The Spirit Works Toward Self-Actualization

The field of motivational psychology was pioneered by Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy of needs is so well known that I treat it as the classical hierarchy. The first four priorities are to satisfy bodily needs, security needs, affiliation needs and status needs. The fifth is the least explored and the hardest to talk about in business motivation. However, it makes a lot of sense in the spiritual motivation of Christians.

As happens to prominent people, Maslow’s name is invoked by David Sze in a Wellness magazine article of July 21, 2015. Sze used Maslow’s framework to describe “The Twelve Characteristics of a Self-Actualized Person.”

Self-Actualization has become a key concept for psychology aimed at helping men and women become more of what they want to be. An underlying theme is “do what is best for yourself.” Without reference to God, such counseling often produces divorces as the counselees are encouraged to break free from constraints so they can get all that they deserve.

Reading David Sze’s list of the 12 characteristics of a self-actualized person, I realized they are parallel to what happens when the Holy Spirit grows a believer to a higher level of faith. As I list the 12 characteristics, think about where the power comes from to change from where you are to where you want to be. Or for believers, to where God wishes you to be. It takes special motivations.

Self-actualized people:

  1. Embrace the unknown and the ambiguous
  2. Accept themselves, together with their flaw
  3. Prioritize and enjoy the journey, not just the destination
  4. Are inherently unconventional, though they do not seek to shock
  5. Are motivated by growth, not by satisfaction of needs
  6. Have Purpose
  7. Are not troubled by small things
  8. Are grateful
  9. Share deep relationships with a few and affection for all people
  10. Are humble
  11. Resist enculturation
  12. Are not perfect

I could preach on how the Spirit works to advance each of these qualities in a 12-part series.

David Sze must be a Christian, or he wouldn’t be conscious of the many characteristics that are foreign to those who stay in their natural condition and do not experience the new life in Christ. Many such characteristics even remain foreign to believers who stay stuck at an early stage of faith development.

It takes Spirit-changed believers to be motivated by growth and not by the satisfaction of needs, to be humble, to be grateful and not troubled by small things, to have affection towards the whole human race, to confess they are not perfect, to resist enculturation. Enculturation is something mostly talked about among Christian churches.

There is a long line of preachers who assume that if they just list human ideals and connect them with Christian behavior, their followers will somehow achieve them—on their own. That might change the behavior of passive Christians for a few days. But it is not going to create a desire to embrace the journey of the ambiguous, to be unconventional, to move beyond the satisfaction of needs, to share a deep relationship with a few true friends.

Stay with the thought of relationships. It does not come naturally to humans to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Some want to focus on how unfair it is to women that Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” But that is just a sub-point. His major theme is for wives, husbands, children and slaves to submit to one another, because that is what those under the power of the Spirit will be convicted to do out of reverence to Christ.

Most of what even Christian motivational preaching tries to do does not actually change much behavior. Lasting change happens only when the Spirit moves God’s people to new behaviors by changing hearts, by changing inner motivations. Then they can grow to be closer to God and thus realize self-actualization.

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