "praise phrases" and going through various physical activities. Paul wrote Timothy that "bodily exercise profiteth little but godliness is profitable unto all things."

In a previous article I mentioned my concern about the lack of Bible knowledge of students coming to Bible college. I assume that if we tested the other saints in our churches we might find a similar lack of knowledge. Could this indicate that for some people Sunday School and Bible study are just times of "going through the motions"? Oftentimes relatively new converts who apply themselves to the word know more than people who have been in the church most of their lives. We have told the students at Christian Life College that if they copy their homework from another student or get essays from another source, sleep in classes or skip classes, they are just "going through the motions" as far as an education is concerned. We test them each year to find out how they are progressing. The results are a clear indication that some students are doing more than just "going through the motions".

How can you prevent just "going through the motions"? First of all we must recognize that without God we can do absolutely nothing. Let's "have God" instead of just "having church". Secondly, a person must be absolutely honest and check his motives. Why do we do what we do? Is it for the praise of men? For position? Or is it to please Him? Following Jesus' teaching on secret giving, praying, and fasting would certainly prevent a lot of "going through the motions". Lastly, one must practice unfeigned love and faith. The word unfeigned means sincere and real and has the connotation of eliminating pretense.

My earlier illustrations were of people "going through the motions" but for most Bible characters this is not true. For example, Paul writes regarding Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, "that which was lacking on your part they have supplied" (I Cor. 16:17). In other words, when they saw a need that was not being met they took care of it. Of Onisiphorus Paul wrote that he "oft refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain. When he was in Rome he sought me ought very diligently and found me" (II Timothy 1:16). He didn't just pray about it, he made a real effort to find Paul in prison and to bless him. Of Timothy Paul wrote, "I have no man like minded who will naturally care for your state" (Phil. 2:20). Timothy genuinely cared for the saints.

Paul, himself, said he fought not as one that beat the air (just going through the motions) but that he kept his body under subjection lest that by any means when he had preached to others he himself would be a castaway. At the end of his ministry he said "I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight (like a champion prize fighter who has retained his championship after a difficult fight.) I have finished my course (like a long distance runner who won the race) I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (II Tim. 4:6-8). If we avoid "going through the motions" and fight a good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, there is a great reward for us also. Hallelujah!

First Love Magazine, Christian Life College, Winter 1994, Volume 6, Number 1  

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