Jesus captivated the imagination of his audience, but he also motivated them to change. He did this by creating a thirst for learning so they would actually “hear” what he was saying. Thirst cannot be satisfied if you are not yet thirsty.
Like the thirst created by hard work or intense physical activity in recreation, Jesus had a reputation for making people thirsty by asking questions and telling stories that spoke to the familiar longings of people’s souls. Jesus also took people off guard and created thirst for learning by making uncommon requests like asking the Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4:7).
A STORY OF THIRST SATISFIED
A few years ago, I was leading a group in the West Elk wilderness of Colorado during a very dry summer. We couldn’t find water for hours because many of the intermittent streams had dried up. The group began to grumble of unbearable thirst. Finally, late in the afternoon, as we drew near a long-awaited stream, we stopped under a shade tree and read this Psalm: “My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2). Before dropping our packs to wet our parched tongues with cool water, I said to the group: “Imagine what it would be like if we thirsted for God the same way that we thirst right now for a drink from the stream we hear just around the bend?”
This is an example of how Jesus motivated his followers. By drawing attention to our physical thirst that day, we were able to appreciate a little more the relevance of passages that speak about our soul’s thirst for Christ. Jesus is the Living Water. He knew the hearts of his audience, and spoke when they were most thirsty. To teach as Jesus taught challenges us to bring Kingdom principles to light in the context of when our audience is motivated to “drink.” This is a profound change in my thinking. I love people and want the best for them in Christ, but often I am not patient to wait for the right timing, when they are thirsty. I’m increasingly convinced that through intercessory prayer for my audience or by asking a good question to stir the soil of their hearts, it is better to wait to see thirst, before I try to “help” or “fix” people’s problems or needs.
MOTIVATE OTHERS BY PUTTING YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
If you are a leader of others, I encourage you to spend adequate time thinking and praying about how to motivate your “sheep” like this. Can you tell where people are thirsty versus where they are feeling full or invulnerable to input? It may help to try to step into their shoes and relate with their thirsts. Jesus wanted to motivate his listeners to hear and believe what he was saying, but he was patient to wait to see thirst forming in people’s souls before offering an invitation to himself. Think about it. He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water that can quench all people’s hunger and thirst. Yet he seemed patient to wait until people were sufficiently at the end of their rope before intervening with a lifeline. The implication of this principle that I see in Jesus’ teaching style is that I need to be more patient and focus more on putting effort into creating thirst before trying to satisfy it. This will happen first through prayer, and biblical knowledge, and then through developing better teaching skills.
One way Jesus stirred interest in others was by identifying their needs. He was familiar with his culture so he knew their needs. When people people are asked a question about a familiar problem they face, they get immediately thirsty for the answer to that question or the solution to a problem they face. Their attention gets aroused. This gets them on the cusp of intrinsic motivation to believe and act on what they are about to be taught. Howard Hendricks asserts one of the best ways to motivate is to “help the learner become aware of his need.”[i] Robert Morosco highlights how Jesus created thirst and motivation in his disciples through stories: “The most effective stories are those that follow the storytelling principle: the greater the unpredictability within a familiar situation, the greater the audience interest generated.”[ii]
Jesus was the master of drawing people in with surprise and unpredictability.
SOLITUDE WITH GOD ENERGIZES LIFE-GIVING MOTIVATIONS
We usually come out of the wilderness a different person than when we entered it. Why? Because in the wilderness we become thirsty. And then our thirst for God is satisfied through solitude with him because we become convinced that he exists, he is sovereign, he is loving, he is God. On the potter’s wheel of solitude we become satisfied by his hands that remind us he is in control. We often enter the wilderness totally out of control, being tossed here and there by the winds of lies, busyness, or downright idolatry. But through exposure and vulnerability to the Potter’s hand, like children again, we let God lift us up into the closeness of his arms.
- Journal about some of your own thirsts and motivations:
- How is your health and physical fitness?
- What thirsts do you have regarding relationships?
- Are you thirsty for change in the area of your finances or vocation?
- Identify the core group of people God has placed in your arena of influence. Who is open to you leading them what now?
- What are some of the thirsts of your sheep (those you are leading)?
- Who is thirsty right now that you could serve by asking them a spiritual question that brings Jesus into the conversation?
- What do you think would motivate someone who you are leading right now? How does thirst play a role in motiving them?
[i] Hendricks, Howard, Teaching to Change Lives (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1987), 13.
[ii] Morosco, Robert E., “Matthew’s formation of a Commissioning Type-Scene Out of the Story of Jesus’ Commissioning of the Twelve.” Journal of Biblical Literature 103, no. 4 (December 1984): 542.