Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Live For The Reward

Posted by flyingbk on 09/28/2016

This is the final part of a 3-part series. Here’s Part 1, and Part 2.

10 days ago, I serendipitously ran into a friend of mine. Let’s call her Sandy. I drive into NYC for church, and pick up random people at the George Washington Bridge to save on tolls. Sandy happened to be there, waiting for a car. I do a circle hand wave, trying to get her attention. She does a double take, and realizes it’s me. She gets in my car, and tells me she’s on her way to church: my church!

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It can take forever and a day to find parking in the city, especially on Sunday morning. So I meander round and round for over half an hour. But it’s fine because Sandy is someone I’ve been wanting to catch up with, and the search for this elusive spot allots us plenty of time.

The reason Sandy’s going to my church is because she’s helping her cousin find a church. Her cousin is recently new to the NYC area and is looking to find a church in Manhattan. This is the second week they’ll be attending the church, and Sandy plans on helping her out each week until she finds the right one. Sandy then blurts out, half-jokingly, “God better have a big reward for me when I get to heaven.”

In my last two posts, I looked at the human need for validation. Whether you’re a celebrity, a politician, an athlete, a working man or woman, a stay-at-home mom, or anyone else, we all possess this need.

First, it’s important to note that the desire for validation is God-given. Yup, God created us with this yearning. It’s not a character flaw. God specifically made you and me with a desire for reward, with a desire for being praised. Let’s look at a well-known verse from the Word of God:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)
We focus a lot on the first part of the verse, and rightfully so. But what does this “faith” consist of? The verse is clear that there are two components. One must believe that God exists, sure, but one must also believe that God *rewards* those who earnestly seek him.
The Bible is not shy about rewards. In fact, there’s many verses that give a sort of reward as motivation for those in the faith. Here’s a quick sampling:

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5, NIV)
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12, NIV)
I’m currently reading the book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness by Andrew M. Davis. (Shameless plug: Connect with me on Goodreads!). There is a fantastic chapter where he graphs out the shape of various journeys of Christian faith i.e. those who backslide, those who remain lukewarm, those who keep growing. It’s worth getting the book just for that chapter. But I digress.

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Davis writes the following:

A healthy theology of rewards is of the essence of faith. As we have already noted, Hebrews 11:6 makes faith in rewards essential to pleasing God…In other words, we cannot please God if we don’t believe in rewards! We are supposed to live our lives in this world as though the ledger sheet is supposed to be imbalanced, that the reason for our suffering and the effects of our seed-planting, and the results of our gifts to the poor, are all hidden and seemingly unrequited. We are supposed to expect to be repaid only “at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14: 14).
To believe in future rewards for present suffering and service is absolutely required in order to please God. If we say, “I don’t need any reward; for me it is enough to make God happy,” we might think we are being humble, but we are actually being arrogant. God intends us to live daily for the rewards, and to store up as many of them as possible for the future (Matthew 6: 19–20). (emphasis mine)
So again, this human desires for rewards, for validation, for someone to be pleased with us, for celebration of our good deeds and good life, is God-given. The problem, of course, is when we seek that validation in what cannot validate us long-term. It could be the praise and pleasure of another person or group of people. But as the old adage goes, “Praise [from man] is like perfume.” OK, I’m not sure that’s a real adage, but I heard a preacher once present it that way. The point is, it smells good initially, but if it’s left on too long, it goes stale. Moreover, when we do achieve someone’s praise, we become desperate to hang on to it, and terrified of losing it. We saw that was the case with O.J. Simpson and the portrayal of Nick Wasicsko. No wonder many of our human relationships are riddled by insecurity, and marred by codependency.

It could also be reaching a certain goal or promotion in our careers. It could simply be itching for that daily sense of accomplishment. But none of those things can truly fulfill our need for validation.

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Christians believe that we were created in the image of God, to be with God. Therefore, it’s God’s validation, God’s pleasure, God’s joy that we get to share in, and that alone is what satisfies the human heart. And it’s an eternal security: Even when we mess up, even when we don’t have that sense of accomplishment, or disappoint (or even lose the support of) a fellow human being, even when our flaws get exposed (cue my blog’s tagline).

And we know that this security is eternally certain because of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross, forsaken by his Father, so that he would never have to forsake us. Jesus absorbed the punishment for all of our sins so that if we believe in him, that punishment becomes our peace. There’s a safety net: No matter how much human validation we receive on any given day, we can soak up as much of God’s validation over us as necessary.

Last time, I quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a tragedy.” Jesus endured that tragedy on the cross so that he could be the hero that we need. He alone can give us the validation that we were created to receive. All we have to do is believe that he exists, and that we need him.

After all, what is this reward constantly referred to in the Bible? Take it away, Davis:

The reward is praise from God: that God would actually praise us and commend us and speak words of blessing on us in specific and detailed ways based on what we have done. He may also give us tokens or emblems of that praise (some people call them “crowns,” based on 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, Revelation 2:10, 3:11, 4:4, and 4:10) as our permanent possessions in the New Heaven and New Earth. But the essence of the reward is the joy in the relationship: my heavenly Father is pleased with me! (emphasis mine)
Oh, yes. And we can live with that joy each and every day. So let’s live for those heavenly rewards while also knowing that in this present life, God is our great reward. Then, and only need, can we keep that pesky need for validation, and all its destructive tendencies, at bay.

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2 Responses to “Live For The Reward”

  1. […] « Live For The Reward […]

  2. […] grace, I’m able to find a parking spot only a block from the church with relative ease. As I shared last week, it usually takes much longer to find said […]

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