The phrase, “going through the motions” has a negative connotation -and rightfully so. It refers to someone who keeps up external appearances and expectations without the proper internal motivation. We use it a lot in the church world to describe Christians who go to church, sing the songs, and give their offerings without their “heart being in it.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that such people have no motivation. It just implies that they have the wrong motivation (impress friends, avoid embarrassment, live up to externally imposed expectations, etc). Usually we look down upon such a situation calling it hypocritical or unspiritual.
This begs the question, however, what do I do when I don’t feel like doing what I know I ought to do?
In his book, Faith and Feelings, author Brian Borgman addresses the issue like this:
If God commands us to do something and we don’t do it, what is our normal course of action? Confession and repentance. Why should the protocol be any different when we fail to feel the way God commands us to feel? If he commands us to come and worship him with gladness (Ps. 100:1–2), yet we don’t feel like worshiping him with gladness, that is a sin. If we have no joy at the prospect of gathering with God’s people on his day to sing his praise there is some serious darkness in our hearts and some mixed-up priorities. The lack of joy is sin. Confess it. “Father forgive me for not taking joy in what ought to be the true joy of my heart.” And then repent, bringing forth fruits in keeping with repentance by going to church. Even if your heart does not change right away, do what you are supposed to do with a repentant heart. What you will find is that the power comes in the doing. God will forgive us and our hearts will change in the process.
I love the way he phrases those last few sentences – “Even if your heart does not change right away, do what you are supposed to do with a repentant heart.” And what is that? “Repent bringing forth fruits in keeping with repentance.” And, remember, “the power comes in the doing.”
In other words, there is nothing hypocritical about going through the motions when the heart of your desire is for your desires to catch up with your actions!