Lesson 2: Jesus and Motivation Theory

Methods of Jesus.02

Lesson 2: Jesus and Motivation Theory

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this module the learner should be equipped to motivate learners by means of:

  • directing needs assessment.
  • allowing reflection on activity.
  • encouraging self-reinforcement.

Motivation is essential at the beginning, the middle, and the end of spiritual learning. It is eye opening to see how many ways Jesus motivated learners and that modern educators use similar means.

Human Motivators

Needs: physical, mental, spiritual.
Boundless enthusiasm is still driven by perceived basic human needs. Motivation for learning is first activated by the extent to which learners perceive that the new information, attitude, or modeled experience directly satisfies a strong physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual need in harmony with their beliefs and values. Class members are also motivated to learn by a need to be competent and successful. 

Passion to study the Bible kicks in when class members get insight into how the passage meets their needs. Thus it is the task of the facilitator to help learners see how the Bible does this. Learners must constantly lead the discussion in such a manner as to deal with members’ needs and to address them with Bible content. In order to do this the facilitator must develop skills to discern the needs underlying verbal expressions, and for this a conscious presence of the Holy Spirit is mandatory.

A daily baptism of the Holy Spirit helped Jesus to recognize the needs of the weary and oppressed. “His words were given Him fresh from the heavenly courts, words that He might speak in season to the weary and oppressed” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 139).

Weariness and oppression most often lie beneath the surface in the experiences expressed by class members. The class facilitator must become expert at listening with the “third ear.”

Example. A member of the class says: “I agree with Solomon when he said: ‘So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me’ ” (Eccl. 2:17, NASB). The facilitator may perceive that the reason this person hated his work is because he did not see himself as successfully doing important work. The class facilitator might encourage the man to talk about his pain. By leading the discussion in a competent manner, and through discussion of the biblical portion, the facilitator can help other members to support this person. Together they can help the man to recognize that daily labor for the necessities of life has value in itself. The needy man should experience healing by realizing that life itself is his portion given to him by a loving God (Eccl. 3:11-14). In this way the class facilitator may relate the experiences of the Bible openly to the daily needs of class members.

Money, treasure, pearls, building houses, sowing seed, investments, food, clothes, vineyards, riches, and other tangibles fill the teachings of Jesus. These all deal with basic physical needs. Jesus also appealed to psychological needs such as a desire for greatness, security, success, competence, love, nobility, courage, and virtue. Narratives about thugs attacking travelers on the highway, thieves breaking into a house and fighting with the owner, people being cut to pieces and their houses being turned into a pile of dung, floods washing houses away, and treasures hidden in a field kept His listeners spellbound. All these were dealing with life’s most basic requirements.

Jesus went beyond dealing with physical and psychological needs, however. He knew the great longing of the human heart to be reconciled to God. He opened the door to spiritual needs by means of physical and emotional needs. His encounter with the woman at the well was classic in this regard. He created thirst for the Water of Life through the metaphor of living water. He also addressed higher needs through parables such as the prodigal son and through demonstrations of healing.

Effective class facilitators may lead class members to appreciate God in new ways.

Example. Ask the question: “Does it serve a practical purpose for us to visit an art museum or attend a concert?” The discussion that follows may focus on the fact that art and music, along with daily necessities, can be instruments used by God to help one appreciate His loving character. It may be as important to receive His gifts with thanksgiving as it is to accomplish some great thing.

Dynamics of Changing Needs

Life stages, gender differences, circumstances, world conditions, changes in relationships, and the dynamics of human experience all bring changes in perceived needs.

Jesus shared things when the time was right (John 16:12; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 139).

The following teachable moments in adult life have been identified by modern educators Habermas and Issle, K., Teaching for Reconciliation, p. 162:

  • establishing independent living arrangements
  • entering the work world
  • deciding whether or not to marry
  • deciding whether or not to be parents
  • selecting the right friends
  • being a community leader
  • living with teenagers
  • living within one’s income
  • choosing leisure activities
  • living with a spouse
  • accepting physiological changes
  • adjusting physiological changes
  • coping with personal aging
  • adjusting to reduced income in retirement
  • adjusting to the loss of your spouse
  • living with peers
  • being a good friend, good citizen
  • relocation of living arrangements

Assessing Needs

Next to intercessory prayer, needs analysis or assessment should be a primary step in motivating learners. There are several ways to do this: 

Example 1. A facilitator might hand out a list of life situations such as the “teachable moments” list, and ask class members to prioritize the list in reference to their personal situation. The class facilitator should always be alert to pick up expressed or hidden needs that come out of class discussion.

Example 2. Pass out a list of questions about the current lesson and ask member to select the question they wish to discuss first.

Example 3. Ask class members to complete sentences such as:

  • The thing that concerns me most right now is . . .
  • Prepare a sentence completion list dealing with issues in the current Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. Ask members to share their answers with the class.
  • The most helpful thing to me in today’s lesson is . . .

Activity Learning

Stephen Brookfield says that the way to facilitate adult motivated education is for learners and facilitators to be involved in a continual ongoing process of activity, reflection upon activity, and collaborative analysis of activity. He says that “activity” is not limited to “doing” but may include such things as verbally exploring a whole new way of doing one’s work (Brookfield, S. D., Understanding and Facilitating, p. 10).

Class facilitators should lead in discussion and reflection on activities of individuals in the current Bible lesson that relate to needs of members. By sharing personal experiences, members bring real-life activities into focus.

Example. Adjusting to aging parents will surface as an immediate need for several class members. The discussion may center on the expressions of Solomon that are similar to those of a depressed person. Elderly people may be subject to various forms of depression. This may develop into understanding and action solutions supported by prayer on the part of other members of the class. This can be one of the most effective means of bringing about changes in activities.

Competency and Success

Adult learners are also motivated by a need for success or competence not only with information but also in life’s actions. They want to improve skills, become better Christians, husbands, wives, and parents. They want to become more joyous, more satisfied with life.They want to successfully glorify God. Jesus appealed to this need when He told the parable of the man with 10 talents who productively invested them and earned more for His master. The facilitator who can help members experience success or perceive their activities as successful will have motivated learners. 

Self-motivation for Success

It is much better for the learner to be self-motivated for competence than for facilitators or members to impose external rewards, punishment, test, or other means of extrinsic reinforcement. This is where testimonies of successful application of biblical principles in the lesson not only provide intrinsic reinforcement but model success to other members. The class facilitator may simply ask: “Has anyone experienced a positive change in facing a life problem by applying the principles we have studied today?” 

Of course it is the power of the Holy Spirit, through prayer and contemplation of the Scriptures and experiences of class members that bring a converting effect that most motivates learners (Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 82, 83; Education, p. 80).


Prepare a needs assessment by means of a sentence completion list, dealing with issues in the current Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. Ask members to share their answers with the class.


  1. I most identify with Solomon in the following ways . . . 
  2. The part of today’s lesson that I am most curious about is . . . 
  3. The most helpful thing to me in today’s lesson is . . .

James Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists