Ever wonder why you do what you do? Human motivation can be a bit murky, even for the experts. Nature or nurture? Hormones or circumstances? Horoscope or stethoscope? Self-esteem problems or unmet needs? Some of us know from experience—talk to 10 different psychologists about your problems and you’re likely to hear 10 different answers.

God hasn’t remained silent on this issue. His word speaks extensively about what makes human beings tick. Jesus stated: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Lk 6:45). In other words, your behavior arises, not from your hormones or circumstances or upbringing or needs, but from within your own heart.

True enough, but even that answer can leave things a bit murky. How can we discern what’s going on in our own heart? Christian counselor David Powlison offers a list of what he calls “X-Ray Questions” to diagnose our behavior. Here’s a sample:

What do you want, crave, wish for? Your desires tell you a lot about the orientation of your heart.

What are your “felt needs”? We often view felt needs as a given—the essential and incontestable foundation of our happiness. But the Bible suggests felt needs are often just “street talk for idolatrous demands.”

Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, security? Powlison calls this the “Psalms question” which surfaces “your false trusts, your escapisms that substitute for the Lord.”

Whose performance matters most to you? Who can make things better, make things work, make things successful? If the answer is you, self-righteousness might be a problem. If the answer is your kids or your spouse, you might have just exposed an idolatrous tendency of your heart to make one of life’s good things into an ultimate thing.

Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you matters most? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? When you lose God as your point of personal reference, you’ll find yourself in a carnival of mirrors, unsure who the real you is anymore. That’s how idolatry always works—you lose your life right where you thought you were going to find it. 

What do you talk most about? “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Jesus said.

If you’re interested in reading more, there are a few copies of Powlison’s original article available on the Information Counter in the lobby.