Motivation at work is one of the central problems that leaders must contend with. Motivating others to focus their efforts, to sustain their effort, to persist for a duration of time can be an ongoing challenge in some organizations. Apparently paying workers is not enough to achieve sustained, high-level performance! One of the big questions for the Christian is: What is the biblical perspective on motivation?
In future instalments of this blog I will review some of the more popular theories of motivation form the point of view of Scripture. For today I want to set the foundation.
The biblical perspective on motivation at work can be contrasted with contemporary views in more than one way:
- Motivation at work is not merely for achieving individualistic, egoistic goals of higher performance of a worker or the organization and, as a result, higher profits. The goal of motivation is much broader.
- In the biblical viewpoint, focusing work effort is within the larger context of achieving the bigger goals that God has in mind for us, i.e., a flourishing life in community. This is best summarized in the biblical ideals of shalom and tob
Shalom is a multidimensional concept that encompasses a variety of community concerns including the following:
- Faithfulness in our commitment to God
- Domestic harmony
- Physical and mental health
- International peace
- Economic well-being.
Notice these passages from Scripture:
Psalm 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace [shalom], and pursue it.
Jeremiah 29:7 …seek the welfare [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.
One of the best descriptions of the shalom experience is recorded in Psalm 72 where King David prays that shalom may be brought into fullness when his son sits on the throne.
Shalom is multigenerational. We experience shalom when our grandchildren experience a flourishing life of well-being.
Shalom is both an individual and communal in scope; however, the communal experience seems to dominate the concerns of Bible writers. Whatever work we do, is done not only for individual well-being but also for the well-being of the larger community.
In Scripture thinking, we pursue shalom to avoid or counteract misery and adversity. We long for and contribute our efforts to hasten the day when God’s blessings are realized. This does not mean that shalom is merely the result of human effort. On the contrary, shalom is a creative gift of God!
Shalom is experienced when both individuals and the community as a whole commit to being loyal to the principles of living outlined in the Ten Commandments. “Those who love Thy law have great peace [shalom]…” (Psalm 119:165)
Tob (or tobah) in the Old Testament refers to all that is good and beneficial, or general welfare. (Deut 23:6; 28:11; 30:15; 1 Kings 10:7; Psa 25:13; 106:5; 128:5; Prov 13:21; Eccl 7:14; Jer 14:11; 39:16) Ultimately, God is the giver of tob; however, humans have a responsibility to support and foster tob through our own efforts.
Here are few passages where tob / tobah are used:
Deuteronomy 28:11 And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity [tobah], in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.
Deuteronomy 30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity [tob], and death and adversity;
Psalm 25:13 His soul will abide in prosperity [tob], And his descendants will inherit the land.
Shalom and tob are just two of the many words used in both the Old Testament and New Testament that describe the experience of true prosperity and abundance.
- If our work is expected to contribute to the welfare of the larger community as well as to ourselves and our families, what does this suggest as an assumption underlying motivation at work?
- Does God desire abundance for us?
- In practical terms, how does shalom and tob actually work? What actions are expected to bring about this experience?
- How do you explain that God is the ultimate author and giver of shalom, but humans have a responsibility to foster shalom?
- Is the goal of shalom too big to be meaningful for contemporary for-profit organizations?
- In an individualistic society where community welfare takes second place to personal welfare, how is the goal of shalom to be brought into the culture of an organization?
- Adam Smith talks about the invisible hand of self-interest as a key influence in promoting general welfare. Is Adam Smith disagreeing with the biblical idea of shalom which tends to be community-oriented? (Be careful! Read Adam Smith’s famous statement closely. He actually mentions two sets of influences in the market. Most people ignore the other influence that he mentions!)
- If shalom and tob are the biblical orientations for motivation at work, what are the implications of this for a practicing manager?