POINTS TO PONDER

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m determined to get this done?” etc. The dictionary defines determination as: “the act of deciding definitely and firmly; having a firm or fixed intention to achieve a desired end or goal.” Sometimes if it weren’t for our determination, the essential things in life would never get done. In psychology, self-determination is an important concept that refers to each person’s ability to make choices and manage life. This ability plays a vital role in psychological health and well-being. Self-determination allows people to feel that they have control over their choices and lives.

Gabriel Lopez-Garrido, a Puerto Rican student at Harvard University, explains that Self-determination is a theory of human motivation and personality that suggests that people can become self-determined when their needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy are fulfilled. The presence versus absence of conditions that allow satisfaction of these basic needs (in people’s immediate situations and in their developmental histories) is a key predictor of whether people will display vitality and mental health. People tend to become happier when pursuing intrinsically motivating things and are aligned with their goals – it not only makes them feel more responsible about the outcomes, but also helps them really focus their time on what they want to be doing. Self-determination theory itself can be helpful in understanding the things that might motivate a given individual’s behavior. Feeling like one has both the autonomy and the capabilities required to make choices on their own is something that most, if not every, individuals would want to have.

Then Research Coordinator for New York University, Sarah Sperber, tells us that determination can be defined as the energy for action. The main question that inspired research into such motivation is why people act or don’t act in certain ways. Earlier psychologists in the behaviorist school of thought theorized that learned associations drive human behavior: we engage in behaviors associated with reward and avoid behaviors associated with the lack of reward. This is the theory underlying the way we train dogs and other animals – we praise and reward behaviors that we want to see more of. The developers of self-determination theory felt that this behaviorist perspective did not account for humans’ complex thoughts, and that they believed they could uniquely influence determination for certain behaviors. Additionally, they didn’t believe that motivation should be considered a “unitary” concept whereby you either have more or less of it – instead, they highlighted that there could be different types of determination, specifically intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Finally, they believed that the type of determination underlying behavior had significant consequences for performance and well-being.

Also, Clinical Psychologist Livia Freier adds that research suggests that psychological needs are at the heart of determination, and if those needs aren’t met, our mental health and well-being may suffer. But there’s a way to increase motivation and boost our productivity at home or work. According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT), in order to achieve optimal motivation, our work conditions need to satisfy three basic needs:

  • Competence: Are you using your skills and knowledge as best you can? Are you seeking out challenges? Is there an opportunity for maturing?
  • Autonomy: Do you have the freedom to operate in a way that suits you? Do your duties provide you with a structure that supports autonomy?
  • Relatedness: How connected are you to the people you interact with? Is there meaningful exchange amongst family, colleagues, or clients?

Given the number of hours we spend at home, church, or work, we can benefit from using a self-determination approach to boost our motivation and establish daily habits that help us gain greater satisfaction from our work.

  • Firstly, it’s important to consider how well our work conditions support our personal growth across the three SDT categories.
  • Secondly, we need to identify ways to achieve greater competence, autonomy, and relatedness at home or at work. Picking up new skills or mingling with family or coworkers might seem too far outside your comfort zone, or might simply require more energy than you have been able to muster. Sometimes tasks just seem difficult or unrewarding. There is no doubt that getting started is the hardest step when implementing change. Falling into a passive pattern has negative effects that fuel self-doubt and can make you feel stuck. People around you might notice a lack of productivity and react with concern or disapproval. More often than not, the result of prolonged inaction is that our self-esteem suffers, and we wonder whether change is possible for us at all. After a while, we might believe that we really are incapable and unproductive. It’s important that you don’t shame yourself into action and self-discipline. Rather, focus on the reward. I urge my patients to acknowledge the inner tension early on and take gentle but meaningful action.

All of this information and instruction is very helpful, but what does the Bible say about determination for a Christian. For instance, God told a discouraged Jeremiah, “I say this because I know the plans that I have for you. This message is from the Lord. I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. Furthermore, I plan to give you hope and a good future.”[1]

When we talk about determination, we cannot ignore the example given to us by Ruth. When her mother-in-law Naomi suggested that she stay back in her home country instead of accompanying her mother-in-law to the foreign land of Israel, here was Ruth’s reply, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.”[2]

There was no one more determined to reach the finish line to complete His mission here on earth than Jesus. So, when it came to someone leaving their family behind to follow Him, our Lord told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”[3] That is what we can call, following Jesus with determination.

The Apostle Paul also recognized this determination factor when talking about maintaining our loving relationship with God. The apostle asked, “Can anything ever separate us from the Anointed One’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, persecuted, hungry, destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake, we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’ No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through the Anointed One, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[4]

Paul also addresses one major factor in our determination to give our all to the Lord for service. He wrote, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”[5] Added to this, Paul also mentions His source of information for such an appeal by saying, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. Those things were written so that we could have hope. That hope comes from the patience and encouragement that the Scriptures give us.[6]

Then, using himself as an example of determination, Paul tells his readers, “You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one runner gets the prize. So run like that. Run to win! All who compete in the games use strict training. They do this so that they can win a prize—one that doesn’t last. But our prize is one that will last forever. So, I run like someone who has a goal. I fight like a boxer who is hitting something, not just the air. It is my body. I fight to make it do what I want. I do this so that I won’t miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it.”[7]

Then Paul testifies to his determination to be faithful to the end, “I don’t mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and make it mine. That’s what Messiah Jesus wants me to do. It is the reason He made me His. Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But I do one thing: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me. I keep running hard toward the finish line to get the prize that is mine because God has called me through Messiah Jesus to live up there in heaven,”[8]because the Anointed One gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do.”[9]That’s why,” says Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.[10]

So, like the writer of Hebrews, we should all ask ourselves. “With all these great people around us as examples. Their lives tell us what determination means. So, we, too, should run the race that is before us and never quit. We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the mistakes that so often make us fall.”[11]


[1] Jeremih 29:11

[2] Ruth 1:16-18

[3] Luke 9:62

[4] Romans 8:35-39

[5] Ibid. 12:1-2

[6] Ibid. 15:4

[7] 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

[8] Philippians 3:12-14

[9] Ibid. 4:13

[10] 2 Timothy 4:7

[11] Hebrews 12:1

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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